Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day #274 Elegy on a Country Bookstore

Honey bees are in trouble. Everybody knows that. But there is at least one thing we can do about it. We can stop buying mass-produced honey. Most of the honey that people buy in supermarkets has been heated, filtered, and—in some cases—has had other products (such as cane sugar) added to it. We can pay a little more to buy from local beekeepers. And don’t argue that you can’t find one. They’re around. It may be a little less convenient than pulling a honey jar off a grocery store shelf, but the power of the marketplace is impressive.

I just learned of the passing of one of my favorite bookstores. I met its owner, Melinda Cowan, when I attended a booksellers’ convention the year my first mystery was published. Melinda was one of the people to whom I gave a complimentary copy of Orange as Marmalade. The following year, when Yellow as Legal Pads came out, I did a wildly successful book signing at Cowan's Book Nook. Melinda’s enthusiasm for my writing steered customers in my direction. Since then, the Book Nook has hosted the launch of every single one of my books. And I’ve driven the ninety or so miles up there for book-signings at least three times each year. But that store has folded.

Bookstores, like honeybees, are in trouble. Everybody knows that. But there is at least one thing we can do about it. We can stop buying books from that certain on-line bookseller. You know perfectly well who I’m talking about. It is not e-book sales that are hurting bookstores. It is the people who walk into a bookstore, listen to the recommendations of the knowledgeable people who work there, find books they like, and then proceed to go home and buy those books online. They pay a little less (the way they do for honey produced by companies that regularly medicate their bees). But most people have no clue what’s happening behind the bookselling scenes, the same way most people don’t know how honey is produced and mass marketed.

Let me tell you something that most people don’t know about that A company. Most bookstore owners won’t tell you, because if they do, it sounds like they’re bad-mouthing the competition. Complaining leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many people. Well, today I’m not complaining. I’m stating facts.

When you buy a book from a bookstore, the bookstore gets 40%. Out of that, they have to pay their overhead (salaries, rent, the cost of shipping books in or out, and so on). The 60% that goes to the publisher (and which the bookstore has already paid to that publisher) gets divided between the publisher’s overhead and, at the bottom of the list, the author. On hard-cover books, depending on who the publisher is, the author may get as much as $5. On trade paperbacks, maybe a dollar or two. On the mass-market paperbacks, usually around a quarter or maybe 30 cents.

Amazon, on the other hand, takes a cut of 55%. And they never pay anything for shipping. The publisher is never reimbursed for shipping costs when they send books that Amazon orders, and you know darn well that you pay for the shipping when Amazon sends books to you. Publishers, with their fixed costs of doing business (salaries, office costs, printing prices, and so on) have to make do on that 45% they receive. And the author’s royalties are proportionally lower as a result.

My father always told me, “You get what you pay for.” When we buy cheap, we get cheap. With honey we can taste the difference. With books, we may not realize what we’ve done until our favorite bookstore closes its doors.

The people who used to kill whales gradually found different lines of work when the U.S. put a moratorium on the use of whale products in this country. The bee industry is eventually going to have to change too. And I certainly hope that independent bookstores are still around when my grandchildren have grandkids of their own.

We can make a difference. I’m just so sorry that it is too late to save Cowan’s Book Nook.

BEEattitude for Day # 274:
       Blessed are those who eat good honey, for they shall glow with goodness from their tummies.

The teeny details:
my books:  Please buy them from an independent bookstore or directly from my website.
my eBooks for Kindle:
my eBooks on Smashwords (for all other formats):


AggiePete said...

WOW! I never knew that about the A company; my twin & I frequent the local bookstores here in Houston i.e. Murder by the Book, Borders, etc. I hate to hear of the Book Nook closing - it's like losing a good friend. I'm spending this week-end with Katie (my twin) for our birthday and that is always the high point of our visit together is 'book store browsing' - thank you for a most informative blog today (I love all the blogs believe me but this one really got my attention). Hugs.

Fran Stewart said...

Thank you, Petie.

When I was writing it, I did wonder whether or not anyone would be willing to plow through such a long post.

But the information is important. I think if more people understood what was going on, they might make different book-buying decisions.

Many people also don't realize that authors get no royalties whatsoever from the sale of used books online. -- Just one more tidbot of info!