Late last week I received the following e-mail from one of the local bookstores in Madison, A Room of One’s Own:
Dear Friends and Booklovers,
All of us at Room want to thank you for all the wonderful birthday wishes! We feel truly grateful to have such great customers for the past 36 years in business.
In this challenging and ever-changing bookselling climate, we are facing some difficult choices this year. Due to decreasing textbook sales and poor holiday-season sales, the past year in particular has been tough for us.
By the end of this year, we will need to decide whether to renew our lease. In order for us to feel confident doing this, we realized we need to sell a minimum of five more books per day to stay strong and vital in this marketplace.
We are hoping to find 365+ people willing to pledge to buy as few as five MORE books from us this year, and possibly to encourage your friends to do the same. If you already buy more books than you can read in a year, consider buying books as gifts, or purchase a gift certificate for your local public or school library. Would you be willing to help us? If so, please sign the pledge form below and return it to us, where it will be proudly posted on our pledge board.
We know our customers value Room and want to keep Room a strong, independent bookstore downtown. We are optimistic these pledges will help us achieve this goal.
With great thanks,
Sandi, Nancy and all the staff at Room.
A Room of One’s Own is a great bookstore. They’re right on State Street, a main pedestrian marketplace in the middle of downtown Madison. They’re a relatively small space, but the have a great selection of books to choose from and can easily special order any books that aren’t in stock. I’ve done this a couple of times and it is great. They host many author events, participate in the Wisconsin Book Festival, and are just generally a place that Madison should be proud of.
Getting that e-mail inspired me to — finally — get serious about changing my book buying behavior.
As I’ve written about before, I’m a bargain and used book shopper. I used to justify used book purchase because I was a student without a lot of money. Plus, I loved the feeling of walking around used bookstores to see what treasures I could find. But in the last couple of years, I shifted from making these used purchased from brick and mortar stores and started taking that habit online, which totally eliminates any local benefit from the transaction.
I also rarely buy new books, and if I do it’s inevitably with a coupon at a major box bookstore. While this behavior is better for authors and publishers than the used habit, it’s not supporting local bookstores that I want to survive.
Another factor in my thoughts on changing my book buying is the fact that I’m a book blogger. I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to receive review copies of books I’m looking forward to and books I might not otherwise find to read and share with others.
Yes, review copies are not free books, they’re work. Yes, publishers are excited to work with bloggers. And yes, I’ve worked hard on my blog and with my reviews and have “earned” my place as a contributing member of this whole enterprise. But let’s be honest — there’s a sense of really good fortune to all of it too.
The problem is that I feel like I’m not giving back to the book enterprise in a way that makes me comfortable. I haven’t done enough to support local stores like A Room Of One’s Own — places that need my help — and I think it’s time for a change.
With that in mind, I’ve been formulating a new book buying philosophy for myself. This isn’t a book buying ban, although I suspect in the end I’ll be bringing fewer books into my life as my budget for books shifts. I like to think of it as a new way of guiding where I’ll get my books from.
Kim’s New Book Buying Guidelines
- If I buy a used book, it will be from a locally-owned and operated store. No more buying online because it’s a penny or scouring the used book sections of major bookstores.
- If I buy a new book, the first place I’ll look for it will be from a local store. If the book is not in stock, I’ll ask the store to order it for me.
- I have the option to go to other brick and mortar stores — Borders, Barnes & Noble, or another option — if I’ve already bought at least one book that month from a local store.
- If I need a book right away and it is not in stock at a local store, I can break Guideline #3 and get it at a big box store. This is basically for read-a-longs or other group reading projects where time is important.
- If I get gift certificates to major bookstores, I can use them however I want.
- I can still use B&N to purchase ebooks, since I have the Nook and it is, for now, the most convenient way to do that.
- If I sell books back to Half Priced Books, I can use that money to buy used books there. But I cannot buy more books than I brought in or excessively overspend what I received.
I’ve been informally following this policy for awhile now, and I don’t think it’s going to be especially restrictive. But it’s time for me to start putting my money into the things that are important to me, and a thriving book community is one of those things. I’m not sure this is even far enough — I’m sure there are others of you who do a lot more to support local bookstores, and you should be proud of that. But this is what I think I can do at the moment.
I’m printing out my pledge card for A Room of One’s Own right now.
Do you have any book buying guidelines for yourself? How do you balance your used and new book purchases?