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Let’s Save the Brick & Mortar Book Stores!

June 27, 2018

(image via wikimedia)

Things don’t look good for Brick & Mortar Booksellers.  Last week Barnes and Noble announced that total sales are down 6% compared to this time last year.  There’s some other bad news (and you can read it here ), but I think almost everybody has an idea about how bad it is.  Things might not get better.  A few weeks ago, a study claimed that binge watching from streaming services is causing people to read a lot less.  Streaming services probably aren’t going away.  And Amazon, Brick & Mortar’s competition, isn’t going away either.

A lot of people don’t remember or don’t know, but twenty years ago Barnes & Noble was the bad guy.  Barnes & Noble was the giant putting the Ma and Pa book shops out of business.  Does anybody still remember the movie You’ve Got Mail? Sometimes people get it confused with Sleepless in Seattle.  Anyway, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s rom-com You’ve Got Mail  told the story of the B&M giant owner falling in love with the small-time book store owner.  It was sweet, but that story probably wouldn’t be told the same way today.  Now it would be Tom Hanks B&M Booksellers character falling in love with the female Jeff Bezos (if you can picture that) who’s using the cinematic version of Amazon to destroy the former bookselling giant and gain world domination.  I might watch that movie, as long as it was funny and didn’t get preachy.

Amazon’s original strategy, when Amazon was seen as an underdog, was to sucker people with low book prices and encourage them to then buy other products.  Now Amazon doesn’t have to worry as much about book prices because it has wiped out so much competition in that market.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Amazon.  I use Prime a lot in many different ways, but I can also see why people think of Jeff Bezos as a diabolical figure.  The Amazon warehouses have a bad reputation for horrible working conditions.  Amazon has been able to avoid taxes that other businesses have to suffer with paying.  That’s what diabolical figures do, screw over employees and avoid taxes.  But as long as Amazon keeps prices down, people use its services.

Bezos also owns The Washington Post newspaper and now can control any negative news about Amazon (such as the previously mentioned warehouse conditions or tax avoidance).  I’m not saying that Jeff Bezos would use a prominent newspaper to contain negative information about his company, but it could happen, especially if he’s a diabolical figure.  I’m not about to research the Washington Post to see if/how it’s reported on these matters (I’m not that kind of blogger), but it’s an… interesting question.

This is a problem for B&M Booksellers.   They’re competing against a company that controls the news, controls a major streaming service, has investors who don’t care about short-term losses, and sells a bunch of items others than books and coffee.  What advantage does B&M Booksellers have?

The local booksellers have a community, if they choose to take advantage of it.  More people are sympathetic to B&M Booksellers than they were 20 years ago.  It’s not quite like Blockbuster, where consumers mockingly waited for the dinosaur to finally go instinct.  Most book buyers actually want B&M Booksellers to succeed.  Most people see the value of having a local book store.  But the local book store owners have to take the initiative and take advantage of this goodwill.

Our local B&M Bookseller hosts a bunch of school book fairs, with games and drawings.  It’s also pretty good about hosting book signings.  The sales consultants (I don’t know what to call cashiers anymore) talk about books when we check out. These stores also… Yeah, I’m not sure what else they do, but they’d better think of something.

B&M Booksellers isn’t the same thing as Sears or Blockbuster.  When those old stores fade away, nobody really misses them.  There might be some nostalgia, but very few customers yearn for the day they could browse through rows of videos or wander aimlessly through a department store that sold jeans and washing machines right next to each other.  Book stores are different.  The world needs book stores.  Maybe the world doesn’t, but I do.  Even though I don’t buy as many books as I used to (the publishing companies could help by not pushing so many $16.00 paperbacks), I buy them at B&M Booksellers.  Yeah, I still have my own ebooks on Amazon, but we aspiring authors have to use the resources available.

I’m not putting B&M Booksellers on higher moral ground than Amazon.  I’m sure the owners of B&M Booksellers are just as diabolical as Jeff Bezos.  Right now Jeff Bezos is simply better at being diabolical.  Me?  I’m just rooting for the diabolical owners of B&M Booksellers to get their act together.


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“You suck!”  HaHaHa!

No, no, no!  You can learn better ways to handle this and other situations by reading the book…

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