On Trying to Buy Books Consciously Online
The other day someone asked me where I buy books online and my response was, “Uhhhh. How much time do you have?”
It was seemingly a simple question, but unfortunately it’s not that easy if you want to be conscious about the businesses you’re supporting when buying books online.
Here’s the process I go through when deciding how to get books online. For this example, let’s assume they’re all new books.
I want to support independent bookstores first and foremost, so I’ll check the website of my favorite indies to see if they sell online. I’ve found that most don’t. But I’m lucky because one of the indies in my city does: Gramercy Books. Yay! I buy what I can from there.
But sometimes their distributor doesn’t have everything I need, in which case my backup indie is Powell’s in Portland. It’s not local to me, but it’s not a heartless big box store either.
But wait. I’ve heard a lot of small press publishers say the best way to support them is to buy books direct from their website. They’re already operating on a shoestring budget and just trying to amplify voices that mainstream publishing has ignored. Buying direct from them puts more money in their pockets.
Ordering books from two or three different online stores means shipping is really starting to add up right about now. Personally, I’m privileged in that I have an entertainment budget that allows me to pay for shipping like this because it’s important to me that I support these shops with my dollars in this way.
But that’s not true for everyone. So when you just need everything to come from one place and want cheap shipping and don’t want to support Amazon with their shady business practices and worker exploitation, what do you do?
I haven’t had many good experiences at big box retail chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million, but I still think they’re probably more ethical than Amazon. Even after B&N unceremoniously fired all their managers awhile back. I doubt their employees are working factory lines and having to pee in a bottle to keep their productivity up because they don’t have time to go to the bathroom without being reprimanded by management.
Which brings me to why I can’t stomach buying from Amazon unless it absolutely can’t be helped. I understand that for low-income people living in book deserts, it may be the only reliable way to get books in a timely manner so I don’t want to judge people for buying from them. But I do think if you have the means and ability to shop elsewhere, it’s a good idea to do so.
My philosophy on where to buy books online boils down to considering where my dollars would do the most good and speaking with my dollars. Buying local, even online, means I’m supporting my community. Buying direct from publishers means I’m putting more money in their pockets so they can continue publishing excellent work. I like knowing I can do some good even in these small ways.
This is not to judge other people for how they buy books, but rather to encourage you to do the good you can using what you have. If you have the time, patience, and budget to buy books from a couple of different places to speak with your dollars, I hope you’ll do so.
Now, tell me in the comments… Where do you buy books online? Is there an online bookshop you like?