katagrapho

writing things down…

Why shop at Amazon?

I’ve wondered whether Amazon was evil and I’ve made an appeal to book reviewers to link to publishers and not to Amazon. Now, I want to point to a well-reasoned argument for shopping with independent Christian booksellers instead of Amazon. I think the argument could be applied to doing business with religious publishers as well.  Also, many Christian booksellers do business on the web, so even if there is no independent store in your area, there is no reason not to shop with someone for whom “profit isn’t — or shouldn’t be — our driving force: we are called be a prophetic presence on the high street, not simply another profiteering one.” For a related story see the recent article in Christianity Today, “How to Save the Christian Bookstore.”

If you are ever in Eugene, OR, get yourself over to Windows Booksellers. And, when in Pasadena, CA find your way to Archives Bookshop and Fuller Seminary Bookstore. All three stores will gladly take orders online and over the phone.

For a nice list of theological and biblical studies publishers, complete with links, see here.

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10 Comments»

  Charles wrote @

Although, I am not a bookseller, or son of a bookseller, I appreciate your thoughts. But, I might make a small note. I’m not sure if it is a Christian bookstore or not, but Dove Booksellers treated me worse than any secular bookstore ever has–and as a bibliophile I have visited lots of them both in person and online.

  B-W wrote @

Also, many Christian booksellers do business on the web, so even if there is no independent store in your area, there is no reason not to shop with someone for whom “profit isn’t — or shouldn’t be — our driving force: we are called be a prophetic presence on the high street, not simply another profiteering one.”

I have to respectfully push back against this one. For two reasons:

1. Most independent bookstores sell at prices considerably higher than Amazon. Keeping one’s expenses down is a reason to shop somewhere (or not to shop somewhere else), however much you may want to cite other factors (This is noted in the article you’ve linked to, but is strangely absent here. However, on this note, I would add that I often link to http://www.overstock.com, which often beats Amazon’s prices).

2. Although the Christian bookstores you cite are fine entities, and certainly worthy of support, the major Christian bookstore chains with which I have awareness are places that I have strong trouble supporting, often being tied to forms of Christianity that I very much have issues with.

That leaves us with the argument to support independent or local shops. There is much reason to consider this, but ultimately, the fact that such places are unable to sell merchandise for a competitive price will be their downfall. Other motives may be good, but they’re frankly not worth much against the need to keep costs down.

  Chris wrote @

B-W:
I really must push back at you.

1. I’m well aware of the need to “keep cost down” for myself and many like me (I’m not rolling in the dough, especially now with two little ones!). But, it’s logic like you betray here that has led to the success of the Amazons and Wal-Marts, and more detrimentally, the decline of the mom-and-pops and local small businesses. There is almost no way in the world that a smaller business can compete price-wise with these mega-retailers. The large companies have several ways of keeping per-item costs down. For one, they receive deep discounts by buying large quantities from publishers and/or wholesalers. Independent stores simply cannot do that. Secondly, once the discount mega-seller establishes itself, it can insist on receiving even deeper discounts because it knows that publishers cannot afford not to have their books available with them. The whole issue of keeping costs down is more complex than I can describe here and likely more complex than I even understand. Nevertheless, I have serious issues with “bottom line” rationale when shopping for certain products like books (excluding mass-market ones). I think it eventually leads to superficial, watered-down fluff produced and sold by ignorant folks who care very little for the quality of the product.

2. I did not have major Christian bookstore chains in mind. That’s why I used “independent” in my descriptions.

  B-W wrote @

1. I’m well aware of the need to “keep cost down” for myself and many like me (I’m not rolling in the dough, especially now with two little ones!). But, it’s logic like you betray here that has led to the success of the Amazons and Wal-Marts, and more detrimentally, the decline of the mom-and-pops and local small businesses.

You are quite right. But no amount of “you should shop somewhere else because it’s the right thing to do” is going to successfully save independent chains. (NOTE: I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, since Target is a viable alternative) Our arguments, however rooted in idealism, simply must give more practical reasons for the desired behavior.

  Bob Cornwall wrote @

Chris,

I guess I’m not of the opinion that Amazon is the Devil. In fact, I know that publishers and authors make good use of Amazon to get their books sold. As for Christian bookstores, you mention Windows and Archives and Fuller — the first two are unique and the latter is a seminary related one. These are few and far between, and while you can go to them online or by phone they don’t carry the variety that Amazon does.

Just a word about the typical Christian bookstore — they have changed considerably over the years. I worked at one during seminary. Most however sell mainly gift items and a few extremely conservative books. About as liberal as they get is Zondervan — and that might be pushing things. I went to the local bookstore in Lompoc, asked if they would carry my recently published book from CSS and never heard back. I was told they’d have to look into it. Apparently I don’t fit their clientele.

So, Amazon might not be perfect, but it serves its purpose.

  Phil Groom wrote @

Hi Chris – thanks for the link and kind remarks about my post: much appreciated.

Bob Cornwall:

About as liberal as they get is Zondervan — and that might be pushing things.

If ever you’re in the UK, call in at my bookshop: I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Kinda small, but I try to pack in as broad a range as possible. Heck, bro, I even sell the Qur’an and the Bhagavad Gita!!

B-W: I’m not saying you or anyone else owes us a living: John Duncan (one of my respondents) expresses it perfectly, I think:

I do not believe we have any right to appeal to the Christian public to come to us and support us unless we provide a really good service, a good environment for customers and all the rest of it.

  Jim wrote @

My personal preference is to order from Eisenbrauns. They have great prices and are oriented completely towards Biblical Studies. If they don’t have what I want, I order directly from the publisher. I don’t shop in the local Christian bookstores. Ever. They have nothing worth reading and as someone has already said, they tend towards the John Hagee / Pat Robertson end of the spectrum.

  Chris wrote @

Based on the number of comments about local Christian bookstores, I should probably have been a little more explicit about the sort of store I had in mind. As my examples tell, I was thinking of places that actually care about stocking good books in theology, biblical studies, ethics, etc. I was not thinking of the purveyors of Hagee, Precious Moments, and the latest from Amy Grant.

[…] Why shop at Amazon? […]

[…] Why shop at Amazon? Katagrapho, 20/05/2008 […]


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