What books cost

Last Wednesday, Donald and I went to hear my friend Max Gladstone read from his new book Three Parts Dead, at the Harvard Book Store.  I bought a copy of the book so Max could sign it (and so I could read it, obviously).  I purchased the hardcover from the Harvard Book Store even though I would have preferred to buy the Kindle e-book.  I have too many books, and I don’t have shelf space for all of them in my apartment.  However, I was there, and I figured that the Harvard Book Store would be more likely to give Max the opportunity to do readings upon the release of future novels if they sold a lot of copies.

I paid $24.99 plus 6.25% sales tax for the hardcover, for a total of $26.55.  Just out of curiosity, I checked the price on Amazon.  $11.99 for the Kindle.  $13.58 for the hardcover.  Even if I didn’t fall for Amazon’s “buy more stuff you don’t need to get free shipping” ploy, it would have been only another $3.99 for shipping, for a total of $17.57.

The Harvard Book Store has the following on the bottom of the register receipt I received:

How much money stays in your community when you spend $100?
At a locally owned business: $68
At a chain store: $43
At Amazon: $0

I do care about supporting local businesses (I buy most of my produce, at least late spring through fall, at a local farm.  I buy most of my meat from a Massachusetts farmer.).  I think independent bookstores are an asset to a community, in part because they can connect authors with readers, face-to-face, at events like Wednesday’s reading.  I have serious concerns about Amazon, from their blatant attempts to monopolize bookselling and publishing, to reports of unfair labor practices in their warehouses.  I don’t begrudge the Harvard Bookstore my $26.55.

But I question whether guilting people into buying things they didn’t want (hardcover vs. e-book), at a 50% premium, is, in the long term, a sustainable business model.

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