Got an email in the bookstore today from a potential customer who chose Amazon over my employer Quakerbooks, a niche independent bookstore, because of their cheap cheap prices. I got a bit inspired by my reply, included here.
Subject: book prices
I really wanted to buy the below book [Why Grace is True], but I checked amazon. com. Their prices: new is $16.07, or used from $5.94. Your price is $22.95.
I know how hard it is to be competitive, but I wanted to let you know that people do comparison shop.
Yes, Amazon, Walmart and the rest of the global media/distribution juggernaut will always be able to underprice us on the mainstream books.
What we offer is a much wider selection of Quaker books than anyone else. We don’t just have the more watered-down books aimed at the general population (mostly with the unsaid premise “what you can learn from those folksy Quakers”), but a whole list of books about Quaker religious education, Quaker vision, Quaker belief, Quaker history and what it means to be a Quaker today. We don’t just have the HarperCollins titles, but those from Quaker publishers that Amazon’s never heard of. We easily beat Amazon in selection and we certainly match them in speed and customer service.
We give a more grounded context to what these books mean to Friends – the reviews on our site’s If Grace is True are written by Friends for Friends. We try to know our books. When people call us up we’ll help with their selection. When they’re trying to decide, we’ll read the table of contents to them. Quaker publishers and booksellers talk about the “ministry of the written word,” which means remembering that there’s a purpose behind this bookselling. These books aren’t commodities, they aren’t units, they’re not ISBN numbers to be packed and shipped. We’d rather not sell a book than sell a book someone wouldn’t value (which is why we’ll include negative book descriptions & comments).
Paying a few extra dollars to support us means your also supporting the outreach and Quaker self-identity our catalog provides for many Friends. Plus you can be assured our employees get living wages and health care (for which I’m personally thankful).
So yes, customers can save a few bucks at Amazon. Always will be able to. But your purchasing decisions are also decisions about who you support and what you value. There’s a price to distinctiveness, whether it’s cultural, religious, regional, or culinary. By buying from Amazon you’re financing a Wall Street-run commodity seller that doesn’t give a jot about Quakerism or even whether grace might be true. If enough Friends choose price over content, then Quaker bookstores and publishers will disappear, our only representation being mainstream books sold at generic shops. That will cost us a lot more than seven bucks.
Well, I hope you enjoy the book. I’m sure Amazon appreciates your patronage.