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Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is: New Book Purchasing Guidelines

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is: New Book Purchasing Guidelines post image

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Some Exceptions

  • 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?

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan via Flickr.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Bex February 15, 2011, 7:13 am

    This is a great policy. After I finish my year of not buying books, I think mine will have to be along similar lines, as I watched all the imndependent bookshops close down where I used to live, and now that i’ve moved I feel like i’ve got a second chance to be more supportive! Great post!

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 7:45 pm

      Bex: I’m still amazed by a year of not buying books. It doesn’t seem that hard, yet I get antsy if I go more than a month without a new book. It’s a problem.

      I didn’t pay a lot of attention to bookstores when I lived in Minnesota, but where I live in Madison it’s hard not to see them all the time and want to go there.

  • Amy February 15, 2011, 7:35 am

    Great new guidelines, I am impressed! One of the things that I do is buy hard copies of review copies that I love. I also try to buy locally, though… my local stores have such a very tiny selection. No women’s studies sections, no gender studies sections, no glbtq books, hardly any African lit, basically none of the sections I love most. And if I order in a book at my local indie I end up paying at least 20% more at least than the big box, and wayyyy more than online. I still buy there, but it is frustrating!

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 7:48 pm

      Amy: That’s a great idea, and one I hadn’t really thought of. What do you do with the review copies after you have a hardcover?

      I’ve ordered books through my indie, and it ends up being exactly the list price for the book. So it is more expensive than a big box store or Amazon, but that’s only because those places discount books so much. Is that the situation with your local independent bookstore, or do books get marked up from list price?

      • Amy February 15, 2011, 7:54 pm

        Well, part of the issue is that books are pricier in Canada to begin with, and then the books tend to be the highest listed price for the book. Sometimes higher. I find the difference is partially that online books get discounted but part of that discount, I think, sometimes takes into account the currency fluctuations. i.e. right now the Canadian dollar is worth just more than the US dollar… but if you look at list prices we are charged 15-40% higher.

        • Kim February 15, 2011, 8:06 pm

          That’s too bad, and that would be really frustrating. I didn’t know prices were higher in Canada. I wonder if it’s because it costs more to ship books therein the first place? I don’t know how discounting for buying books online works, but I know it’s usually cheaper to order a book online from a big store than it is to go buy it in person.

          • Amy February 15, 2011, 8:09 pm

            I have no idea, but tis sad. For example looking at a newish book I have that was published in 2003. US price is listed on the cover as 11, Canadian price at 17… Possibly party shipping, but also the legacy of our currency being worth less I think.

  • rhapsodyinbooks February 15, 2011, 8:02 am

    I love A Room of One’s Own! It would be such a shame if it didn’t make it. When I’m in Madison I always head there and buy something. It seems like the independents would benefit most if the distributors would give the small stores the same cost percentage breaks they give the big volume sellers. I think you are right that bloggers must do our part too in helping, because we love those stores!

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 7:49 pm

      rhapsodyinbooks: I’d be so sad if they went out of business. But I know rent on State Street is really, really expensive. I hope the pledge drive helps out.

      Your suggestion is a great one. I wish that were the case. I almost always pay list price when I shop at an independent bookstore, but never at a bigger store. I’m sure that is why.

      Let me know next time you are in Madison!

  • Diane@BibliophilebytheSea February 15, 2011, 8:19 am

    Kim, This post said so much, and sounds like you gave the subject a lot of thought. I have been a huge online shopper for books and most everything else –simply for convenience. Your post just made me realize (even more) how important it is to support our local business, whether it be books or something else.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 7:51 pm

      Diane: I’ve been thinking about this since August, actually, when I moved and had this epiphany about the sheer number of books I had. After thinking about why that was, I realized a lot of it was my book buying behavior and I decided to try to change it. These thoughts are basically the result of that.

      I’m not a huge online shopper, although I do sometimes get clothes or purses or DVDs from online. I used to get a lot of books, but I’ve been cutting back. And of course you’re right — it’s important to support all local business. I just can’t totally afford to do that, so I had to pick one thing that’s most important to me — bookstores 🙂

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) February 15, 2011, 8:20 am

    I support our local indie for all the reasons you named plus they’re the only store around here that hosts author events. I’m heading off to an event today and I know I’ll buy several books while I’m there.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 7:52 pm

      Kathy: That’s exciting! I don’t go to as many author events as I wish I did. Maybe another upcoming goal will be to get to more of them around Madison.

