Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Vote with your Wallet: Book World Monopolies

Why not just buy a book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble? I'm glad you asked.

I am constantly shocked that people who are active writers, who are passionate political activists, and who are uniformly concerned about corporate media monopolies in the US don't know about what is happening in the book industry and the impact it has on the flow of information.

Larry Stevenson, former CEO of Canadian big box book retailer Chapters, infamously complained that the biggest problem with the book industry was that there were too many books. For him, that meant too many risky decisions to make about which books to carry and which to cast into the oblivion--otherwise known as the independent book store. It would be far simpler, and much more profitable, if someone just told everybody to read the same few books. (I find this eerily reminiscent of Bush's dictator quotes.)

Someone has been telling everyone to read the same few books: the behemoth book retailers, including Chapters, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. In the past ten years, there has been a great simultaneous consolidation of book publishers and book retailers in North America. Translation: consolidation of power, accomplished through illegal price rigging and promotional concessions.

The result? They get more money, we get fewer books.

In addition, independent publishers and independent books stores are struggling to survive--and largely failing. Fewer authors are publishing, and it is much harder for first-time authors to publish. The book world monopolies threaten the diversity and quality of new literature.

What can you do? Vote with your wallet!

1. Brick and Mortar Shopping
Remember when you used to buy books in a locally-owned bookstore where the owners lived down the street, were invested in the community, and knew you by name. How were we seduced to abandon our neighborhood entrepreneurs in favor of a $3.00 cup of coffee?

Shop in your neighborhood, at your local independent book seller. If you don't find something you want on the shelf, ask them to place a special order. Buy gift certificates for special occasions, and help your loved ones re-learn the pleasure of reading independent voices and supporting independent businesses.

2. Online Shopping
Yes, there is life beyond Amazon. Check out Book Sense, a portal site for independent booksellers. And for rare, used, and out of print books, don't forget the legendary Powells Books.

For more information about Book World Monopolies:

William Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passages, an independent bookstore in Corte Madera, California, and an attorney, has authored an article online documents in detail the rise and impact of the book world monopolies. Read it here.

Michael Neill, an old friend of mine, is the owner of Mosaic Books in Kelowna, British Columbia, one of Canada's pre-eminent independent book stores, and The Book Manager, a provider of software for independent book stores and distributors. He has been on the forefront of informing and organizing independent book publishers and retailers. You can contact Michael by email.