Books are More than a Product
We became involved with books out of respect for the material they contain and what books represent. “Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations,” said Henry David Thoreau.
It does make a difference WHERE you shop for books. Our values are reflected everyday by the support we give to the products we buy and where we choose to buy them. When a cheaper price is the bottomline to your shopping and when the decision of when and how a book gets published is only in the hands of a select “privileged few”, the system of publishing and distributing books is failing all of us. We are all in deeper trouble than we think. Publishers and the mass-merchants of this country have slowly and steadily sold off our most prized possession — our intellectual property–our books.
Harper and Row, Little Brown, Random House, Knopf, Double Day, Bantam, Putnam, have all been sold to foreign interests. The largest U.S. publishers are now owned by large multinational corporations outside of the USA. They have already begun to make decisions to cut authors and print-runs solely based on economics. The political and cultural fallout is staggering.
For Barnes and Noble (the last mass-market chain store) and the online 900 lb. gorilla retailer Amazon, decisions are made by a handful of buyers supposedly “informed” with the public’s best interest. They influence and help guide what gets published, at what price, and how it is marketed.
Mass market retailing has been effective (and devastating) in the areas of hardware, drugs, food and clothing. Gone are the local pharmacy, corner hardware store and the personalized clothiers of yesterday. We live in a 24/7 chain of hyper-capitalism that never sleeps.
The main purpose of chain-stores and Amazon are the same: to control the market, to be an always open-for-business purchasing-machine and to respond to shareholder interests; selling the highest quantity in the shortest amount of time; to win the war of capital. But the mass market chain stores have already lost to Amazon. Brick and mortar stores have been used by the public as “Amazon Showrooms” — and Amazon encouraged this behavior by offering discounts and price-checking apps, rewarding customers to be traitors to their neighborhood bookstores.
By helping kill off the competition, Amazon has monopolized the market, strangling free trade and forcing publishers to accept unfavorable terms. Only a few publishers have bucked this trend. Smaller independent publishers offer respite from these trends, and they are generally supported and found in abundance in small indie bookstores who remain neutral buyers without centralized power, to persuade publishers on what they should be publishing or marketing.
We live in an age of speed, greed and price discounting at the expense of our own enrichment. An untainted selection, good service, and an aversion to censorship is something indie stores offer and there is some evidence that this movement is growing. Indie stores are invested in community; bringing authors to town, hosting events, and offering an ambience impossible to find online. Readers and thoughtful consumers appreciate the smaller personalized experiences that help enrich their community.
Amazon is hungry for total domination in ALL fields of retailing. They now offer over 20 million products, most of them non-media. Jeff Bezos is not in the book business, he is in the product business. Ten years ago Bezos launched the Kindle and called for an end to physical books. The Kindle was a technological book burning, but the public has come back to the physical book and Bezos has reversed course, opening a chain of bookstores, selling Amazon bestsellers.
At Book Beat we sell what we believe in, and stock a wide range of quality books. Many are unusual, under-represented and occasionally you might find signed or out-of-print rarities. Our focus has always been on children’s books, literature, art, photography and important current events. We are responsive to serving our community.
Publishers have a long history of supporting the wrong partners. The American Bookseller Association won the largest Anti-Trust settlement in history ($20 million) against Penguin publishers, who were found offering large rebates and discounts to chain-stores that were not offered to independent booksellers. Independent stores were not asking for better treatment, just fair treatment and a level playing field.
We are an indie, one of the minority sellers of books. Your support is important to us, and our survival depends on it. We hope to continue offering our community a creative space to meet and make discoveries. When you buy books online from Amazon, you diminish your community. Your money enriches a monopolist and takes tax dollars away from Michigan. When you are purchasing books, please think of an independent bookstore. We are an Amazon-free Zone. Thank you for stopping by.
Cary Loren for the Book Beat