Monday, April 1, 2013

Commentary: Lawrence Gooley On Buying Local

Buy LocalBuy local … it works! A month ago, I wrote about Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza suing the country’s six largest publishers over e-book issues, and the impact the outcome might have on regional booksellers. As one way of fighting back and helping small businesses (including those in the Adirondacks) survive against the behemoths, I urged consumers to buy local and support the stores in their communities. One comment generated by my story dismissed the idea: “Anyway, exhortations to buy local or buy paper books isn’t going to work, and is not the answer.”

Recent statistics suggest that just the opposite is proving true: it is part of the answer. Despite widespread claims in recent years that e-books would soon cause the demise of printed books, independent bookstores had a great year in 2012. And one of the contributing factors cited is the Buy Local movement.

Despite the constant hype about e-books (hype driven mainly by sellers of e-books and e-book readers), one fact has been conveniently ignored: e-books and printed books are two very different products with their own advantages and disadvantages, and both will survive.

Stopping in at one of our Adirondack booksellers, you might: visit with fellow shoppers; see what others are buying; get recommendations from store employees; engage in discussions; meet an author and get a book signed; perhaps have a coffee or snack; and generally share in a social situation. You’ll enjoy the touch and feel of a book, which is a unique product with many variations in size and quality. The layout of books you peruse may have been carefully prepared to the author’s specifications, much like a piece of artwork.

With an e-book, you get a book. There’s no interaction, no social amenities. The book might be de-formatted or re-formatted, but you’ll at least have the basic text. That’s enough in some cases, but certainly not in all. And understand that I’m not against e-books by any stretch. I use them frequently, but I recognize the distinct differences. So do many other consumers.

Just as “social” media lacks many aspects of truly being social, and Facebook “friends” bear only a faint resemblance to the actual meaning of friend, e-books are not books. Often it will happen that they perform the same function as printed books, but in the majority of cases, e-books are simply digital forms of texts that would never appear in the traditional realm of printed books. That’s because of poor writing, poor editing, and/or poor storytelling, which limits their sales capabilities to levels far below what is necessary to print the numbers needed for store shelves.

But if you insist on calling them books, then complete the description: most of them are among the worst sales failures in the history of books. Those who sell e-readers and e-books skew the message by not telling us the truth: the vast majority of e-books sell only a few copies. Instead, we hear about the rare success story, which urges more would-be authors to take the plunge.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with encouraging others to give it a try, and I’m all for it, except that e-books are used in a “let-the-buyer-beware” business plan: knowing that your book is destined to fail, companies choose to prey on your innocence and profit from your ignorance, which to my thinking is unethical. It can crush a person’s dreams and injure them financially. The uninitiated, prospective author should be aware of the difficulties they’ll face.

They should also know the advantages as well. For hopeful writers, the Adirondack region is itself a market. While you might do well here with any project, your best chance for success is with a product related to the region. Travelers, tourists, and locals represent great sales potential each year for such works.

Which brings us back to the Buy Local concept that has been strongly emphasized across the nation for the past several years, but has already long been a part of North Country life. Supporting local businesses feeds money and energy into our communities, and the effects have been positive. It has boosted the bottom line of many, including booksellers, and allowed others to thrive.

Adding to that successful network are numerous workshops and book events sponsored each year by stores, cafes, libraries, colleges, museums, and the Adirondack Center for Writing. It’s all part of being a community and raising the quality of life, and it works.

So, despite the commenter’s statement that “… exhortations to buy local or buy paper books isn’t going to work, and is not the answer,” I’m sticking with the plan. I again exhort you to do the same.


