A few days before Christmas, I saw a Facebook post of an article about Amazon’s new Price Check app, through which Amazon customers can compare prices in-store against Amazon’s database. Independent book store owners are incensed, and the comments that followed the Facebook post were all in support of independent bookstores during the holiday season and beyond.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about where I get my books, and why I make the buying choices I do. Here’s my take on it:
There is an independent bookstore near where I work in Durham, called The Regulator. It’s a nice bookstore with great service, and it has author readings and book signings (which I’ve enjoyed there) periodically. The downside is that parking is challenging, because it’s on a pretty popular “college town” street without a dedicated parking lot for the bookstore. For me, too, it’s not between work and home, so it’s not quite as convenient as it could be (though it’s pretty close).
Near my home, some miles away from work, there’s a Barnes and Noble. (Ah, yes, a chain, but it does employ local people.) Like the Regulator, it’s a great place to visit, and has a wide selection. In nearby Raleigh and in Chapel Hill, independent and chain bookstores abound as well. I find myself in the Reader’s Corner, a great used book store in Raleigh, 2-3 times a year.
As my family will attest, though, I don’t have much desire or patience for in-store shopping. I shop for food, clothes, and shoes when I have to. “Going to the mall” is not a hobby for me. I think it’s part of the introverted segment of my personality, really. I’d rather unwind in other ways. Normally, I’m good for about 30 minutes of shopping at one time, and then I want to be done. I went out to finish Christmas shopping a couple of days before the big day, and even though the outing included two Barnes & Nobles (in two different counties, though, so lots of driving in traffic) and A Southern Season (one of my favorite foodie stores, but in my third county for shopping that day),and I found pretty decent parking spaces (for Christmas) AND found everything I was looking for (yay!), I was drained and a little grumpy by the time I got home. I spent the rest of the evening on the couch with my current book (Durham Tales, by Jim Wise), and went to bed early. (Just so you know, my lack of desire to shop does NOT correlate with my big desire to give meaningful gifts!)
Yet I give books as gifts year round, and even buy them for myself. My favorite place to buy books is none other than Amazon. Why?
1) I’ve been buying through Amazon for several years, so there’s a buying history (in addition to good service).
2) Because of the buying history, I like seeing the recommendations they make for future purchases. I can also tweak the recommendations to help with future recommendations.
3) I like the reviews. Yes, I know, some of the reviews on Amazon seem bogus. But, if you subtract the most flowery and the most negative of reviews, you can get an idea of whether or not you’ll like the book.
4) I enjoy the free 2-day shipping that comes with my Amazon Prime membership. Between purchases for me and gifts I buy and ship to others, it pays for itself. Plus, I love the convenience of shipping things via Amazon. It saves the names and addresses of people I send gifts to, and they offer gift wrap as well for a fee (which I’m often willing to pay for the sake of convenience).
5) I like the wish list feature. It serves as a reminder of things I want to get. Sometimes I buy them from a brick-and-mortar store or check them out of the library instead, but I like having the list, and being able to see the star rankings, reviews, and prices. (I’ve checked more books out of the library from my Amazon wish list since starting library school, but I don’t always have time to finish them before the due date! *sigh*)
6) Being able to see the book covers, prices, rankings and reviews from the comfort of my home office or work computer is great! I enjoy knowing what other readers think of books, and it’s hard to know if I’m staring at a book on the bookstore or library shelf.
7) Browsing for books on Amazon (whether I’m looking to buy or not) is relaxing, for the above reasons. It’s a fun way for me to relax and learn about new books, without anyone asking, “Can I help you?” Just let me browse, please.
8) I also buy occasional grocery or drugstore items on Amazon, non-perishables that I’m prone to forget at the stores, or items that I can’t get at the grocery store or drugstore across the street from my apartment complex (or the occasional trip to WalMart).
9) While the grocery prices are rarely cheaper than the grocery store or WalMart, the book prices often are. In my mind, it balances out. Maybe ignorance is bliss, but peace of mind is worth a lot these days.
The convenience and price points bring me back to Amazon’s Price Check app, and my puzzlement over the fact that some people and businesses are upset that some customers are comparing prices! It surprises me to the core that anyone is upset by that. Away from the Amazon vs. Indie bookstore issue, most of us do it all the time, in some form or fashion. Even if you’re (like me) not a big store shopper, I bet many of us who drive cars compare gas prices on the various gas station signs around town or on the interstate. Okay, the tall signs help us do that, but who doesn’t want to pull in when we spot a cheaper price?! Does it matter then if it’s a big chain gas pump or an independent gas station?
In reality, brick-and-mortar bookstores should be doing their homework and price checking too. While I will occasionally shop for a cause or charity, most of the time I shop for price and convenience. Adding grad school to my life has made the price/convenience thing even more important to me.
In the articles I’ve read so far about Amazon’s Price Check app, guess who has not weighed in! Local libraries! And it just so happens I work in one. It’s an academic library, rather than a local public, but still there are lots of books to read, already paid for with tuition dollars (academic) or tax money (at public libraries). Talk about convenience and price!
While I agree with the argument that it’s important to “contribute to the community,” I don’t think that shopping independent stores is the only way to do that. I’m still in control of how I contribute to the community, and how I spend my paycheck.
What I really want at the end of the day, is a roof over my head, food in the fridge, family and friends to love and to be loved by, a job I enjoy, and a stack of books nearby.