A couple of weeks ago there was a knock on our front door. I opened it to find a man selling the services of the local dairy, whose milkman would bring us fresh milk to our door. It’s more expensive than the supermarket, but he talked me into signing up and supporting a small business.
Unfortunately there have been a couple of teething problems and I’ve been fretting over the additional cost of the milk, so I may end up cancelling and returning to the arms of Tesco.
Not to mention, when I answered the door the guy asked me if my mam was in (I’m almost 30). This did not endear him to me.
Okay, I can hear you all thinking, what’s the point of this little story?
Well, this incident, along with a couple of recent conversations I’ve witnessed on Twitter, have got me thinking about the morality of buying books. Specifically, should we make more effort to purchase our literature at independent local stores, which are under threat from the major chains and discount retailers?
Often these books cost more as the small shops can’t compete with the bulk capacity of the larger stores and don’t have their potential for discounts.
So where does that leave the consumer?
We live in an age of austerity, as the media reminds us daily, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that most people are always on the lookout for a bargain or a way to save a few pounds. That includes buying books at half the RRP online or during the weekly shop.
I’ve always been fairly eclectic with my book buying habits. There are a couple of lovely independent bookstores in my area, where I will pick up some new reading material if I’m passing. Occasionally I’ll buy a bestseller in the supermarket, especially during the Christmas season when I’m dashing around last minute looking for gifts. I also buy books in charity shops, Waterstones and WH Smith.
Recently I borrowed a book from the library for the first time in about six years. I used to be a very regular library user, but unfortunately since I left university and began working it’s been difficult to find the time to visit. I’ve always worked out of town and cutbacks mean opening hours aren’t what they were, otherwise I would certainly be an avid borrower, if only to reduce the overflowing piles of books on my shelves!
But I must admit that I’m guilty of using Amazon as my main source for reading material. The convenience of ordering online, the vast choice and the often discounted prices are hard to resist. Plus, as part of Amazon’s Vine scheme, I’ve received a lot of free books to review over the last few years.
So yes, at times I have been guilty of failing to support writers and local book shops by paying full price for my novels, but my choice isn’t malicious.
The positive thing about discount/free books is that I have the opportunity to read more than I would have otherwise. This means I’m reading more widely and discussing the work of many more writers with my friends and family and online.
I think it’s important to support independent book shops whenever possible, as they do a lot to support authors and help those outside the main publishing channels find an audience. But supporting these stores doesn’t just mean buying books; it’s also helpful to attend their events and add to their word of mouth in the community.
For me, it’s about the books. My main motivation is to read as much as I can, wherever I may need to source a book.
What do you think? Do you buy your books in chain stores or do you only ever use independents? Do you think it’s even an issue?