Bookstore business: Not a showroom

As many of you know, I work in an independent bookstore. I don’t make very much, and some days I’m surprised I make anything at all. It’s really tough for independent (or any physical) bookstores to survive these days. Many people blame chain bookstores for the closing of so many indies, but chains aren’t the big threat. Nothing threatens indie stores more than Amazon.

When I interviewed for my current job, my interviewer made some crack about how we never utter the “A-word” to customers–Amazon. At the time, I thought she was being funny, but since then I’ve listened to my store’s owner and manager talk many times about how Amazon not only threatens little bookstores but how the entire publishing industry currently works. More on that later.

What I will say now is that it’s incredibly frustrating when “customers” come in, take pictures of books on their phones, and then leave with a list of books they aren’t going to buy from us. I know not every customer is up to some foul game. I’ve wandered through bookstores, noting books I’d really like to read but don’t feel the need to buy immediately. The problem is that people use brick-and-mortar stores as showrooms and then buy books from Amazon. They often drop their jaws at our prices when a well-informed book shopper wouldn’t. Indie stores don’t mark up their prices, as some claim. They charge the publisher’s price (the price printed on the book). Amazon, on the other hand, sells books at a discount, and small bookstores simply can’t do that.

People actually tell us that they’ll “just buy it online” all the time–how sad for our little ears to hear. So, please, don’t use your local bookstore’s resources when you know you’re going to buy from Amazon anyway.

Note: I failed to work this in, but Amazon briefly encouraged people to go to their local bookstores and use Amazon’s price-check app to see how much they would save at Amazon. You can read about it here.

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4 Responses to Bookstore business: Not a showroom

  1. Danny says:

    I saw the snow on your blog, but I thought that I was going blind. I actually panicked. I asked my mom if she was seeing it and she said “no” and we both freaked out. But then eventually she did see it. Wow…

    re: perusing bookstores only to buy on Amazon, I never do that, but I am a frequent buyer from Amazon. Anymore a lot of the books I aren’t sold at the bookstore, which is really frustrating. To me the savings you get from amazon are usually trumped by the immediacy of having the book in your hand now.

    On the other hand I like to buy books used from Amazon, or of course for my kindle.

    I think the best system is one where both the physical and the digital bookstores can coexist.

    • Kaitlyn says:

      Yes, there is snow on my bog. Happy December!

      There’s no arguing that Amazon is convenient: you don’t have to leave your house, they have a huge selection and low prices, and they ship orders quickly. I’ve bought many books from them in the past and will likely buy from them in the future. I’m mostly just disheartened about some of the things I’m learning, because I would like physical bookstores and Amazon to coexist. And it’s frustrating when some people clearly prefer the shopping experience of a physical store but don’t support those stores.

  2. slmorrill says:

    I nodded so many times as I read this post, Katie. There’s definitely a cost to those low prices… Thanks for sharing your indie bookstore experiences. I find it fascinating :)

  3. Heather says:

    That’s so rude! Ugh. I can hardly believe how rude that is. I love amazon, but would never want it to dominate the book market – it is so calming to walk around a book store and browse.

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