Buy 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.