Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Best Read City in America

We’ve always known that Cambridge is a great book city. So in some ways, when Amazon released its list of best-read cities in America, it was nice to see our home at the top. We were sure Cambridge loves books, now we had some data to back it up. But the rankings are based on per capita Amazon sales, meaning that Cambridge buys more books, per capita from Amazon than any other city. Even though Cambridge has great bookstores, Cantabridgians are choosing convenience over culture and price over personality. Knowing how much Cambridge buys from Amazon it’s no wonder the city went from dozens of bookstores to a dwindling handful.

Of course, there are some books that can only be bought online, and in this economy it’s hard to chastise anyone for saving some money. But shopping exclusively at Amazon has consequences beyond a dwindling bookstore culture. Some major studies have shown shopping at locally owned businesses has a much more positive impact on the local economy than shopping at a nationally owned chain. One study concluded that for every $100 spent, a locally owned store will recirculate about $45 in the local economy, whereas a nationally owned chain will only recirculate roughly $13. And a little change in your spending can do a lot of good. Another study found that shifting 10% of your spending to local retailers could create 1600 jobs and generate $137 million in new activity. So if you buy all of your books from Amazon now, simply buying every tenth book from one of the local independents will do wonders for Cambridge.

Furthermore, Amazon does not remit Massachusetts sales tax. Not only does the state lose revenue, Amazon gets a 6.25% discount advantage over physical retailers. And they are fighting hard to preserve this advantage, lobbying to prevent legislation that would require them to remit sales tax and sometimes firing their affiliates in states where such legislation is passed.

Of course, I could talk about the quality of service that you get at independent bookstores, but, most people already seem to know about that. 23% of book-buyers prefer to buy books from indie bookstores and yet indie bookstores account for only 5-10% of book purchases. We call this gap between the percentage of books bought in indie bookstores and the percentage of people who “prefer” to shop in them, the “mindshare gap.” So, I could go through the list of things we do that Amazon can’t, and I certainly can’t miss an opportunity to say that Porter Square Books sells ebooks, quite often for the exact same price as Amazon, but it seems like the point has already been made.

Cambridge is a fantastic city to have a book store in. When Porter Square Books opened almost 7 years ago, we were overwhelmed by the support our community showed. Furthermore, selling books in Cambridge isn’t just an issue of scanning barcodes, we get to have fun intelligent conversations with well-read people about the books we love. Most days, working at Porter Square Books feels less like a job and more like being a member of dozens of rolling book clubs. So to everyone who is already making our job so much fun, thank you for your support. And for those of you great readers who only shop at Amazon, stop in once in awhile. You might like what you find.


Theresa Milstein said...

I shop at Porter Square books a lot, but now that I know the harmful local and state impact from buying on-line, I'll think twice before buying books on the Internet.

Chris Remo said...

I only moved to the Porter Square area a couple months ago but Porter Square books has become one of my favorite places. I frequently stop in to get a drink and read a bit at the cafe after work, and I'm trying to buy as many of my books as possible from the store whenever availability allows.

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