Yesterday was my day to run around in Williamsburg with the kids and do errands in time to avoid the massive First Night crowds which are even now descending on the ‘burg. We did grocery shopping and haircuts and the library run and the obligatory Baskin-Robbins stop, and as I was climbing wearily back into the van for the drive home, I remembered that we had also meant to stop by Barnes & Noble for a book that Ben couldn’t find at the library. Which would have meant heading back into the center of town. “Ben,” I said, “how about if we just order it from Amazon?”
And so we did, thereby depriving our local bricks-and-mortar store of a sale.
Now, granted, we deprived the Barnes & Noble on Merchants’ Square of a sale, which they probably didn’t even notice in the sea of mocha frappuccinos and Tribe T-shirts sold to holiday tourists. So this doesn’t feel quite as wrong as depriving a hard-working independent bookseller of well-earned revenue. But still.
This morning I was browsing through Publishers Weekly online and read a profile of bookseller Dawn Braasch, which brought me back to the subject again: “There will always be a place for bookstores where you can touch and smell the book” is the article’s tagline. It describes Braasch’s efforts to keep an independent bookstore open in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts:
Braasch has made a number of changes while keeping its identity intact. â€œI wanted it to be warm and cozy,â€ she says, â€œa place where people come and browse. To quote [shopping expert] Paco Underhill, I believe the more people stay in the store, the more they’re going to buy.â€ Given the economy, Braasch cut back on the number of titles and books, which gives the new store a more open feel. For the first time, there’s extra seating, including some especially designed for kids.
To make it easier to hold author events, Braasch put all the upstairs bookshelves on casters. Even so, she prefers to do fewer events than in years past, when the store had as many as four or five a week. â€œThis summer,â€ she says, â€œI kept it to those I thought would draw a big crowd.â€ She’s also experimenting with other types of gatherings, like an in-store writers group led by Vineyard mystery writer Cynthia Riggs. When it comes to big-name authors, Braasch has begun reaching out to other Island booksellers. This summer, for example, the store partnered with Edgartown Books on a joint reading with Richard Russo for That Old Cape Magic. Bunch of Grapes also co-sponsored a Judy Blume event with the children’s bookstore across the street, Riley’s Reads. â€œMy competition is Amazon,â€ says Braasch, â€œnot other independent bookstores.â€
That doesn’t make me happy, actually. Yeah, I love independent bookstores. I support them. If Williamsburg actually had a real one, I’d shop there. But let me tell you something–when an independent bookseller cuts titles and books, that includes my nonheadliner/never-made-into-a-movie/lightly-promoted titles and books. And when an independent bookseller decides to only invite the big-namers to town, that certainly doesn’t include me.
I’ve posted before about my mixed feelings when it comes to Amazon.com:
Iâ€™m a fan of Amazon.com. As a reader, I find it satisfying that I can search and find almost any title, even out-of-print ones. As a writer, Iâ€™m relieved that readers can find me even if their local bookstore doesnâ€™t provide me with shelf space. (Letâ€™s see: John Grisham, Stephenie Meyer, Oprahâ€™s latest selection, meâ€¦.which one is going to get sent back to the stockroom first?)
As a publisher, I have slightly more mixed feelings: I appreciate the ease with which we can sell through Amazon, although I wish they wouldnâ€™t undercut us QUITE so much in their pricing, and Iâ€™m not a big fan of the fees we have to pay in order to keep our books featured in various categories.
I don’t have any conclusion to this post, incidentally. Amazon.com and its competitors are here to stay; publishers and writers need to deal, not whine. Booksellers survive in any way they can. I guess the only decision I make is, as a reader, whether or not ’tis more noble to turn around and drive back to where I can’t find a parking space in order to buy a book from Barnes and Noble, or to go home and order it from Amazon.com. That doesn’t sound like much of a moral dilemma; if it were Amazon.com vs. the independent bookseller who’s made a decision to invite only big names and carry big books, it would be a thornier issue.