  • Falaise February 15, 2011, 8:32 am

    Good for you. I wish I was less lazy and could do something similar. We are lucky enough to have a good small indie bookseller close to us but it is still difficult for me to get there with all my other commitments. It is also good to see your bookshop being proactive and creative with their marketing to generate the additional sales they need.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 7:53 pm

      Falaise: I’m excited they are being proactive. I know some other bookstores are struggling, but I haven’t heard much about their plans to try and survive.

      I’m lucky that I can walk to A Room of One’s Own from my apartment. That ends up being even closer than having to go to the post office to pick up books when I order them online and they won’t deliver them to my door.

  • Steph February 15, 2011, 9:46 am

    Your guidelines sounds really reasonable and make a lot of sense given what we as readers value! I admit that I pretty much only buy books at used bookstores these days, but the one I frequent is a local chain, so surely that means something, right? Unfortunately Nashville no longer has very many indie bookstores, which is a shame… I do subscribe to Powell’s Indiespensible program, which while it isn’t local to me, is an indie bookstore I am happy to support!

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 7:54 pm

      Steph: Of course that means something! I love local used bookstores. There are a couple in Madison that I love, and I want to support them too. I think Powell’s is a great store to support, too 🙂

  • Lenore February 15, 2011, 1:36 pm

    For many years, I couldn’t resist the lure of the cheap books online and at used book stores. But now that I am making decent money, I try to buy at least one book every time I go into an indie bookstore.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 7:55 pm

      Lenore: That’s a good goal. I like that one a lot too, although I don’t travel much so don’t go to a lot of different indie bookstores. The lure of cheap books online is dangerous. I was buying so many books I didn’t need when I discovered how many were available used via Amazon marketplace for just a penny. It was ridiculous.

  • Kailana February 15, 2011, 1:46 pm

    I am good about shopping at used bookstores, but independent bookstores I am terrible with using… I should really do so more, but most of the shopping I do is with gift cards and that is at the mercy of the person that bought them…

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 7:56 pm

      Kailana: I do a lot with gift cards too, and most of the ones I get are from my parents for Barnes & Noble because they know I have my Nook. I think it’s still good to buy from bigger stores too — they’re having problems, as we’ve seen with Borders.

  • Jeanne February 15, 2011, 3:51 pm

    We have one bookstore in my small town, and mostly use it to buy birthday presents when the kids have a party. Sometimes they have new books, but it’s tiny so there’s little selection.

    Almost all of my purchases are online–books, clothes, whatever. Anything except food; we have one grocery store and one big box store in town!

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 7:57 pm

      Jeanne: I think a lot of independent stores suffer from having a small space and smaller numbers of books. If it’s a store that’s close, it’s easy to have them order a book and go pick it up, but that’s not always the most convenient thing.

      I’m impressed with people who buy clothes online. Every time I’ve done that, I end up with something that doesn’t fit right at all!

  • Teresa February 15, 2011, 4:22 pm

    I love this! I’ve been thinking a lot about the same thing, especially since a new indie bookstore opened in my area. (We were without one in Northern Virginia for the last couple of years–the closest was in DC.) I’ve been thinking a making a habit of buying maybe a book a month there and cutting way back (perhaps even eliminating) my use of book-swapping sites. I’m feeling like it’s too much of a good thing, you know?

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 7:59 pm

      Teresa: That’s almost exactly how I was starting to feel. I have sooo many unread books in my apartment, and a big chunk of those are books I received for review or were sent to me by other bloggers just because. That’s very lucky. there’s no reason that I can’d give back to the whole thing by investing my book buying dollars better, even if it means purchasing fewer books myself. My goal is, I think, one book a month from A Room of One’s Own, and then trying to visit other places on some sort of rotating basis.

  • Ash February 15, 2011, 4:49 pm

    I try to buy from local stores, but there is only one new bookstore in Iowa City. I probably buy 12-15 books there over the course of a year, which is quite a few. I would shop there more, but the owners of my favorite used bookstore are more helpful and if I buy new books I typically do it with coupons. I always, always buy my comic books and graphic novels from my local comic book store though.

