The reasons for this are as familiar as they are compelling: cost, convenience, and selection. Amazon has everything I want at the best price, and my order gets to me in two days. It is simply impossibly inexpensive and easy. And therein lies the problem.
Because I also know that Amazon doesn’t play nice. To say they lean on publishers for lower prices is a bit like saying Michael Corleone “played hardball” with the five families. These concessions trickle down to lower the pay of editors, agents, and writers (I would like to know more about this, so if anyone knows of an article or essay that gives some insight, I’d LOVE to see it).
For Amazon, books are a commodity and a piece to their business puzzle. They are not romantic objects. They are not vessels for knowledge and beauty. They are consumer goods, packaged, priced, and bought as such. And part of me is alright with that (more on this in a minute). But there’s part of me that isn’t.
I’ve rationalized my Amazon buying to this point like this: if I buy from Amazon, I can buy more books with the same amount of money. So while each individual purchase doesn’t provide that author and house with the same return on a full-retail sale, there are more people getting something, albeit in smaller amounts.
Now, however, I’ve read and heard to many Amazon stories to keep my head in the sand, and I need to at least reconsider how I deploy my literary dollars. So I’ve done a little comparison shopping and crunched some numbers—now I ask you, dear readers, to help me think this through.
How should I spend my next $100 book dollars?
First I need data and a control group. I decided on $100 since it makes on the spot comparison easier and can be multiplied out to figure out what my purchasing choices mean over longer periods of time, say, a year. I then picked a selection of titles I very well may buy over the next month or so (I don’t keep a TBR pile. At most, I have two books waiting to be read at any given time. This, from what I can tell, makes me a little unusual in the book blogging world, but I enjoy picking out what to read next too much to subject myself to starting down a stack of waiting titles). I may not read a few of these, but they are all books I might read, so they’ll do for our purposes.
- Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch
- American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell
- The Love of the Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- American Rust by Philipp Meyer
- A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
- Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody
- Perfect Reader by Maggie Pouncey
I then priced them out by retailer: Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, my local BookCourt, New York indie giant The Strand, and Powell’s.
Here are the results:
Full Cover Price: $145.84
The Strand: $126.23
(If you’re interested in the full breakdown, here’s my spreadsheet)
As you can see, the divide is as predictable as it is impressive. The big boys are about 30% cheaper than the upstarts (Does anyone know the relative evil of B&N compared to Amazon? Amazon is today’s whipping boy, but there was a time when all the heat was headed toward the brick and mortar chains).
So now we come down to it…should I allocate my dollars differently? I cannot really, from a strictly budgetary perspective, just fork over $1000 extra dollars a year. But how much am I hurting this industry I love by buying mainly out of my self-interest? I really don’t know.
What exactly is a hand-wringing book buyer to do?
*I guess it could be worse. I could check them out from the library.