Why I buy my books from Amazon and do not feel guilty about it…

15 11 2012

UPDATE: This post was written before Amazon’s bullying of Hachette (and the result that some books are just not even available at Amazon) and numerous of articles regarding Amazon’s mistreatment of their employees. I have since taken (most of) my business elsewhere: Bol, Play, Powell’s Books, Awesome Books, Aaron’s Books… Yes, I have to pay more, but that’s how it is. In all honesty, I do have to say that in certain rare occassions, I still buy from Amazon (UK), but only when I really can’t find it anywhere else.

 

In the last couple of months, I’ve been reading quite a few disapproving, almost accusing posts, musings, articles, tweets, etc. about buying (especially) books from Amazon. What is the deal, I hear you think? When you buy books at a ‘regular’ store you will usually end up paying a lot more than the price Amazon sells their books for. Amazon even prides itself on that by consciously advertising how much profit you, the buyer, will make by buying your stuff from them, e.g. 17% off RRP (regular retail price). 50% off, what a bargain, right? And sure it is. It’s a bargain for the buyer who will gladly come back to Amazon and buy more discount stuff, and maybe – hopefully for Amazon – also stuff that is *not* discounted. However, obviously not everyone is so happy about that… Amazon is in essence selling off its books at a loss.  So, if we look at the other end of the spectrum… what about the authors of the books who have to see their books not sold at e.g. £18.99/$17.99 (as hardcovers often tend to be priced at) or £7.99/$9.99 (for paperbacks), but at £5.24 or $6.99? Honestly, I have no clue how much they (still) get from a sold book. No clue whatsoever. But what I do know is that I used to feel bad (not that it’s the conscious intention of the authors, agents or what have you, I’m sure, to make me feel bad) for even thinking about buying my stuff (books) from Amazon, a feeling even enhanced by some recent online articles.

Well, here’s me proudly saying: I buy my books on Amazon (UK).

And here’s me explaining why…

Firstly, I’m a teacher. I teach English – mostly ESL – in a school in Brussels, Belgium. The kids in my school “have to” read books in English. Most do it reluctantly. Primary school is long behind them. They’re at that age when reading has lost all of its cool. As a teacher I’m ecstatic if I get one “reader” per class… I’m also the school librarian for the English library at school, a job which I value a whole lot. I love books, I love giving books in the hands of these teens. I love it when they come back into my classroom saying they enjoyed a book. I love it when they come into my class asking for the next book in a series. I love it when they come to me for advice on getting a good book. I love it when they get books. Period.

Hence I also think it is my job both as a teacher and a school librarian to make sure that I can provide them with as many different books, from as many different genres, and from as many different authors as possible. You know, making sure reading is not a chore, not another task, but something they can enjoy again, preferable about something they know, recognize, love, have liked, want to know, like or love… Also, it’s all about the exposure. Exposure is key! For that, I need to be able to show them a big stack of books to choose from… And see this is where the snag is…

In Brussels I know of 3 English bookstores (I’m not counting Fnac and De Standaard, and a few indie stores because none of them are “English” bookstores). One is Waterstones – not an indie bookshop. The other is a bookstore specializing in travel books but stocking other nonfiction and fiction too of course (there would be no chance of survival otherwise).  The third is an education bookstore, mainly dealing in course books but also selling some fiction and nonfiction bestsellers. So “locally”, I basically have three stores at my disposal to get as many different sorts of books for as many different types of students as possible. Oh, Waterstones does have a fair selection of books. They’ll have Hunger Games. They’ll have Twilight. They will also have books by Aprilynne Pike, Becca Fitzpatrick, Lauren Kate, … lots of fantasy at Waterstones. They will also have John Green, Anthony Horowitz and probably also Maureen Johnson, Jacqueline Wilson, Sarah Dessen and definitely The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Percy Jackson. They might have Lauren Myracle’s TTYL-series, but they will not have Shine. They will have Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series, but they will not have Going Bovine. What they will not have either is books by Nova Ren Suma, Courtney Summers, Frank Portman, A.S. King, Geoff Herbach, Melina Marchetta, John Corey Whaley, Rick Yancey, Barry Lyga, Cecil Castellucci, Joshua C. Cohen, Matthew Quick, Adam Rapp or debut books by tons of new, exciting, young or not so young authors, and lots of the stuff these kids might encounter on online forums or message boards or just by Googling books on a certain topic they are interested in.

So where to go when I want to buy books by these authors or about all the topics these kids are interested in? Right, online stores… which brings me to a slew of possibilities, one of which is Amazon.

Which brings me to my second point. As a public school librarian, I have a limited budget. I have no idea what budgets are in British or American schools to keep their school library up to date, but I’ve managed to up our annual budget from €200 to about €500 for books over the course of the past 5 years or so, and I get another €200 that I should technically spend on DVDs, teacher books, library material and other assorted media. I often end up spending it on MG and YA books as well. If I buy locally (at Waterstones). I pay about €15 for a recent book. €500 gets me between 30 and 35 books annually. Buying from a “big” online store gets me between 70 and 75 books a year. That’s double the amount of books. So double the amount of choice for the kids.

Which brings me to the choice of books. If I want what’s heavily publicized, marketed or advertised, I can find what I need locally. But the kids can get that on their own as well (you’d think, that, right? Well turns out they don’t). I think it is also my responsibility as a teacher and a librarian to open the world of books to them. To let them know that there is more than The Hunger Games and Harry Potter – all good, of course! The road less traveled and all that…

A couple of anecdotes. Last year I had a girl come in asking me about a book she’s read about on some kind of online forum. She had heard it was supposed to be really good, but she couldn’t find it anywhere in the stores and would I be willing to help her out? She was talking about Lauren Oliver’s Delirium. Another girl came in and checked out Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy. She recommended it to her friend after she was done. They both recommended it to a  third friend, who recommended it to his friends. They’ve now also all read at least one other Barry Lyga book. Then a Year 11 student came in on September 1st (!) asking me if I’d bought any good books during the summer holiday that she might also like (she’d come in to borrow a lot of books last year – meaning more than the required 4 they “have to read” per year for English). She’s into fantasy but with a bit of a twist. I gave her Laini Tayor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. She devoured it. Came back after 2 days saying she lent it to her friend. Her friend returned it and wanted to get the sequel too, which was not out yet unfortunately. Instead she got the Gemma Doyle trilogy (all three of them). Another friend of hers got The Diviners she stayed up for to read until 4AM.

So all in all, do I want to support authors. Of course I do! No question about it! But, I truly think I support authors at least as much by giving my students their books to read. I think – hope – authors appreciate it more that their words on a page are actually being read than at what store I bought their book. I could never give my kids all these books if I only had 35 books per year to give them.

Notes:

  • I buy all my clothes and my kid’s clothes in town. This town I live in is really tiny. There are 2 shopping streets. I also buy all of our shoes there. I once ordered a pair of shoes in an online store. I never wore them.
  • I buy meat from a local bio-farm.
  • I get my vegetables from my folks’ vegetable patch.
  • I grow my own herbs (no garden).
  • I buy books from indie (online) stores when there’s a special occasion, like when that means I get an autographed book… that’s not buying locally, though… just from independent places.
  • I love the coffee at Soul Coffee, a local barista bar serving fair trade coffee.
  • Books and DVDs are the only products I buy from Amazon.
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