In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Shopping independent for the holidays

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I'm so glad to hear your store is hopping.  It gives me great joy to walk into our own local independent bookstore and find it crowded -- in these depressing days of chain retailers and online sales eclipsing actual stores, I worry for the future of the physical bookstore as a place to hang out and browse.

When we started this blog, you made a persuasive argument to me about why we should link to IndieBound rather than Amazon when discussing books: Amazon, in its monstrous size, is a threat to the small independent bookseller.  I've always been quite fond of Amazon myself -- it's easy to shop there, it's secure, and their search engine works far better than the one at IndieBound, where you have to get every piece of punctuation in a title right in order to get the system to identify it.  I like the Amazon reviews, and they are most accurate about what books are in and out of print.  I'll admit, I've kept shopping there even as we blogged.

But this year, I am not buying any books from Amazon.  Why?

First, we've built in regular visits to our wonderful BookCourt, and I've gotten in the habit of calling them to order whatever I want to buy, then picking it up whenever we're there.  They get books in quickly, and I feel good about supporting the store where my kids get to sit and read for an hour at a time, and everyone is nice to us.  Online retail doesn't have child-sized wooden chairs.

Second, Amazon's recent "price check" promotion makes me hate them.  Not content with offering bargains online, they asked shoppers to go into real stores, scan prices of the items in them, send that information to Amazon, and be rewarded with discounts.  Turn your customers into spies, and take business away from retailers in your neighborhood!

The best discussion I've seen of this idiot idea (for which they've gotten a lot of bad press) was Richard Russo's NYT Op-Ed.  He wrote to several of his author friends asking for their thoughts on the matter.  Ann Patchett (one of my favorite contemporary novelists) responded:

“There is no point in fighting them or explaining to them that we should be able to coexist civilly in the marketplace....I don’t think they care. I do think it’s worthwhile explaining to customers that the lowest price point does not always represent the best deal. If you like going to a bookstore then it’s up to you to support it. If you like seeing the people in your community employed, if you think your city needs a tax base, if you want to buy books from a person who reads, don’t use Amazon.” 

So when buying books for my friends and family in other states, I've used IndieBound to find independent bookstores in their neighborhoods.  Yes, it took me a couple of extra minutes to do, but really not that long.   My hope is that supporting bookstores in Oregon, Connecticut, and Texas, as well as in New York, will keep those brick-and-mortar stores around in my friends' communities, too.

And if you have a hard time remembering an exact title, you can always search it up on Amazon, then go buy it at your local independent bookstore instead.  I'm sure the folks at Amazon will understand.

Love, Annie

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