People like to talk about the importance of buying books in a local independent bookstore to help keep local independent bookstore culture alive—especially now that the mud is flying around about Amazon and Hachette squabbling with each other. Rather than support a bully, the thinking goes, you should buy books from a local instead.
But as Kelly Jensen notes in BookRiot, that’s often not possible. It may even smack of “privilege.”
Not all readers have access to brick and mortar stores. Not all readers have the capability to walk to their local indie or their local Barnes & Noble or their local Books A Million or their local Chapters and buy books in person. Not all readers have the ability to get in a car, fill up their gas tanks, and spend an hour driving each way to a store. Not everyone lives in a great city, not everyone lives near a great city, and not every great city is a great city for bookstores. We aren’t just talking about “flyover country” here, the big swath of land people hate having to sit through while on the airplane going from one coast to the other. There are book deserts all over the place, including major metropolitan areas.
And even when there are local bookstores, they aren’t necessarily welcome ones. Jensen relates the story of being made to feel unwelcome at a local store by an overheard phone conversation by the owner, and leaving without buying anything.
She is annoyed that people place such a premium on shopping local and sneer at people who buy online (especially from Amazon) because they don’t have any reasonable alternative. I certainly see where she’s coming from. My parents live 60 miles away from the nearest town, and Amazon’s used books (many of them sold for just a penny plus shipping) are a godsend to them. They can find exactly the used book they need and have it just a few days later at about the same total price they’d have paid for it in a second-hand book store. without having to spend any gas.
And as Jensen points out, even if you’re in a big city, that’s no guarantee you’ll be able to find a good book store. A friend of mine from Kansas City laments that there are apparently no longer any second-hand book stores in the entire Kansas City metro area.
I seem to be lucky enough to have at least two nearby local bookstores, 16th Street Variety and Indy Reads Books, within a few blocks of me. I should go over and check them out sometime. But not everybody is that lucky—and even people who local stores aren’t under any obligation to use them.