Maybe I’m wrong, which certainly won’t be the first time, but all the Buy Local and Support Independent Small Businesses campaigns seem to me much ado about nothing. I am not opposed to these ideas at all. In fact, I believe in them too deeply. I find them to be enacted in a very narrow-minded manner. To borrow a phrase, oft used by radio and podcast personality Dave Dameshek: it all seems to be a bunch of hooey and applesauce. I will quickly expand as this relates to the book industry.
Independent bookstores frequently rattle on about how they can’t compete with the big box, large chain stores. You’ve probably heard this a million times, it’s the small store vs. the big store scenario. Sure many independents have gone the wayside, but guess what so has Border’s. Hasn’t turned out to be entirely as simple as big beats little. Many independent bookstores have this chip on their shoulders that we should value their intimate and fiercely independent spirits, which I do.
As a publisher I try my hardest to support independent bookstores, I always approach them first as it relates to author readings and events. I will provide them with additional discounts and even shipping specials on books they decide to carry. What literally blows my mind is that they don’t reciprocate this very spirit of independence back to me. And, yes, this is the crux of the problem. The Independent bookstore often fails to see that the very spirit of independence they claim we owe them ought to be extended back to small, independent publishers, to independent book sales reps, and authors. It is a tricky walk on the edge to not see the hypocrisy in this behavior.
Certainly not all stores are like this but there are a fair number that are. It drives me crazy. In the old days maybe it was hard to do multiple book-keeping tasks, but it’s hard to believe that buying from only the Big Box distributors isn’t inconsistent with the Buy Local statement. If someone had told me years ago there would be a thing called a computer that could organize and allow you to monitor and organize your invoices I’d not have believed it, but there is now, book-keeping isn’t an inherently hard thing to do anymore. That magazine subscriptions use to take 6 – 8 weeks to process made sense, but magazines still try and pull this baloney, come on magazines, really, 6 – 8 weeks, get with the program.
The simple, but apparently hard lesson to figure out is this: to want to be treated as an independent sets a path in motion. To buy local, means more than buying from local stores, it also means that the stores be responsible to conduct themselves in the exact same manner they want others to treat them.