This tweet went viral recently.
Fountain Bookstore is an independent bookstore in Richmond, Virginia. I’ve never visited the store, but from their web page, it looks like a place I would love: author appearances, staff picks, a robust children’s section, indie published books, even a way to buy audiobooks through the store, where the store gets a piece of the action. It looks to me like the booksellers have worked hard to create a great customer experience in a well-curated store.
Apparently they have fallen victim to a common practice in brick and mortar businesses. People find a book they are interested in, pull out their phone, and price shop on Amazon. Sometimes, they even buy on Amazon while standing in the store. Sometimes they even use the store’s free wi-fi to make their purchases. According to a WTVR story some people were bragging in front of booksellers: “They were looking up things and saying, ‘Amazon wins again, Amazon wins again, Amazon wins again’ ”
In addition to being incredibly insulting and rude (where is Miss Manners when we need her), it strikes me as being utterly oblivious to the wonder of indie booksellers that might be easily lost:
- A bookstore in your community. A place to spend an afternoon or part of an evening.
- Personalized service by knowledgeable booksellers, who over time get to know their customers.
- A place shaped around your community–from local issues to local history and local authors.
- A host for book groups and a resource for their discussions.
- A local employer that spends money in your community and pays local taxes.
- Part of that magic mix of shops and stores that turn places where we live into great places.
If you like the store’s vibe, do you want them to be around in five years? Ten years? The only way it happens is if you buy from them. And, when you buy local, you walk out with the book in your hands! No waiting for deliveries or risking them being stolen.
I get the impulse to save a few bucks. What I would suggest is that paying a bit more for the intangibles that enrich our lives in the real places we live might be the real bargain. Maybe buying less stuff but buying it local helps us both live with better economic boundaries, and live in a real network of economic relationships rather than one mediated by screens.
Here’s a thought. If you are going to pull out a phone in the store because you want to make a good purchase, don’t use it to find the cheapest price for the book, but rather to check out the reviews on the book, at Amazon, at Goodreads (now owned by Amazon), as well as other published reviews. (I kind of like using the online booksellers’ internet infrastructure to support local booksellers!). That can help you figure out whether the book is worth shelling out whatever price is being asked. At most, it will be a few dollars more, and many indie booksellers have some kind of discount program for regular customers.
Or better yet, just ask the bookseller about the book. Talk with them about your reading interests and whether they think you’d like the book. Or could they recommend something better? Their business is built on you finding books you like and trusting their recommendations. By talking with them, they get to know you. I’ve known some booksellers who call their customers when something new comes in they think they’d like. Sure, Amazon has algorithms and emails that do something similar. Personally, I like the human touch…