On the human level, Amazon with its undercutting price practices has made it more difficult for independent book stores to survive. I had an example of this the other day when I was looking for an out of print book, and started, first, at my library. As I expected, they didn’t have a copy, but offered to send for one from some other library; this would take two to four weeks and of course involve shipping and packaging. Since the class requiring this book begins in a week, this would take far too much time. Try Amazon, I was told.
This I refused to do.
My next stop was the big second-hand book store here, Op Cit, which has columns of books climbing almost to the ceiling. They had another book by this author, but not the one I wanted.
My neighborhood independent bookstore, Garcia Books, is small, and unlikely to stock this title, but I tried, because I love going in there. It is run by two delightful women, one of whom makes the hats of very imaginative design displayed on the top of one of the shelves of books. They have most of the new titles, in all categories, in hardcover, displayed appetizingly, and were more than happy to order the book I wanted: from the publisher, not from Amazon. This insured that the publisher, who takes all the risk in editing and publishing, receives the slender margin of profit, not the octopus. But it would take a week for the book to arrive, and again, with shipping and packaging.
I ordered the book from both my library and the bookstore, curious to see the outcome.
Then I looked up the title on Amazon.
Here are the results:
The publisher’s price for the paperback is $10; Amazon sells it for $8:50, effectively wiping out any profit for the publisher—and this is without whatever cut the octopus takes.
And then thirty-three second-hand editions are offered, costing as little as $3.95 each.
What independent bookstore can compete with that? And yet the bookstore also offers companionship, conversation, perhaps even a sense of community which nothing arriving by mail can ever hope to deliver.
Oh yes, for Amazon Prime—”Something to please everybody”—the book would be delivered in two days, in time for my class—at a cost of $25 dollars for the shipping unless the customer orders $25 in other books…
As for the environment, no scientist has ever added up the costs of delivery, in terms of fuel for trucks and planes and the resulting constant contamination of our suffering biosphere. And what about the enormous cost of packaging?
And yet, even those of us who love books and enjoy independent bookstores—at least from time to time—continue to buy from the octopus.
It’s so convenient.