Saturday, November 10, 2007

DEAR Drop Everything And Read

DEAR: Drop Everything And Read

The report cards are in and the teachers are pushing the habit of reading. But reading can be so much more than devouring books to rack up a high score or favorable remark. Reading books enables you to enter a different world, develop compassion for another’s pain, meet a friend from another culture that you may never get the chance to visit, and expand your perspective. But where to get these books? Of course convenience provokes us to shop at whatever big chain is nearby: there’s a wide selection, it’s familiar, we believe it’s cheaper, and they usually have coffee.

But what about the independent bookstores? There’s something (perhaps hidden within the American psyche) that makes me feel that supporting the little guy actually encourages and sustains self-government. As companies merge, whether it’s retail or media or books industries, and grow into mega conglomerates, we risk losing a fertile environment for the entrepreneurial spirit. Once you support another’s ability to strike out and create something of their very own, over which they have full autonomy, you champion and advocate the same sovereignty for yourself. The Ma and Pa of independently owned businesses are you and me! It is your grown child, your husband, your best friend, your neighbor. It's a person with a dream, no different than any of us.

When you walk into Rueben's Bookstore, you are walking into Rueben's dream, his passion, his livelihood. Supporting a local anything is important because you are not only supporting someone's dream or vision you are supporting choice and supporting a free society, based on the idea that you can do or be whatever you want when you grow up. You are preventing towns from all becoming the same.

Shopping at Ma and Pa's is a way of valuing the aesthetic differences. Without putting value on that, we lose creativity and individuality. Keeping the little guys alive keeps the towns, states and country we live in diverse and more colorful. Supporting independent businesses gives us more choice and more diversity.

When we walk into Target, we know how it's going to smell, feel and look. We know the carts are red and the font they use on the signs are the same at all Targets. The employee's uniforms are the same. So whether you are in a Target in California, Alaska, New York, Iowa, it is the same experience. So it is with Bed, Bath and Beyond, Starbucks, Borders, and Olive Garden. Same menu, same decor, same lay-out, same sign, same, same, same. Which becomes boring, boring, boring after a while. Which makes us have even less of a culture than we already do. While we enjoy the convenience of it all, we do not want to give up the uniqueness and independence of Ma and Pa businesses. We don't want to give up our "Main Street" – the core of our community. Aside from supporting freedom and individual dreams, placing value and different tastes, looks and feels, there is also the idea of humans connecting and forming relationships where we shop, eat and play.

If you think you vote with your dollars and you enjoy capitalism where everyone should have a fair shot, supporting local and small businesses give them a fighting chance. Especially with virtually no advertising budget. But often the chain stores advertise only a few books at discount, while the majority of books are the same wherever you go. We are forced to ask ourselves, do we spend a more value on supporting the dream, which is our dream, or money? These may be happy fuzzy feeling thoughts, but here are the facts.
Chain stores put the power of what is read and published in this country into the hands of the few (instead of the many) and promote books based on money (not on quality).Basically, the two big book chains have 800 or so stores each, but only one set of book buyers at their headquarters in NY and Ann Arbor, MI who make all the decisions about what books all their stores will carry. Each independent store has its own bookbuyer. In the old days before chains, if an individual bookbuyer refused to stock a certain book it was no big deal, since there were 5,000 other independent stores who might still get the book out into the world. But now (as those independent stores have been replaced by chains) if the single chain buyer for Barnes & Noble or Borders turns down a book, it will now no longer be available in 800-1600 stores across the country. Publishers will often decide whether or not to publish a book depending on whether or not they think Borders and Barnes & Noble will like it. Publishers have also been known to change book cover design, or titles, if the chains object to it. Then, once books get into the chain stores, there’s the question of which books get promoted and sold. Every inch of display space in chain stores (end caps, display tables, register space) is paid placement by publishers. Same with any of Amazon’s featured books or “if you liked this book, you might also like this one...”, etc. This means that only a few big books and big publishers get to put their books front and center, while smaller books and publishers languish in the back of the store, spine out on the shelves. Independent stores, on the other hand, display and hand-sell whatever books they truly believe in and feel are great books that deserve to be read.

So whether or not you chose to still visit the big chain bookstores, please seek out your local independent bookstore. Give them a visit and when you have the chance, order and buy books from them. Developing our local economies, getting to know our neighbors is imperative in these times. Whatever you do, read, read, read to expand and empower yourself.

For additional information on how to ensure the economic health of local communities...see here for more info:


Ann Scott said...

As a couple that just left the corporate paycheck, we strongly believe in the entrepreneurial spirit. It's necessary. The "little guys" have much to offer that is different and unique. Time management is confining. It's important to get out there and experience.

Kate said...

I'm all for preserving Mom and Pop businesses. While many of the chains may be more convenient, I appreciate frequenting smaller businesses that actually remember who I am and what my preferences are. Sometimes it may mean straying off the beaten path to frequent a favorite small business, but being loyal to quality service is certainly worth it.

Lorraine C. Ladish said...

Yep, I LOVE to go into small stores ... Chain stores offer nothing special anymore. Small family owned bookstores are where I started out as a reader, when I was a kid ... I don´t think there are bookstores like that where I live!!!
Nice blog, Jamie!