Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Where Does Your Honor Lay?

Independent as fuck!

You've probably seen this phrase, most likely embossed in neon on a sticker affixed to a skateboard, streetlamp, or an otherwise "alternative" retailer's storefront window. It can mean various things, and i do not mean to suggest i am comprehensively aware of them all. But I do have a certain perspective, having worked for several years in an independent bookstore. I take a great amount of pride in where i work, and what I've been able to accomplish. And I've only just begun to understand the challenges and benefits of being independent.

Independent bookstores are dying, there is no denying this. Curiously, big chain bookstores are also doing downright poorly as well, but people have to be getting their books from somewhere, right? Turns out Amazon is that somewhere quite often. Amazon is wonderful for a great many reasons, some of which include information gathering, price discounts, and used goods. Serving a buying public in the hundreds of millions, Amazon purchases its products in massive quantities, often on consignment (i.e. under the premise that the goods are theirs forever, even if they do not sell). As everyone knows, the more of something you buy all at once, wholesale, the less you pay for it, and this is essentially how Amazon can offer such great prices.

An independent bookstore is a small operation, and cannot purchase things in large quantities. As such the products we receive are more expensive and need to be sold as such if we hope to break even, let alone make a profit. But this leaves us with a huge conundrum. Why on earth would anyone ever buy something through us, that they can get for cheaper elsewhere? In the end, we cannot hope to compete financially, but we can compete in the community, and that's where the 'Independent as Fuck!' attitude comes back into play.

Amazon is great in a lot of ways but it isn't a place and indie stores have some advantages. Some of these are tangible. You can't go to Amazon to see your favorite author give a reading. Some are less readily observable, and bit more, well, how can i say this without sounding like a bleeding heart liberal... economically moral. It is a difficult argument to make, and i do not even pretend to think that i can adequately explain myself here, but i will give it a try.

Every penny that comes in our front door goes to purchase more books for the store (and to pay our modest salaries etc.)
With all of us living and working in the community, much of the money we make goes right back into the restaurants, bars, stores and venues around us. We also give small sums to various local charities and charge sales tax that goes to fix roads, fund schools, etc.

(Except in New York) Amazon does not charge sales tax. And with revenue in the billions, that's a lot of lost funds that could be used for all sorts of important things. As a 'store' that is not a place, Amazon does not give to your local charities. how could it unless it gave to all of them? So there is a whole lot of money coming in that has to be going somewhere, right? Amazon may even be very fair to it's many employees, I do not know. But what I do know is that the founder, Jeff Bezos is worth 6.8 billion dollars, and he is just one of it's board members. I'm sure that kind of corporate financial underpinning can make a great deal of good things happen, but that kind of accumulation and consoldation of wealth strikes me as exactly what your local community does not need. Surely some of that 6.8 Billion should be yours, yes? But then again you did not earn it, in fact, you may even have saved significant amounts of money by purchasing goods on Amazon for far less than you could elsewhere. you see how complicated this gets so fast?

I try and look at things as fairly as possible. This is less an us versus them scenraio, and more of a choice. You have a choice to buy independently, and a choice to buy from some entreprise like Amazon. It is not necessarily good versus evil, but do know that your choice has repercussions. Should you need to save those extra dollars by all means, do what you have to do to get by in increasingly difficult times. But also know that if you can afford to do so, shopping independently has its advantages. And a great many folks will benefit from your decision, not just a few.

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At 5:59 AM , Blogger oline said...


At 8:33 AM , Blogger LNE said...

Great post, man! And your store is just one of the most wonderful physical bookstore spaces I've ever seen. You can get lost in there for days!

At 10:24 AM , Blogger Les Savy Ferd said...

well, i just hope i'm not coming off as some pretentious asshole. I'm not saying that people should do something because it is noble or virtuous or that some other behavior is odious or unjust.

At 5:58 AM , Blogger oline said...

no pretentious assholery at all. and your usage of czar nicholas to illustrate was inspired.


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