Bookstores are dying and it’s your fault

Pop quiz: Can you name the bookstore chain that used to rival Barnes & Noble?

No? How quickly we forget that Borders used to be a thriving international bookstore chain. It filed for bankruptcy only four years ago.

Did I push it beyond the brink? Did you?

There’s a lot of analysis and conjecture about what forced this once-profitable company to suddenly see its market share drop, profits turn to deficits, and all its top executives leave. We’re not doing a business case analysis in this article, so we’ll avoid the finger-pointing — most of it, anyway.

But let’s talk about the future. Because I think history is about to repeat itself.

I didn’t buy it on Amazon

My wife and I visited our favorite bookstore in Boise, Rediscovered Books, recently. When we purchased a couple books, the clerk put a bookmark in each one. On one side of the bookmark in big bold red letters, it says, “I didn’t buy it on Amazon.” It then continues in smaller black letters, “Because buying local…means talking to an actual human being.”

Amazon, that ubiquitous non-storefront megamarket, seems to be the automatic shopping choice for today’s technology generation. Need anything? Look for it on Amazon; it’s probably there, and it’s most likely cheaper than anywhere else. Today, when people think “shopping,” Amazon is the default choice for most.

Here are some of the pros for shopping on Amazon:

✓ Shop in the comfort of your home (or on your hand-held device wherever you are)

✓ It’s always open

✓ Almost anything you want is available, not just books

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✓ Get free shipping with many purchases

✓ Maybe even avoid paying sales tax

✓ Feel free to add some of your own

That seems like a fairly convincing argument for the Amazon side.

Well, then, the deck seems stacked against the local bookstores, especially the independent ones. The big chains like Barnes & Noble also have a local presence, but they derive some benefit from internet purchases. “Find it online, pick it up locally” is one feature that B&N uses to keep its customers.

The case for buying local

So why should I pay more for a book just to buy it from a local independent bookseller?

One reason I do is because the owner is willing to carry books by local authors while B&N won’t touch them. I have to admit that it’s fun to go into the store and see my books there. It’s even more fun when Bruce, the owner, tells me he’s out of a certain title and would like to place a re-order.

Another reason is that the local stores provide jobs in the local economy and are a venue for events and activities. The chain stores might have an occasional author signing, but they don’t sponsor as many book clubs and other gatherings that are a natural part of the local ambiance.

Many of the books in the local stores have been reviewed by the employees, so they can tell you about the book or recommend one that better fits your style. Most of the employees at the chains know where to find a given book in the store, but there are too many books for them to have read even a fraction of them. Don’t get me wrong; they’re nice people, but it’s mainly a job for them while books and reading are typically passions for the employees and owners of the local stores.

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My wife and I like to combine a dinner out with our stop at Rediscovered Books. It makes it a fun evening and we’re not going out of our way just to go downtown. Plus, as the bookmark says, we’re then able to talk “to an actual human being.”

Do you want the future of business to be run by giants that don’t really care about your local economy? Look at what Walmart has done to so many businesses around your area and all across the country. Is that what you want to happen to bookstores?

If not, then it’s your duty — a moral responsibility — to buy local at least for printed books. Go to Amazon to download the Kindle version for traveling, but buy the books you hold in your hand at the local independent bookstore.

Do we have a duty to keep local bookstores in business?

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Stuart Gustafson

Stuart Gustafson is a writer, world traveler and professional speaker. He's channeled his love of travel into writing travel-based mystery novels.

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