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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2 Responses to What books cost

  1. I’m sick to death of bookstores, especially indie ones, trying to guilt and insult people who like ebooks. I LIKE EBOOKS. I like not needing to carry around 10lbs of books whenever I go on vacation. I like shopping for obscure books that the bookstores can never get for me and I can get at 2am while in my PJs.

    Guilt does not make me want to go to indie stores to buy their books. Gouging authors and asking for larger cuts when they do book signings because of the “horrible” ebook readers does not make me want to book with indie stores. Insulting people who read and/or write ebooks as “not real writers/readers” because ebooks aren’t “real” books is not giving me any reason to walk inside their doors.

  2. Kristin says:

    To be fair, this particular bookstore does sell Google e-books, including my friend’s, through their website, using the IndieBound Reader app. I checked, and the book I purchased was available for $11.99, same price as the Kindle edition. I had to do some digging through their website to find this information, though, as it’s nowhere on their home page. If you search for a book or type of book, then you get to the Google e-books sidebar. Unfortunately, Google e-books are apparently not compatible with the e-ink Kindle I own, only the Kindle fire. And I prefer e-ink over a backlit screen. If I bought an e-book from them, I’d have to read it on either a computer, or my smart phone.

    In one sense, I don’t mind the bookstore charging what they think they need to charge, or not promoting e-books if they like paper books better. I just think it’s sad, because they aren’t going to survive if they can’t provide what customers actually want.

    They do have an Espresso Book Machine, which is kind of cool, but again, that makes paper books I don’t want.

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