Let’s talk about this whole Amazon thing.
It’s difficult for booksellers to watch as online sales through Amazon take away from the profits of our stores. Music and movie stores already went through it, we know it’s not new. We know it’s not just us; Amazon sells everything. The recent coupon campaign wasn’t even available to use on books but Amazon still encouraged customers to go into our stores and send them information. It’s called crowdsourcing, paying a large amount of people a small amount of money individually to take on a big project. Amazon wants as much information about competitor pricing as they can get. It will probably give them the opportunity to raise their prices while still remaining below the prices of brick-and-mortar stores. And it sucks.
I read as many comments on Richard Russo’s recent New York Times article as I could handle but all those people saying bookstores should lower prices to be more competitive drove me a little crazy. We have more expenses than they do. I know Amazon employs people too, but the cost of maintaining a storefront takes its toll. Our stores aren’t showrooms for something you can buy online. It hurts that Amazon already has a lion’s share of the marketplace but they still want to take away more of our sales. I like my job and I would like to see booksellers continue to have jobs in the future. And trust me when I say being a bookseller isn’t a lucrative business. I’m not sure how much the owners of my store bring in each year but I know that the number after the dollar sign on my paycheck is more adorable than impressive. I want to own my own bookstore in the not-too-distant future and I worry that I’ll never turn a profit.
But there is another side to this. I download music. I have a Netflix account and I use Hulu to watch television shows because we don’t pay for cable. My husband compares prices online before buying new electronics. He has purchased books directly from the publisher because they are cheaper than the ones where I work, even after my discount. So yeah, I feel a bit like a hypocrite when I ask people to buy a $30 hardcover when they can get it cheaper online or read it electronically.
I know technology is advancing. I know technology isn’t bad. Newspapers are moving online, magazines start out online; it’s easier for people to be able to get things from the comfort of their own home. I understand all of this.
I’m trying to wrap my head around my role in all of this. As a consumer in a mediocre economy I want to buy something at a good price. I want my adorable paycheck to go as far as it can. I also want to help improve the economy in my area. I want new stores to open downtown instead of driving past “for lease” signs. As someone who works in retail I want people to spend their money in my store. I’m tired of people saying they can just buy it online when I offer to order an item we don’t carry in the store. It’s exhausting to hear. I already know you can buy it online, please keep it to yourself.
I don’t know where bookstores will be in five years. I don’t know how many empty stores there will be in the mall where we are located. I don’t know how Amazon and other online stores will expand. I feel a little lost. And, inexplicably, a little sad. I like the books lining my walls and I wish other people did, too.
The truth is, we live in complex times. Most people are out for themselves, wanting to save money for their own families instead of thinking about the businesses they patronize. I know there are a lot of people who do care and think about the future of small businesses and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I wish we had the economy and the well-paying jobs to allow people to splurge on items they want instead of saving up for items they need. I wish I could say that if I ever get a novel published I won’t sell it on Amazon but I don’t know if I’m stubborn enough to follow through. I’m not a noble enough person to give my book away. I want to make money writing it. Just like Amazon wants to make money selling it.