No one can argue with the fact that books are incredibly special. They are the product of an author’s creative mind spilled out amongst the pages over countless hours, weeks and years. And to think that the actual writing of the book is just the beginning! Next the book is shopped to publishers. Then enters the editing team who copy-edit, proofread, index in conjunction with other important checks. There’s also the cover artwork design, the distribution of advanced copies to press, book sellers and reviewers around the world all in an effort to ensure the word is spread about this upcoming release. The final book copy then heads to the printers and is shipped around the globe to bookstores who unpack and processes ready for sale. Eventually, the publication date arrives after years of work. It’s a long, intense process, involving countless eyes having already graced its pages. And yet when it reaches the consumer, why do we immediately expect a discount?
The sad fact is that the book trade has fallen victim to a consumer expectation of discounting. For so long here in Aotearoa our isolation has kept us booksellers relatively safe from the threat of the bigger global market of discount bookselling. Until now. I started writing this on the first day that Amazon opened their Australian distribution services to customers here in Aotearoa. Amazon and the Book Depository (also owned by Amazon) are the creators of this very consumer expectation that books should be discounted. The fact that you shouldn’t pay full price for a book is their founding business model. But when a books true value is what most other retailers rely on to operate, then we must look at the true cost of this small discount at the checkout. And ask ourselves why if we are willing to pay that little bit extra for free range eggs every time we go to the supermarket because we care about the chickens welfare, do we not see the same value in a book knowing it has come from a business that values its employees?
It comes down to conscious consumerism at the end of the day. And I am not in this instance wishing to dismiss the fact that not everyone has the means to make this choice, but I am talking to those who can. There is a shift happening right now in which we expect our moral values to be reflected in the businesses and the people we support, yet, Amazon continues to be the world’s number one retailer. And if price continues to trump moral consciousness then independent booksellers simply will not win. We aren’t even playing the same game. An independent bookstore will never have the buying power or be able to cut its costs to offer Amazon prices and free shipping. This cutting of costs comes at a significant human and environmental price. I am not going to relay the details as it is likely you are aware of the many claims of staff mistreatment and stock dumping that take place at Amazon, and if you are not, I suggest having a quick google. But we also must understand that what is driving the demand for these price cuts is us, the consumer. We must acknowledge the degree in which we choose overconsumption, instead of buying a little less at the true cost of the product.
There is tremendous value in supporting your local retailer. Not only does your money continue to circulate in your local economy, but they each offer something different and unique, whether that is the passionate staff, the curation, the ambiance, or the complete experience. All of it comes at a cost to the business and to maintain that level of service, the retailer needs to be able to sell their products at full price. There is also plenty you can do to support your favourite local retailer for free, like tell your friends, share your purchase on social media, or leave a google review. Positive word of mouth will continue to be invaluable to retailers.
For the best to come, it is imperative for Aotearoa’s consumers to see the value in buying from a local retailer in place of resorting to the likes of Amazon. Most of that value lies within the knowledge that you as the consumer holds all the power here. Bookstores are a special kind of magic, and when you support an independent seller you know you are feeding the mouths of your fellow book lovers, not shooting Bezos into space in a particularly phallic looking tin can. We need to continue to choose free range booksellers.
By Mandy Myles
*This piece was originally written for RUBY's blog The Best Is Yet To Come