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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

6 Responses

  1. Charlie says:

    An E-book is not a book.A book has pages you can physically turn.And what if the technology fails and your screen does not light up to produce a supposed book? Another thing I don’t hear anybody talking about is radiation from kindles and whatever the technology is that needs a signal from a satellite in space in order to produce an image on a screen.Do kindles need a signal from a satellite in order to work? I know cellphones do,and there are some schools who believe the uptick in brain tumors/cancer in young kids is due to cellphone use,Kindles (to me) are just another avenue to further the complexity in our lives,It’s a money-making tool is all it is and never will it take the place of the written word between two covers in a book.Personally I thinks it’s just another fad,everybody’s doing it because they wanna be like everyone else.Just like pants dropped down to the knees and underwear showing; just like ‘Yo wazzup homey’ as a way to communicate with others; just like 80% (seems like) of the population dressed up in clothes depicting sports teams…….. This is one weird society I must say!

    • John Warren says:

      “It’s a money-making tool is all it is and never will it take the place of the written word between two covers in a book.”

      I’m afraid you’ll be incorrect about that. People who regularly use these technologies (and I’m not really one of them) can offer lots of reasons why they think they are superior. It’s pretty clear that’s the direction we’re headed. Not only is it not the end of the world, but the new ease in reading most anything anywhere quickly overshadows the arguments from nay-sayers who do not use these technologies, did not grow up with them, or, perhaps out of nostalgia, don’t fully appreciate their value.

      I’m a writer and researcher, mostly of history. New technologies that allow me to consult books, periodicals, ephemera, even maps, on my screen at home have revolutionized the way I work, and I work with mostly old rare sources. That doesn’t mean that I do not have about 60 books I’ve needed to purchase so far for my latest book project, or the 100 or so I’ve gotten out of the library. But I also have access to many important online public domain printed materials which I could never have afforded to consult because they are too rare and would have required too much travel to collections around the world, or a huge pocketbook to buy them all. I still have plenty of books on my shelves – hundreds and hundreds – many that are not yet available digitally. The only thing keeping me (and no doubt many others) from transitioning to readers is their incompatibility with each other and with the other technological tools of writing and publishing. Once that barrier is broken, even old school historian types like me will be largely leaving the printed book behind. (Just their use in comparing and contrasting editions for example, makes them incredibly important).

      So I guess I’m saying, that while I appreciate the stress publishers are encountering with recent technological developments, I believe we are headed for a lot fewer printed books, but probably a lot more readers, and certainly a lot more convenience for people who USE books, rather than are merely entertained by them (though more convenience for them as well).

      I think Larry’s correct that both e-books (a terrible name that doesn’t begin to get at what a digital copy of a book can offer) and printed books will survive together into the foreseeable future. He’s also right about buying local, I’ve been pushing that local economy angle for 25 years.

      And yes, local bookstores will not be going away anytime soon, but they will be largely going away down the road. Just as record stores selling 78s have disappeared (who would have imagined that in the 1920s?), just as video stores have disappeared (unimaginable in the 1980s), just as newsstands, telephone booths, bakeries and butchers have all but disappeared.

      If you need one more example, take the encyclopedia. When was the last time you picked up an encyclopedia, started reading an entry and spent a couple hours going from one entry to another? When was the last time you did that on Wikipedia? As an encyclopedia on the whole, Wikipedia is now vastly superior to the printed version. Far more detailed, user friendly, at least as authoritative (if not more so given its expanse), more frequently updated, easier to take with you on a train or plane or to the park. It wouldn’t surprise me if millions and millions of people now use an encyclopedia, who had never before, because of Wikipedia. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

      If you ever were here in my home you’d see pretty clearly that I’m really a Luddite at heart, and yes I love the feel of a book (I’m always dusting some classic off from the shelf to show and tell), but do I want to go back to Encyclopedia Britannica? Not on your life.

      E-readers and e-books may not be for Larry, Charlie and me, but they will be for the next generation. The sooner we accept that and work on ways to integrate our work into this emerging technological model, the better.

      • Larry says:


        I could try adding to what you said, but our situations, experiences, and usage are so similar, “ditto” says it all.

