Archive for Survivor: Bookstore edition

On Amazon, Overstock, and surviving as an independent bookstore, part 2

by Erin

At least once a week at Books With A Past, I have an exchange that goes something like this:

Customer: What a great store!  It’s such a shame that independent/used/small bookstores are dying out.

Me: Yes, it’s hard, but we’re trying!  Do you shop in used bookstores often?

Customer: No, I usually just download stuff on my Kindle.

say what?

There usually follows a brief pause while I consider beating the customer about the head with said e-reader.  Then I remember that the collected works of Kipling (preferably hardbound) would make a more effective weapon, and that makes me feel better.

So, the question is, what can local communities do to keep their independent bookstores? Well, the best option is to put your money where your mouth is.  If you feel that an independent bookstore adds depth and value to your town, help us stay here!  We always love to hear how valuable we are to our communities (we all want to be the heroes of our own stories, after all) but what we really need is your support.  We need you to buy books from us.  We need you to tell your friends about us.  We need you to pick up the phone and call us with a request rather than use 1-Click Ordering.

We also need you to be cool. Amazon and other online vendors count on a process called showrooming.  What this means is that they expect a certain number of customers to go to a local store, see an item in person, and then buy that same item online at a lower price.  Not cool! A lot of retail industries are experiencing the effects of this process. It’s not just your local independent bookstore’s problem.  And, okay, for a very expensive appliance from a major manufacturer or something like that, I totally get it.  If I could save $800 by going online, I’d probably do it too.  But come on!  We’re talking like $16 here.  Is it worth $16 to keep your local bookstore as a resource in your community?  I am, of course, biased.  But I think it’s worth it.

So, customers, here’s your mission, should you choose to accept it: Buy one more book a month at your local bookstore.  That’s it–just one extra book.  It doesn’t have to be the most expensive book, but we’d really kind of like it if it weren’t the cheapest either.  The important part is your consistency.  We need to know that you, our customers, are there for us in person, the way we’re here for you.  We love our customers; we love playing matchmaker between you and the perfect book. We love talking and laughing with you, carrying on conversations across multiple visits over many months.  We love sharing our wisdom and hearing yours.  (Tina, our buyer, thanks the guy who told her how to keep chipmunks out of her garden.)  I love what I do and I want to be here for many more years.  But I don’t know how many more times I can hear, “That’s ok.  I’ll just order it on Amazon.”

On Amazon, Overstock, and surviving as an independent bookstore, part 1

by Erin

It’s probably not common knowledge among readers that and are each engaged in a battle to undercut the other on hardcover book prices.  However, this is a big deal for booksellers like me.  These titans of industry either don’t realize or don’t care what they’re doing to related small businesses in America.  And from one perspective, that’s understandable.  It’s not their job to make sure that Main Street, USA survives and thrives.  It’s not their job to keep their small, independent competitors above water.  Their job is to make money.*

So, what do we indies do to stay afloat?  It’s our responsibility to show our customers that there’s more to a bookstore (and really, more to a book) than the sticker price.  We just can’t beat Amazon’s prices, and that’s not going to change any time soon.  And not to be state-the-obvious girl, but we have overhead (you know, those pesky things like rent and utilities) that we have to cover as well.  Still, as an independent bookstore owner I want to show my customers that there’s value beyond good prices to their patronage of my shop.  The people who work at Books With A Past are committed to providing our shoppers with an excellent experience.  Yes, we sell used books, and yes, we have price-conscious shoppers.  But we also remember what those shoppers like and what they’ve already read (with the help of our handy-dandy point of sale system); we can recommend new books and authors with a great deal more personalized knowledge than Amazon can.  We are not selling tomatoes.  We are selling knowledge, experience, and fun!  (Not to mention some really spectacular books.)  To answer my above question, what we strive to do is provide a much better experience for our customers than any search algorithm ever could. And we’re always looking for new ideas. Is there more we could be doing to make a trip to Books With A Past worth your time?  We want to be your independent bookstore of choice for many years to come, so we’re always open to suggestions!

*This isn’t to say that we support Amazon’s questionable methods of avoiding paying sales tax, and we certainly don’t condone the working conditions in many of its warehouses.  If you’d like to make your voice heard on the larger regulatory issues, please visit