Why Bookstores Matter

Came across an article today about Small Changes Bookstore in Arizona. Like Logos, as well as many independent bookstores, they are pedaling twice as fast to just keep going forward. Their statement is beautifully written, and one could easily substitute “Logos” for “Changing Hands” and see its truth for us, also. I excerpt parts of it here, below:

…Changing Hands, like many bookstores across the country, may be the last generation in the proud tradition of booksellers in this country. My fellow independent booksellers are working harder, earning less…and trying — always trying — to keep their stores afloat and filled with incredible books, when increasingly the default for many book buyers is often a click away. And, unfortunately,…to online mega-retailers who sell books not as a precious repository of the written word, but as loss-leaders to entice people to shop for consumer electronics, motor oil, garden supplies, hamster food — you name it.

This online race for the lowest prices has taught many people that books, too, should be dirt cheap, and that shopping for the lowest price is always admirable…But…price is relative. Often the experience of buying something is half the fun, and worth paying for, especially when I know my money is staying in my own community, or employing people who live in my neighborhood, or will ensure that my favorite restaurant or store will continue to be there the next time I want to visit. Perhaps more to the point, do we really save money when we rely on bogus online reviews from an author’s family, publicist and best friends? Not really. We truly save when we get recommendations from knowledgeable booksellers who tell the truth about the books that they’ve read, because those are the books you’re far more likely to enjoy, and maybe even love.

As important as the book industry is, there’s actually more at stake than the fate of bookstores. What’s at stake is community. Your community. Our community. Because online mega-retailers who use books as loss leaders to sell many things could put many retailers out of business, not just booksellers. And if they succeed, the backbone of every local economy in the country will be severed.

A new study prepared for American Express OPEN by Civic Economics has found that home values in neighborhoods with thriving independent businesses outperformed citywide markets by 50 percent over the last 14 years. It also notes that those same neighborhoods benefited from strong hiring at small, independently owned businesses…

But back to books. What’s it worth to our communities, to our common culture, to have independent bookstores? What would it mean if online retailers became our only choice, if publishers reduced the number of titles they publish each year, if authors have Amazon publish their books? Do we want books — their publication and sale alike — in the hands of a single corporation? What will happen to authors like Justin Torres or Alice LaPlante, Miranda July or Jhumpa Lahiri, if booksellers aren’t reading and recommending these extraordinary novelists to their communities? Will we all be “browsing” online? There are some wonderful book blogs on the Web. Will they become the sole source of discovery? Or, will the serendipitous discovery of a life-changing book, encountered while browsing books on a shelf, continue to play a role in our reading lives?

At this moment in our industry’s history, indie stores like Changing Hands have in some ways become showrooms for books. We read, we recommend, we display staff picks, we advertise and promote, we interact one-on-one to match the right book with the right person… Sadly, our sales don’t always reflect our efforts…(and) all too often the benefits of that hard work go to Amazon and the chain bookstores. This is not unique to Changing Hands. Millions of readers learn about books from enthusiastic indie bookstores across the country, then buy elsewhere, often resulting in our publisher partners lamenting the diminishing return they get from independent booksellers, when in fact the spike in online and chain store sales is frequently attributable to our collective nationwide efforts.

So, do books have wings? They will if you and the other readers in America think before you click on Amazon for books. Whatever your decision, we ask that you take into consideration all aspects of shopping — because the price we all pay for shopping online is much bigger than we’ve been led to believe. No money flows back into your local economy — no tax revenue, no recirculating dollars that support other businesses, local roads and infrastructure, your schools and libraries, social services, parks and playgrounds.

Ultimately, we all make our own decisions about what we buy and where we buy it. But informed decisions are the best kind. When I shop, I think not only about the money I save in the short term, but of the things I may lose in the long term if I choose chain stores too many times in a row. That’s the gift independent businesses like Changing Hands want this holiday season. In return, we’ll give you the best shopping experience imaginable, the most knowledgeable staff, and in our case, a selection of books and gifts so carefully chosen that browsing becomes pure pleasure, buying an act of affirmation.