"The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off."

Gloria Steinem

Friday, September 4, 2015

Where Can You Buy My Book? It’s A Matter Of Principle

I advocate for communities.  I am pretty open as to just what can be called a “community,” and put people above profit.  As such, I am no great fan of Bigness, particularly when it comes to corporations.  I am by nature on the side of “the little guy.”  But I live in the real world, and much has changed since I reached adulthood.  Today, in order to be a writer, I must abandon my principles and publish (indirectly) using one of the best examples of how Bigness can work against those communities for which I work.  Here’s the sad but logical story, and a very principled one.

The Bigness I refer to is Amazon.com, which I have been known to refer to as “Amasquash,” for the effect it has had on one of my favorite components of a community, the local, independent book store.  I cannot place the blame for the almost complete demise of local book stores solely on Amazon, as the Bigness Effect on them goes back to increasingly larger brick-and-mortar stores, which climaxed with Barnes & Noble and the late, unlamented (at least by me) Borders.  But Borders is gone, and the future of Barnes & Noble is obscure at best, because online ordering has replaced going to the local—or even not so local—bookstore.  Local bookstores are by no means the only victims of Amasquash, but they have meant a great deal to me since childhood, and are the ones with which I, as a writer, am most concerned.

A community needs a means of communication among its members.  Not too long ago, a bookstore was a likely candidate for the job.  It attracts people who like to think and talk, and among them a few who also like to do something.  Talk about yearning for a lost world, but it is exactly that type of local communication that a thriving community demonstrates.

Today’s technology delivers personal isolation, which is a cancer on any sense of community.  In the kind of irony that one finds everywhere in history, technology has enabled an unprecedented widening of those with something to contribute, so that a community need not depend solely upon itself for ideas and support.  Knowledge from far away and previously unavailable is today quite literally at our fingertips.  The problem is getting the fingertips in touch with each other.

I have just published a book entitled They've Been Down So Long.../Getting Up's Still On Their Minds, which is aimed directly at the residents of the eight towns on the lower Schuylkill River.  They are my primary market, but after the problem of making them aware of the book (and it’s a big problem) comes the question of where they can buy it.  Online purchase easy; the book is only a few keystrokes away (I will provide the link at the end of this post).  Nothing should be easier, but I am old enough to know better, personally as well as academically.  The fact that “It’s just not the same” I can attribute to age and personal experience, but I also assess the online phenomenon professionally as a major historical event.

There is not only single independent bookstore in the eight towns that constitute both my subjects and the core of my market.  There is, however, one that is at least strategically located near several of them, the Towne Book Center and Café, in the Providence Town Center at the intersection of U.S. Route 422 and Pa. Route 29.  This shopping center is an ersatz location if there ever was one, an artificial “re-creation” of the mythical American downtown of our dreams.  But it does have an independent bookstore, and I sold a good number of copies of my first book there.

I had hopes for even greater sales, as the subject of my first book was only Norristown, while my second, They’ve Been Down So Long…/Getting Up’s Still On Their Minds, deals with an additional seven towns.  I was therefore displeased to be informed by the store owner that he will not stock my new book.  He’ll fulfill any orders placed, but will not stock it.  He has a reason, a very principled one.  Amazon is his enemy, and he is part of an organization fighting it in the courts.  Things are getting ugly, and he is angry.  Therefore, because my book is published by a company owned by Amazon, he says sorry but no.

He is clearly taking this stand on principle.  Amazon is simply not going to notice—much less care—that one bookstore has declined to stock my new book.  His business, on the contrary, will lose potential income.  The loss may not be too noticeable, but it is certainly a greater percentage of his gross sales than of Amazon’s.  I lose the most, largely because “brick and mortar” book outlets are getting quite scarce (At present I have only one, the Historical Society of Montgomery County, at 1654 DeKalb Street in Norristown.  The Spring-Ford Area Historical Society will be stocking copies shortly).  Thus the loss of even one hurts.

I am deeply conflicted on this.  I truly believe that people in the towns not too far from the Towne Book Center could benefit from reading my book.  That’s why I wrote it.  To have my best (okay, only) local bookstore refuse to stock my book certainly doesn’t help what I am trying to do.  Yet I am also sympathetic, for reasons explained above.  I write about principles I consider important and Towne Book Center upholds a principle it considers important, in the knowledge that the gesture will go entirely unnoticed.  We both uphold our principles, and make no impact whatsoever on the Bigness we both oppose.  Here again, on a day-to-day basis (but not “in the end”), it truly is all about the Benjamins.  We can all lament this to our heart’s content, but we have to keep on living in this changing world, and that means compromise.  The struggle over principles is unending.

As I have to depend on internet marketing, here is the link to buy my book:  

http://www.amazon.com/Theyve-Getting-Still-Their-Minds/dp/1514322013/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1441217096&sr=8-1&keywords=they%27ve+been+down+so+long&pebp=1441217103084&perid=1C0J71XGM63G8YVF8TE0