  2. Charlie says:

    If more people are reading because of e-books,then that is a plus.But still! I cannot see me leaving the printed book behind come hell or high water…unless my collection gets burned or a flood overwhelms.I still think it’s weird looking into a screen to read something and I certainly dont trust the technology John. And i dont like the idea that i have to depend on a corporate source to read something on a handheld device,and pay for it that way and have limited use of it unless i keep paying.Or does it not work that way? What if the technology fails due to a blackout or whatever? Or a saboteur?
    And what about the radiation issue i brought up.When those kindles are on peoples laps is radiation seeping through? I really dont know the answer to this question as I am not sure how the technology works other than i think the image on the screen is fed via a satellite in space.Am i wrong on this? If i’m not than this should be a concern.I know a book wont dose you with radiation.
    As far as research there’s still the old-fashioned way of going to a museum or state library which i do now and again.It’s fun and interesting and it sure is wonderful to see all of the interesting literature stored under one roof. I dont see books going away anytime soon.Do you realize how many books are being printed each month? The new technology has not slowed down the publication of new books.I have entertained the thought numerous times that books are going to be more valuable in the future,especially the older ones,the ones that are disappearing fast nowadays from the shelves in used book stores.Local history,and Adirondacka,is getting harder and harder to find.
    I’m not against the new technology.As a matter of fact I see a great value in it and I take advantage of it as much as possible,especially when it comes to photography.Digital cameras are far better than the old style cameras and i wish I would have gotten one sooner.I do like the way i can look up biographies of long-deceased little & well-known authors,and some other interesting things online,but I dont go too far online as I dont like to feed my head too much information as too much information distorts the mind (I believe for me.)I keep my interests to a minimal,which is enough to keep me going three lifetimes.But when it comes to reading….to each his own.E-books may be “in”,but they’re not for me.
    I suppose I have this innate desire in me to retain as much as the old as possible.I find the older i get the more i like the way things used to be as things were more simpler in years past.As the technology advances things seem to be getting more and more complicated.In many ways the new technology is good,but also…in many ways I see us distancing ourselves away from,not only each other,but more importantly,from nature also.This,i believe,is why we have so many problems.

  3. Curt Austin says:

    Ha! I’m the source of the “exhortations” comment.

    I should point out that I’m not a complete stranger to the odd world of authoring. I have a book in some local stores (mostly not dedicated bookstores, whose numbers have decreased quite a bit in my short history with them). It’s a color photo book, not at all amenable to e-book publishing norms – for now. Due to the way I self-published this book, it automatically appears on Amazon. Sales from Amazon are minuscule, however, despite a favorable search ranking for the relevant terms.

    But regarding my opinion that “exhortations aren’t going to work”: I may not have been careful to distinguish between “exhortation” and “marketing”. Mr. Gooley talks up some of the genuine direct benefits to the buyer of buying local – that’s good marketing, and it may work. Getting people to spend money to benefit others through exhortations alone … I don’t see how anyone can be optimistic about an approach that is contrary to free-market economic principles. So, emphasize the benefits of buying local that an individual will feel. It won’t hurt that local producers focus on these potential benefits as they develop and market their products.

    Let me wander off-topic a little: At the Common Ground Alliance meeting in Long Lake last year, there was much talk of locally grown food and farmer’s markets as a way to keep/attract more residents and boost the local economy. These things certainly are emotionally appealing, and I like them, too. But right there in Long Lake, the only supermarket had recently announced it would no longer be open in the off-season. Long Lake needs a year-round supermarket far, far more than a farmers market. Indian Lake, too. There’s a similar problem with pharmacies. No one talked about these things.

    Solving those problems is tough, to be sure, and there are no pleasant, nostalgic feelings to tap into – indeed, it requires looking into the future and accepting it. I don’t regard farmers markets and the like as mere palliatives, but I think the big voices – the CGA, town supervisors, etc. – should be working the big problems.

  4. Dave Mason says:

    See for one effort to address the distribution of local food in the Park.

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