Amazon vs Local Bookstores

This past winter I visited my friend and while walking in the downtown area we approached a local bookstore. Upon grazing the shelves for about an hour I stumbled on a small roughly twenty page pamphlet titled How to Resist Amazon and Why by Danny Caine.

What I was presented with was a whole world of which I was previously unaware. While I am sure most people have some awareness of Amazon’s tragic effect on local businesses, consumers, and employees, I found Caine’s pamphlet to be an invaluable resource related to their impact on my personal favorite retail outlet—bookstores. However, this pamphlet isn’t the only resource highlighting the difficult relationship between Amazon and local bookstores. The fact that Amazon is harmful to local booksellers has been well documented by a plethora of news sources, including a New York Times article detailing how counterfeit books are often sold and promoted involuntarily on Amazon (Streitfeld, 2019), and an article in Forbes describing the new company Boohshop.org that provides local affiliate bookstores a 10% commission compared to 4.5% commission (Verdon, 2020).

Most people, myself included, are attracted to Amazon for their low prices, fast delivery, and availability of a wide selection of books. However, I never thought about why these books are so cheap. As Danny Cain articulates in his pamphlet, bookstores receive a particular discount when ordering from a publisher and if they sell these books for roughly the same amount they purchased them, they wouldn’t be making enough to sustain their business (Caine, 2019). Your local bookstore can’t afford to sell books at a loss, but Amazon—a very wealthy company—can afford to sell books for the amount they purchased or below because they can afford to lose money on this product (Caine, 2019). It isn’t necessarily a matter of Amazon being the evil villian—it is more that these bookstores simply can’t compete because their business reality is much different than that of Amazon’s. Bookstores are a local business that provide much more than just a book to the hands of consumers: these stores offer an environment, a community, and promote local artists and authors. However, because Amazon is the behemoth that it is, many of these beloved local shops are suffering. Hence the dire need to promote and sustain such a vital aspect of so many communities and the literary world.

But what if you really don’t care about the bookstore and just the book? Farhad Manjoo (2011) of Slate actually advocates for Amazon’s prominence as a bookseller stating that “no company in recent years has done more than Amazon to ignite a national passion for buying, reading, and even writing new books” (Manjoo, 2011). Manjoo (2011) then proceeds to critique the consumer experience at local bookstores, essentially considering that Amazon is the best means to purchase your books. However, even if you don’t care about any of these community benefits, perhaps consider that shopping local—whether at a farmers market or a bookstore—prevents economic leakage and promotes local self reliance within your community. Economic leakage, according to Roseland (2012), “occurs when community members travel outside the community to spend their locally generated income on non-local purchases, or when residents make purchases within the community on products that were originally purchased or manufactured elsewhere” (p.218). This money moves outside the local economy and doesn’t promote economic development within the community (Roseland, 2012). In working with local bookstores, or local shops in general, individuals promote local self-reliance—which is about creating a more sustainable community focused on local needs, cohesiveness, and a reduction of waste and beneficial trade practices (Roseland, 2012, p. 217). In order to bolster this foundation of economic development individuals must “where possible, invest in the local economy by substituting locally made products” (p.217). This promotion of the local economy includes bookstores.
I know this isn’t your typical light-hearted post about charismatic books and authors we all love but I, and The Spellbinding Shelf, wanted to bring attention to those booksellers who are the backbone of not just our community, but our favorite authors and novels. If you are interested in learning more about how and why to resist Amazon, or even about supporting local bookstores, I suggest Danny Caine’s How to Resist Amazon and Why. Bonus—it is also available at Changing Hands (our favorite local bookstore)!

Caine, D. (2019). How to resist Amazon and why (2nd ed.). Microcosm Publishing.

Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/joanverdon/2020/02/14/advocate-for-local-

bookstores-takes-aim-against-amazon-with-new-website/?sh=471363043407

Manjoo, F. (2011, December 13). Don’t support your local bookseller. Slate.

https://slate.com/technology/2011/12/independent-bookstores-vs-amazon-buying

-books-online-is-better-for-authors-better-for-the-economy-and-better-for-you.html

Roseland, M. (2012). Community Economic Development. In, Toward Sustainable 

Communities: Solutions for citizens and their governments (pp. 209-228). New Society 

Publishers.

Streitfeld, D. (2019, June 23). What happens after Amazon’s domination is complete? Its 

bookstore offers clues. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/

2019/06/23/technology/amazon-domination-bookstore-books.html

Verdon, J. (2020, February 14). Local bookstores have a new weapon in the fight with Amazon. 

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