As a reader and writer and member of that large demographic of bookish Boomer women, I am making a plea for real women to buy real books. That is, from a real, not a virtual, book store – a bell-jingling, coffee-brewing, pet the cat and spend an hour book store. Where you and a stranger might discuss the latest Annie Dillard. And where a clerk may even know your tastes and nudge you into novel by a great new unknown. And yes, sure, where you will likely pay full price, plus tax.
So it costs a bit more to pay retail, the pleasure of reading is still a bargain. As we cut down on eating out, bar hopping and going to movies, we’ll rely even more on books to fuel us through the cold winter. And if we pay a fair price we’ll be giving back, helping to keep a community business alive, along with the greater world of publishers and authors.
With that in mind I’m making a New Year’s vow to confine my book buying to book stores, preferably independents and local. And to visit the library when my book budget needs relief. It’s not a big deal pledge, in fact very easy for me since I am lucky to live in a town with two surviving book stores and a library. But I’ve done my share of online ordering. When it’s raining. Or I’m feeling lazy. Or when I’m feeling poor and rationalizing that cheapest is best.
I decided to get firm after reading another sad commentary on the book business by New York Times writer David Streitfeld. An admitted bargain book hunter, he confessed to being the kind who buys and sells books through Internet dealers, the ones who sell from their homes and have no arrangement with an author or a publisher. In a recent score he paid 25 cents…plus shipping for a wanted book.
Recognizing that his frugal ways do nothing to support any aspect of the imperiled business that gives him pleasure, he warned, “No industry undermined by its greatest partisans will thrive long.”
By last count an estimated 20 million Americans were in book clubs. So, I’m thinking, what if all book club members made an attempt to buy local for one year? A bunch of car lovers are not going to bail out the auto industry. And all we can do about the banks is wait around and hope.
But we can do our own little bit to prop up those institutions that feed our habit.
I’ve shared my New Year’s intent with my book club and with friends in other book clubs, hoping to inspire others.
There’s been a mixed reaction. Some say they simply can’t afford to buy books full price. Some say it’s more efficient to buy online. My friend in the techie book business points out that it will take all styles of reading, be it by hand-held computer or audio to keep the book industry afloat. She defends some types of online ordering, like Amazon, which discounts books but also showcases authors and is a lifeline for book publishers. I get that. If there’s no other way to get your book, go that route. Otherwise get thee to your book store.
Some say that book stores need to try harder to woo their local readers. I don’t know. My book store gives out dog treats, has a reliable list of staff-recommended books and a nice selection of body wash and Moleskin journals.
We have to do this, I told a friend, or we’ll lose all our great hang outs. Like the smart, comfortable Cody’s, I said, down to only one store in the Bay Area. Oh no, she corrected me. The last one closed months ago.
Listen to the Real Women Buy Real Books radio segment on KRCB’S Another Voice.