    My opinion on this is largely based on the experience I’ve had at my local bookstore. It’s a large store with a great selection, but I’ve had bad experiences with the employees. I want local bookstores to stay around, but it’s not enough for it to be a local store. The employees have to be friendly and preferably forge some kind of relationship with me as a frequent book buyer. If the employees at my local B&N do it better, I don’t have a problem going there instead.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 8:04 pm

      Ash: That’s definitely quite a few, especially given the average number of books people buy in a year (which is not many, although I can’t remember the number). I use a lot of coupons for new books, too.

      And you make a great point — a store doesn’t deserve to exist just because it’s a local store. It has to be a good store. Luckily, mine is, but I wouldn’t frequent it if I hadn’t had good experiences there.

  • Erin February 16, 2011, 8:02 pm

    These are great guidelines, Kim! As a former independent bookstore employee, I know first-hand how greatly your new buying habits will be appreciated 🙂

    One downside to my new home city is that it’s pretty much devoid of independent bookstores. The last non-specialty one went out of business shortly after I moved to the area. I wish I had a place to shop locally! I do tend to buy used books primarily, which I now do at Half Price Books, but I’d love to have an indie around as well. I hope A Room of One’s Own gets enough support to renew that lease!

    • Kim February 17, 2011, 7:33 pm

      Erin: I hope they do too! I like that they called out for help ahead of time instead of waiting until it was too late. I’m optimistic the community will response. It’s too bad there aren’t a lot of bookstores in your new home city, although Half Price Books is always a fun place to visit.

  • Vasilly February 18, 2011, 7:55 pm

    There aren’t many indies in my area that sell new books so I’m often stuck buying for Amazon or Borders. With two huge Borders stores closing in my area, it’s going to make the problem of buying new books harder for the people in my area. *sigh* Because I have a Kobo, I’m able to buy ebooks from indies in different states now like Powells or even bookstores in New York and still save money. I like that I’m able to patron those stores even if I can’t be there in person.

    • Kim February 19, 2011, 6:07 pm

      Vasilly: It’s frustrating that the local bookstores in your area and even the bigger stores. I’d hate to not be able to go to a bookstore when I wanted to. I should do more ebook shopping at independent stores, since you can do that with Google books now.

  • Colleen (Books in the City) February 26, 2011, 11:19 am

    Great, great post! I have been thinking a lot about needing to do something similar – I need to find a local bookstore in NYC to support rather than ordering online or doing so much paperbackswap. I like your guideline of buying used books from a brick and mortar location – I have a great used bookstore in my city – Housing Works Books – all the profits go to benefit their charity. Thanks for prompting me to think differently about my book buying habits!

    • Kim February 27, 2011, 9:23 am

      Thanks Colleen! I think the biggest one for me will continue to be the used book point — I still buy a lot more books that way, but buying them online doesn’t help local stores, of which we have several close to me that are excellent.

  • Rose February 27, 2011, 2:17 pm

    I agree with your blog too – and as a Londoner I’m surrounded by loads and loads of good bookshops, but its still easiest to go to the big chains (or more precisely, the Waterstones on Piccadilly that is 5 floors of books, topped off with cocktails). You’re right to pose the challenge – and so I will make more of an effort to find and to patronise the indies.

    • Kim March 1, 2011, 6:30 pm

      Rose: I do remember there being a lot of good bookshops when I was in London a couple years ago. I think we actually stopped at that Waterstones, which was so cool (and I am sure, tempting)! Good luck with your support for indies 🙂

  • Gavin February 27, 2011, 2:38 pm

    Kim- This is a wonderful post and you have come up with some great guidelines. As for that email from A Room of One’s Own I wish the last couple of local bookstore in my area had shared similar thoughts with their customers before going out of business.

    • Kim March 1, 2011, 6:30 pm

      Gavin: I was really glad Room sent out the e-mail early. I think once people know the bookstore needs more support, people will step up. It’s mostly an awareness thing, I hope.

  • Jennifer March 6, 2011, 7:06 pm

    I feel incredibly inspired by your post. I don’t have any sort of book buying policy but I am thinking of creating one now. You are right, it is so important to give back to your local community and now I feel motivated in being a more active contributor and supporter of that community. I don’t buy many used books but I am buying a lot more e-books since I got my iPad. Still, I am totally devoted to buying a fair share of paper books because I don’t want to see bookstores that I know and love close.

    • Kim March 6, 2011, 9:40 pm

      Jennifer: Thank you! I think trying to buy books is something everyone could try to do, even within a limited budget. I don’t buy too many ebooks, even with my Nook.