Now, this is becoming a more and more common query at indie stores. There is no question that one of the biggest factors in the falling sales at independent (and big box) brick and mortar bookstores is an elephant in the room called amazon.com. Truth be told, it’s easy to see the bullet points for using a site like Amazon. Their listings for new, used and out-of-print books are staggering, and the company’s structure means that a lot of these books can be sold at a discount. Amazon has also been revolutionary in developing an online sales model, and their affiliate program tempts many, many websites to link to them – and gain a commission in return.
So the question is a valid one: why shop at a local store instead of a chain or online, especially in a time when the economy is so bad? Along with a bunch of responses from other Twitter users, I chimed in with a few of my own thoughts.
The money stays in the local economy. When you spend $100 at a local business, about $68 stays in the community. If you go ahead and spend that money at a chain, only $43 stays local. Online? Fuggedaboutit.
You’re supporting uniqueness, in products and stores. When you visit a chain, you’re visiting a store that looks, feels, and has the same stock as hundreds of others. When you visit a local independent store, you’re going into a different experience almost every time. Indies often build their stock with customer special orders and staff picks, which makes the selection unique.
Shopping locally is more environmentally friendly. Our store, like many other indies, takes care to stock environmentally responsible products that we stand behind. We also carry a lot of books and crafts from local artisans and authors. On top of this, buying from a local shop saves from the environmental impact of packaging and shipping books.
Immediacy – you get to take the book home and read it, and don’t have to wait for it to arrive. Also, no shipping and handling charge. This is a big one when it comes to a physical good like a book. If you buy a book online, you have to wait for it to arrive before you can begin reading it. When you buy from a local shop, you can start reading immediately. Also, buying a book in the store means you don’t have to pay shipping and handling – a cost that often negates the discounted prices online.
Booksellers offer personal service and expertise. A good independent bookstore can offer personal recommendations and specialized expertise to the customer on a one-on-one basis. A seasoned indie staff has intimate knowledge of the books in the store, and also has a strong read on local books, book club selections and popular titles. Plus, we are great at answering those “I can’t remember the title or author or plot, but…” queries.
We support the community and local schools and causes. Studies have shown that local businesses donate to local charities and causes at more than double the rate of chains and “big box” stores. Our store, like many others, works closely with local schools and colleges to make sure we carry affordable and curriculum-related books.
Bookstores can hold intimate signings and events. One only needs to look at a shop like River Run Bookstore in Portsmouth to see the kind of events an independent bookstore can bring to a community. Most nights, the store hosts or sponsors an event in Portsmouth. These events aren’t a video presentation or autograph-mill for hundreds of people, but are intimate events where booklovers can meet and interact with authors. Independent stores around the country make these kinds of events possible.
While these are a few reasons I initially came up with for shopping at independent bookstores, I’m sure there are dozens of others that I haven’t thought of. Conversely, I’m sure there are reasons (like price or convenience) that folks shop online and at chain stores. I encourage you to voice your support for either in the comments.