I was asked to answer some questions for a local paper’s profile on small businesses. One of the generic questions was: “Community support obviously is so important for locally owned stores – can you describe an experience you’ve had in which this support is in great evidence?”
My initial reaction was to find an anecdote that showed how this necessary ingredient both worked, and did not work. In the end, I deemed the anecdote itself as too negative (and too academic, says Sarah) to use in a breezy interview of this kind, but I worked hard on writing it up, and it does weigh on my mind occasionally. So I’ll reproduce it here, with added notes and disclaimers.
We recently schlepped a couple cases of an author’s new book to a talk he was giving to a hobbyist group. The author insisted that we discount the book “because Amazon does.” However, Amazon was not present at his talk, did not coordinate delivery of the books, wasn’t staffing the event, nor helping the author reach a new audience. Moreover, Amazon wasn’t selling signed copies of the book.
The difficulty lies in the illusion that because Amazon forces so many loss leaders to gain industry prominence, that the MSRP [manufacturer’s suggested retail price] isn’t fairly derived, and that books aren’t valuable. The community needs to recognize that not only is it nice to be able to browse in a bookstore and to discover new works, but that the book industry as a whole works hard to discover, edit, manufacture, and market quality works of literature and non-fiction. Without a quality book to identify an interesting and knowledgeable speaker, and a local bookstore to supply the product, even the hobbyist club suffers.
Yeah, it wasn’t the right anecdote for this interview. And it isn’t meant so much as a rant against Amazon (go ahead, name the beast, we all know who we’re talking about) as it is against the author. Author in question continues to send me email about news of his reviews, talks, and awards, and I wonder if he tells all the booksellers he works with that his book is overpriced and that they should discount it. Is it forgoing his royalties, too? Or perhaps he has stock in Amazon? It is a conundrum.