In light of the news that Barnes & Noble will be closing a third of their stores across 10 years, that Nook may be separating from B&N, that independent bookstores are few and far between, allow this bookseller to answer the age-old question, “How can I keep bookstores from closing?” (which, of course, stems from the statement, “I wish bookstores weren’t closing!”).
The best and most obvious answer is purchase directly in the bookstore.
Seriously. I’m sick of explaining to people why we sell books at the sticker price, why prices are “high,” why online is cheaper than in store. As I cannot take out my frustration on our patrons, I’m going to step up with booksellers everywhere — including independent and used bookstore booksellers — and explain all these questions.
1. Why are online prices cheaper?
If a bookstore, like Barnes & Noble or Waterstones, has an online presence, the prices for the products are generally cheaper. This is because the consumer is going directly to the vendor — which has far fewer employees — and ordering from there. Whether or not one is a special member of some sort for this online bookstore, there is still the expectation that one will pay for shipping. The price offered is the lowest price that can still be split among the publisher, the author, and the bookseller.
When the consumer purchases in the store, they are paying for “overhead.” Overhead is payment towards the rent/lease of the venue, payment towards the helpful employees, payment for the upkeep and cleanliness of the venue, as well as the publisher, the author, and the bookseller corporation.
If consumers continuously purchase online rather than walking into the store, the store’s physical presence declines and thus they close. Chain bookstores live with a double-edged sword: online presence can boost sales, but it can also aid in store closings.
2. Why are so many indie/used bookstores closing?
Most independent bookstores and used bookstores use a mathematical formula to lower the sticker price to it’s lowest possible value before harming their sales. Say you spot a rare edition of a book by an author you love. The original sticker price is $25, but the indie store is selling it for $15 and the used store is selling it for $10. The indie store will make a small profit from selling this book, but the majority will still be sent to the publisher and author. The used bookstore is barely making enough profit to keep the place running, but nothing goes toward the publisher or author.
A lot of independent and used bookstores are closing because consumers still find cheaper prices online. The stores’ prices are also heavily dependent on scraping by: keeping employees employed, paying venue rent, keeping the place in good condition and clean. If you want your mom-and-pop, independent, or used bookstore to stay in business (either because you like the cozy atmosphere, it’s location, the selection, or even it’s nice low prices), you need to walk into their store and purchase from them directly.
3. But I like Amazon’s prices! Why should I, the consumer, not use Amazon?
Mention Amazon to a bookseller and we do everything we can to not explode with anger. Those stiff smiles, blank stares, and suddenly curt speech are the only acceptable ways for us to express our dislike.
Amazon never sells at the sticker price. They are an online presence, not a physical presence. They make enough profit off shipping and other products to keep themselves in business. [Refer to Answer #1 on online prices.] Great on them. They’re a monopoly.
But the prices they offer, including the used ones, rarely — if ever — benefit the publisher, the author, or anyone else in the book business. Yes, the prices are miraculously cheaper and in this economy everyone wants the cheaper price. But consistently purchasing from Amazon only creates a larger monopoly, creates a business that will not help you in person, and drastically lowers the likelihood of a brick-and-mortar store staying in business near you.
Sidenote: This is for all those cranky customers who say to booksellers, “Ugh, I had to drive 30 minutes out here just to get to this store and you’re telling me you don’t have this book?! This is why Amazon is in business; I’m ordering from them!” No, Amazon is not in business because we’re 30 minutes away — we’re 30 minutes away because consumers like you consistently purchase from Amazon and we have to close our stores closest to you.
4. If booksellers frown on Amazon, what are some other online groups with low prices that booksellers don’t get angry over?
I’m glad you asked!
Better World Books “collect and sell books online to donate books and fund literacy initiatives worldwide.”
Books sold on BetterWorldBooks.com help fund high-impact literacy projects in the United States and around the world. That’s why we commit to matching every purchase on our website with a book donation to someone in need.
What sane bookseller would say no to that?! Literacy is something to support and celebrate!
AbeBooks has some amazingly cheap prices on everything. They help those independent booksellers get their presence known. Small stores, nationwide and worldwide, advertise the availability of a new/used book they have in stock. When you purchase through AbeBooks, you’re benefitting this organization as well as the small seller.
Alibris also helps independent sellers stay in business by connecting them across the globe and aiding in library collections.
Biblio is also fantastic — a large selection of rare books, connecting indie and used stores across the country. They also help in non-profit organizations.
So. You want your bookstore to stay in business? Go in the bookstore and purchase from them today.