My town no longer has a bookshop.
Technically, there is a shop and it still sells books, but the owner, after struggling for a long time due to low sales and lack of interest, decided to convert her business into one that sells her home-made hats and craft products. The tourists who grace my town much prefer her newer goods. I wish her well and regret not shopping there more often, but the truth is that sometimes it was just cheaper for me to go to her biggest competition.
Now, the biggest bookseller in my hometown is the supermarket that has eaten up the business of the majority of shops in the town centre. Their selection isn’t especially varied – it’s the usual top 40 best-sellers, a lot of cookbooks, a few category romances and some picture books – but the prices are hard to beat and it’s the first place to head to when you want to pick up the latest Stephen King or Robert Galbraith. The novel of that film you really enjoyed will be there, as will the cookbook for Masterchef and some fun reads for the beach or bus ride to work. It’s a hell of a lot easier than taking an hour long bus ride to the nearest bookshop.
It offers up a number of benefits that appeal to the regular customer – it’s cheap, easy to find and you can pick them up while buying tonight’s dinner. The atmosphere of the local bookshop is of course absent, as are the options to order in the book of your choice and to generally enjoy the company of fellow bibliophiles, but you make sacrifices in favour of cost, especially during tough economic times. We all have to tighten our belts and put aside the luxuries we covet now and then, but when that novel you’ve been dying to read is right there for £6 instead of the £17 or so you expected to pay for a new hardback, it seems like a glimmer of much needed joy.
It’s not just bookshops that have gone through this metamorphosis, succumbing to the seemingly omnipotent powers of the big corporations. Local music and DVD stores suffer, as do video game specialists and affordable clothing outlet. It’s always disappointing to see these changes happen because ultimately we as consumers and appreciators of culture lose out on something special, yet a lot of the time the choice to go to such shops is unavailable to us. You go to the cheaper priced supermarket, the one you slyly mocked as a kid, you stop buying brand name clothing in favour of cheap and cheerful, you get a few less presents for your loved ones on special occasions, you shield your face as you go into the pound shop and hope nobody you know sees you.
You like local bookshops, you know fully that Amazon’s business model is one of tax dodging, mistreating employees, bullying publishers and devouring the market like the blob that ate everything, and you want to support the indies and authors just fighting to get their fair share.
Yet you still go to Amazon.
Yet I still go to Amazon.
I remember once reading this post on Tumblr written by a well-meaning but painfully naïve social justice warrior that said all decent people should boycott places like Wal-Mart. The ability to do so is a far bigger privilege than they’ll probably understand. When you’re short of money, you go where you can afford to, and even when you’re not as broke as you once were, that feeling still sticks with you like a dull ache that won’t go away. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a job, albeit a part-time one, I have a number of luxuries and as a blogger I receive ARCs for my Kindle from publishers in exchange for a review. Amazon, and many other big names like Google and Wal-Mart, have created a business model that appeals to our austerity stricken times: Everything you want in one convenient place at low low prices with little or no waiting time. You’re less bound by constraints of finances, geography and time. I get that this is still on some level rather privileged, especially pertaining to something like buying books, a less significant commodity than feeding and clothing your family, but the basic principle is one that’s hard to ignore – money talks, and the system sucks. Places like Amazon get bigger and more powerful because we put our money into them, but when you’ve only got enough money to do to such places, what’s the other option? Capitalism, eh?
If you are in a financially secure position where boycotts of this nature are a legitimate option then I applaud you for taking that stance and sticking to it. Lord knows I would love to be able to walk the walk I so often talk about when it comes to my personal politics. As it is, I remain an Amazon customer, begrudging but nonetheless complicit. That does not mean I support their nasty tactics against Hachette or their inability to pay the full rate of tax, but I understand it’s a fine line to walk. Do what you can, speak out when you can, and hope that one day the system will suck less.