Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
I’ll admit it. I have a bit of a love–hate relationship with the local movement that’s all the rage these days. In theory I support it wholeheartedly. Local businesses give back more to our communities in the form of services, jobs, and cultural activities, and you can bet your locally spent bottom dollar the organically grown brussels sprouts taste better than any frozen ones sold in the supermarket’s freezer section.
But the constant barrage of think local, shop local, buy local, eat local mantras have generated more than my fair share of eye rolls. Buy Local T-shirts? Seriously?
I empty my wallet week after week at Whole Foods for local grass-feed beef and sustainably grown kale. Doesn’t that absolve me of my sins of buying a few Christmas presents from Amazon? I mean, c’mon, you can’t beat those deals. My local toy store has to understand that…
It is this struggle of putting the best of our intentions into action, even when it puts a bigger dent in our checking accounts, that intrigued me—a Kindle-owning Amazon customer who carries an independent bookstore’s frequent buyer card on her key ring—about the impact November 26’s American Express sponsored, Small Business Saturday had on our beleaguered indies. First, did it work? And second, for those of us who want to see the indie survive, will events such as these do enough to make a difference in stores’ long-term survival?
Anecdotal evidence from Bookselling this Week suggests that Small Business Saturday and the overall Black Friday weekend provided a supportive boost. Many indies found sales up 5 to 250 percent over the same period last year. Several additional factors were cited for the uptick in sales, including: the closing of Borders, concerted hand-selling efforts on behalf of staff, and a season of strong titles. Booksellers who did not witness an increase in sales during the weekend nevertheless predicted growth by the end of the holiday season.
But the ultimate question is whether indies and, more importantly, their customers, can keep the momentum going. Can we be convinced of the need to make every day Small Business Saturday? Is it practical? And can we expect occasional indie customers to abandon their Amazon-buying ways when the lure of an AmEx statement credit is gone?
Perhaps what the indies need is a celebrity champion. President Obama and his daughters, for example, visited Washington, D.C.’s Kramerbooks on Small Business Saturday. No disrespect to Obama and his indie support, but I am not quite sure he makes the cut, especially during an election year. One of my classes enjoyed a good chuckle the other night over the idea of recruiting Justin Bieber as the indies’ spokesperson. Far-fetched, I know. (But, seriously—how ’bout it, Biebs?)
But I digress. The fact remains that indies have long struggled against becoming mere showrooms for books—a place people visit to check out the goods and then return to their computers or Amazon apps to purchase reading material. According to a survey just released by the Codex Group, 24 percent of people who bought books online said they had looked at the book in a bookstore first, and 39 percent of people who bought books from Amazon said they had looked at the book in a bookstore first. The Harvard Book Store has a great sign that reads: “Find it here. Buy it here. Keep it here.” Here’s hoping we can do just that. Just without the T-shirts.