Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Who Do You Support: The Author or Local Business

As it is summer and the college students are out of town, the local media need to have something to focus on. Their choice this summer: a used bookstore/cafe was being kicked out of its location because the owner had problems paying her lease. Her plight was immediately championed by her customers who were holding fundraisers and letter-writing campaigns to save the business.

Frankly, when I heard the news, I wasn't surprised. Now, I love bookstores and I love cafes in bookstores, and I'm the kind of customer bookstore/cafe owners love -- I rarely leave without buying a book. But I thought this was one of the most unfriendly places in town. The people who'd sit outside for hours drinking coffee were a little scary. Getting waited on inside was nearly impossible if you weren't a regular (and I heard stories from enough people who said they waited at the counter -- not in line but right at the counter -- for 10-15 minutes before getting someone to even acknowledge them). The set-up of the tables wasn't conducive to working with any kind of privacy. And the worst part was the way tables and chairs were set up in the stacks of books meant to be bought. The few times lately I've gone in there to look for a hard-to-find, out-of-print book, I was blocked by someone having coffee and on a computer in front of a whole bookcase. It was very awkward. Based on letters and comments on websites, I'm not the only one who had this reaction to the store.

A friend, knowing how much I love bookstores, was surprised when I said I didn't shop there and didn't care one way or the other. She said, "I thought you'd be someone who supports local businesses."

Last week at our book group meeting, my friend announced that she bought the book at used bookstore at its going out of business sale, everything half off. "I bought it for $5," she said. Which meant it was selling for $10, normally. I bought a new copy via an online bookstore for $10, no shipping costs. While I wasn't supporting the local store, I was supporting the author.

And there is the dilemma. I don't have a problem with buying used books -- especially when they are out of print or very hard to find new or if the profits of the book's sale is staying local in some way, like the used book store. I do have a problem, though, when I walk into a used book store and the owner is selling the book at the same cost of a new book, or close to it, and I could help an author out with a royalty. (Okay, truth is, I am so ridiculously picky about my books that I prefer new anyway; cost isn't the issue for me.)

Another friend argued that I only feel that way because I'm a writer and I published books, and that I should focus on saving a local business. Yet, I felt the local business was ripping off authors. And even if I'm buying the new book from a chain store located in town, aren't I still helping the local economy?

It balances out to an ethical dilemma, at least for this writer -- do I support the local bookstore, the only one left in town that isn't a major chain, or do I make sure the author gets a tally toward the royalty?