Bookseller Tips & Tricks: Having Conversations About the Importance of Shopping Local

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Billie Bloebaum of Third Street Books in McMinnville, Oregon, has been vocal on social media about the importance of shopping local; she is also an active advocate for urging authors to link their books to independent bookstores instead of Amazon. Bookselling This Week talked with Bloebaum about how she navigates these conversations with friends, family, customers, and authors, and how other booksellers can do the same.

Without naming names, Bloebaum told BTW that the issue of authors promoting Amazon over indies is one she’s been facing for a while.

“I have a favorite author whose books I devour faithfully and who partners with their local indie for signed books and who links to multiple sources for pre-orders, but who also offers exclusive content to Amazon and its affiliated companies,” said Bloebaum. “It's frustrating, as a fan, when the only way that I can have access to content from a creator whose work I deeply appreciate is to give money to a company that, for all intents and purposes, sees indies as barriers to their complete and utter domination of the book industry.”

This is also an issue that she faces at Third Street, Bloebaum shared. While she usually doesn’t start conversations about Amazon with her customers, she will take the time to explain the benefits of shopping local, such as how money spent at local business stays in-state, if a customer mentions that they can find a book cheaper on Amazon.

“If it's a budget issue — and sometimes it really is — I will look to see if Powell's has a used copy on the shelf for them or recommend that they look to see if the library has it,” Bloebaum added, noting that if the customer is a tourist or from out of state, she’ll hand them a Third Street bookmark and let them know that they can order online and have their order shipped to their house.

Or, Bloebaum said, “I'll ask where they live and try to recommend an indie near them through whom they can buy or order. (Or even a Barnes & Noble. I mean, I sometimes think even getting folks to buy books from Target rather than Amazon should count as a ‘win’).”

Bloebaum said that Third Street also gets a lot of self-published or independently published authors who want the store to carry their books and do events with them, and writers who aren’t yet published also go to the store to seek out advice. One of the things Third Street always tells these authors, she said, is to not include links to Amazon, Amazon reviews, or Amazon sales stats in any correspondence or conversation with independent bookstores, and to not put any reference to Amazon on their book covers.

It’s also helpful to recommend indie authors other services they can use to create their work, said Bloebaum, adding that Third Street directs “them to IngramSpark if they're publishing through CreateSpace. Most indie authors just don't know or don't think they have other options. Not all of them are receptive, because Amazon is huge and can give them exposure that a small store like ours never could. Although in an ideal world, authors would link to indies instead of Amazon, I'm gratified now when they link to us in addition to.”

This is especially true for independently published authors, Bloebaum said, noting that it's an unfortunate truth that, if they want to make any money, they almost have to sell their books on Amazon. “From a financial perspective, I get it,” she said. “For some authors. For others, though, I will definitely do the social media (usually Twitter) ask for the changing of the pre-order link. I have a script. I wrote a column about it for the PNBA blog last year. And it helps. But we all need to be doing it. ALL OF US. Nicely, but still. Make the ask.”

Bloebaum also shared some tips about how to navigate the shop local conversation politely and with humor: reminding customers how much money Jeff Bezos has, coupled with increasing concerns over personal data being shared or leaked online, is sometimes enough for people to reconsider their buying options, she said.

She also suggested reminding customers that there is very little that an indie can't do — outside of price-matching and free shipping, maybe nothing — that Amazon can. If you can find a way to show people that the “extra” that they pay by shopping local gives them additional benefit — “Ooh. I see you're buying Book X. Have you read Book Y? They have a lot of similar themes and evoked a lot of the same emotions for me as a reader" rather than "Customers who bought Book X also bought Tchotchke A and Movie J" or the instant gratification of walking out with an item or having a vibrant and eclectic downtown core — it will make them look at things a little differently.

Said Bloebaum, “Know that you can't change every mind and it's not always worth your energy to keep trying. Know who's open and who's not and focus most of your energy on the ones who are willing to listen. I find that the people who are just ill-informed and are willing to change are far more numerous than the ones who aren't.”

“If we could change every mind,” she added, “that would be awesome, but we can't and we need to recognize that. We can still hope for a different outcome, but it's best to focus your energy where it might actually do some good. And buy stubborn Aunt Edith a gift certificate for her local indie so that she risks nothing by experiencing it for herself and maybe, just maybe, making the change.”