Moral Dilemma: Where to Buy Books

One good thing to come out of the last year of enforced seclusion due to COVID was the love of reading. Even if we couldn’t pop into our neighborhood bookstore—if our neighborhood still had a bookstore—we could go online and buy a book with the click of a mouse. What’s more, we could choose among a hard-cover book, a paperback book, an e-book, and in many cases, an audiobook. And if we didn’t want to spend money, we could connect with our local library online and have all the same choices.

Even if we were not already in the habit of reading our books on Kindle or an iPad, during 2020, it became much more convenient to shop online for books, as more and more bookstores developed websites, and e-commerce sites like gained popularity. But if we think all of these opportunities were leveling the book-buying playing field, we would be wrong. Amazon continues to dominate the bookselling business in a big way. A recent article by George Packer in The New Yorker lays out the numbers.

  • $5.25 billion: Amazon’s current annual revenue from book sales
  • 19.5%: the percentage of all books sold in the U.S. that are Kindle titles
  • 30%: the percentage of all book sales that are e-books
  • 65%: amazon’s share of e-book sales
  • 35%: Apple and Barnes & Noble’s share of the balance
  • 53%: the discount Amazon receives from Random House on its books.
  • 50%: the decrease in the number of independent bookstores over the past twenty years. (There used to be about 4,000 in the U.S.; now there are fewer than 2,000.)
  • 10%: the percentage of books now sold through independent bookstores

So, where is the moral dilemma? It is quite simply between the big online booksellers, with Amazon in the starring role, and the independently owned bookstores that still remain. The #BoxedOut campaign from the American Booksellers Association (ABA)—a national, not-for-profit trade organization that works to help independently owned bookstores grow and succeed—has laid out six arguments for shopping at your local bookstore instead of Amazon.

For details, check out this blog post.

  1. More than one independent bookstore has closed each week since the pandemic shut the United States down.
  2. Currently, 20% of independent bookstores across the country are in danger of closing.
  3. Approximately 28% of all indie bookstore revenue immediately recirculates in the local economy.
  4. Choosing a locally owned business generates 3x as much economic benefit for your community versus shopping at a chain. 
  5. Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.
  6. Amazon will be just fine.