The price of the independent bookstore is about $18 a month, or just over $100 for the first six months of this year. At least in my case. Curiosity, which is alleged to have killed a cat or two, overcame my greater good sense this morning, and cajoled me. It wanted to know how much actual cash my New Year’s Resolution is costing me. For those of you that don’t know, the NYR in question is to buy at least one book a month at full price from a local independent bookseller (idea courtesy of Red Sofa Literary). So far this year, I’ve paid about $100 more for my books by buying them from independents than I would have if I bought them at Indigo’s online store (for those of you not in Canada, Indigo is Canada’s major bookstore chain, including the brands Chapters, Indigo, Coles and The World’s Biggest Bookstore). That’s about a 21% premium. It’s a lot of money, especially if you’re a struggling writer with little or no income.
Just for the record, I don’t buy ALL my books at Independents. This year, so far, I’ve spent over 80% of my book buying money at Independents. Most of the rest has gone to Indigo.
So what do I get for my $20 a month? Is it worth it, really, paying the extra?
Here’s my perspective. While it may not actually be any more convenient to use my local bookstore (Indigo will deliver them to my door, just as, if not more quickly), Nicholas Hoare will order them for me, for free, and call me when they arrive. They’ll track down hard-to-find books that Indigo doesn’t stock (only one of the 22 books I’ve bought so far this year falls into that category, but one is enough). They’ll recognize me when I walk into the store and the little old lady who orders most of my books for me will always recommend something she’s reading that she loves. LOVES. She’s rarely steered me wrong, and I’ve been introduced to a number of authors I would probably never have read if it hadn’t been for her.
Local bookstore owners champion writers and writing. Their passion for books can ripple out into the community around them, especially when they are regularly putting on readings and events (as, say, Ben McNally Books, another local store, does). With the likes of Indigo increasingly turning to other products (gifts and geegaws) it may well be (in Canada at least) that, sometime in the not too distant future, the independents will provide the only viable places for writers to connect with the public.
Is that worth $20 a month to me? You betcha. Is it to you?