Most people, when they say ‘shop local,’ think of non-chain restaurants, farmer’s markets, and local stores. But there’s another important area where people should ‘shop local,’ and that’s not just physical products, but also local ideas and local stories.
Once upon a time all newspapers and books were printed locally, and publishing companies provided value to both the author and the reader. In exchange for editing, printing, designing a cover and advertising so the book got good sales, an author would sign away part of the profits for a period of time, usually five years. Under this model, local stories flourished, and readers could walk into a bookstore and find many books written by local authors which talked about local problems, and all the money from that cycle of publication stayed within the community.
Then in the 1980’s publishing houses began to consolidate, and the money flowed to New York City editors, New York City agents, New York City cover artists, and New York City printers. The focus shifted from what stories fostered local people, local problems, and local ideas, to what books would appeal to the most people nationwide. Corporate bean counters demanded profits over quality, and editorial support staff was slashed to the bone. Teams of New York City advertisers now travel around the country, telling local bookstores and libraries what books to buy, and young people who want to edit, proofread, or provide cover art are now told to move to New York City if they want to get a job.
Today those publishing houses are owned by the ‘Big-5’ multinational corporations who control 80% of all media, not just books, but newspapers, television shows and movie studios. Three are owned by foreign corporations (two are German, one is French), and the two remaining publishers are owned by Rupert Murdoch/NewsCorp and CBS Corporation. These five massive corporations control what people think, and the focus of books has become one of promoting corporate ideologies and profit, not local stories. Instead of being printed by local printers, books are now printed overseas in China where cheap labor and lax environmental laws make mass market paperback and hardcover production costs inexpensive.
Often a Big-5 ‘author’ isn’t even the person who wrote the story! ‘Branding’ has become the new buzzword, and teams of ghostwriters are often employed to write under a single ‘McAuthor’s’ name (such as James Patterson who only writes 20% of his own books). The number of books published by these Big-5 publishing companies has shrunk to 8,000 new fiction books published each year, which means fewer support staff. They make their profits by selling everybody the same 8,000 books. Most of the costs are up-front costs, so the more people they can get to buy the exact same book, the more money they make. Because these enormous corporations control all the traditional channels of distribution, the people who write those stories are told to sign away their legal rights or they won’t get published, not for five years as was done when books were printed locally, but for the full length of copyright.
In other words … for the life of the author + 70 years…
Despite much talk about the ‘collapse’ of publishing, the Big-5 multimedia conglomerates are making more profit than ever. Most of this profit is not made on new books, but on the titles they hold hostage in their backlist. The local authors, editors, cover artists, publishers and other support staff who used to create all these books? Well … with only 8,000 new Big-5 books being produced every year, and a monopoly on the means of distribution, most of those support staff are now out of a job.
Enter the indie revolution…
Thanks to e-books and print-on-demand technology, now local authors can once again be heard. Hundreds of thousands of new books are published every year by diverse authors who never had a voice. Others are former traditionally published authors who walked away because the contract terms became so opprobrious only a foolish person would sign them. These are not ‘failed authors,’ but professional writers who said, ‘no thank you … I decline to give my book away forever for a measly $1,000 advance’.
While most independent and small-press books individually only generate modest sales, collectively they publish far more titles than the 8,000 books put out by the Big-5 (300,000 new books in the USA, 185,000 in the UK last year). Each of those independent books needs a proofreader, an editor, a cover designer, and a printer, which, even given the indie trend to do much of the work themselves, still results in an average of $650-$2,200 per title being pumped back into the local economy ($1250 is the average cited by most). Do the math?
8,000 new books x $10,000* to produce = $80,000,000 to NYC publishing staff
485,000 books x $1,250* + D.I.Y. to produce = $606,250,000 to local communities
*This is the out-of-pocket production cost of an average 120,000-word / 250-page novel (editing, proofreading, cover design, formatting for e-book and print-on-demand), not the author’s time spent writing, per-unit printing cost or marketing.
More importantly, once those books go to market, independent authors get to keep between 50% and 70% of their ongoing royalties (versus the 7% to 15% most traditionally published authors earn) so the royalties keep flowing back to your local community year after year instead of to a foreign corporation. Many professional mid-list indies earn a living wage. Who doesn’t wish their local community had more jobs?
Why don’t I ever see these books in my local bookstore?
Indie and small-press books regularly top the bestseller charts at the big online book distributors and are finally beginning to crack the New York Times and USA Today Bestseller Lists. Where we can’t seem to get any traction is in bookstores within our own communities. People don’t realize Big-5 publishing companies pay for the privilege of having their books visible on chain bookstore shelves. Those nice end-cap displays at Barnes & Noble? Yeah … $30,000 per title per month. And if a book is stocked face-out? That’s $3,000 per book. Independent bookstores, on the other hand, survive by stocking what people ask for, so if a local author is invisible to their neighbors, they won’t know to stock a locally produced book.
What about the local public library?
Most libraries only accept traditionally published local authors even though indie books are cheaper for taxpayers and carry fewer lending restrictions. They weed indies out by requiring the authors to acquire a costly Kirkus Review instead of relying on online review sites and refuse to accept an indie book unless it comes in hardcover (a $50,000 print run). Most won’t take indie paperbacks even if the author lives in the town and wishes to donate their books for FREE!
Also, while the majority of indie books are available through the Overdrive catalog which supplies most public libraries with ebooks (many are free), library patrons usually cannot access these ebooks because most libraries have set up a discriminatory ‘firewall’ to exclude independently published books from view. This is despite the fact many indie authors offer their ebooks to libraries for free.
Don’t believe me? Go directly to www.OverDrive.com and look up that free ebook you recently downloaded from Amazon and gave a 5-star review. Now go into your local public library online lending portal to search for that same ebook using their OverDrive function (most public libraries use OverDrive for ebook lending). What? You can’t find it? But it’s there … and it’s free for your local library to get it. But library patrons can’t see local books because they’re locked up in the indie author ghetto.
What can you do?
When you read local, over 70% of the value of that dollar remains in your community, circulating among the shopkeepers, the workers, and the residents, enriching the local economy and supporting your local tax base. Not only does the author get paid more, but so do the support staff who helped bring that book into being. Those local people can afford local goods and pay taxes to support the policemen, the firemen, the schools, the roads, and yes, the libraries.
More locally produced books means more local ideas, more local jobs, and more local people earning a living wage off a greater number of titles. More authors, more cover artists, editors and proofreaders. More local printers instead of books mass-printed in China. More local bookstores that can meet the market demand that is created when a local author says ‘you can buy my book in paperback here.’ More young people staying put and raising their families here instead of moving to New York City because that’s the only place they can have a career. And more diversity. More voices. More attention to local issues and local problems.
Ask your taxpayer-funded public library to support the local tax base…
Public librarians have an almost godlike power to write a fair and honest review in Library Journal to recommend local books to other libraries nationwide. Think what would happen if your local library devoted a shelf, right as you walk into door, with a sign that says Our Local Authors, instead of giving those valuable taxpayer-funded displays away for free to Big-5 publishing companies? Would you be more likely to pick up that book and give it a chance? Do you think you might fall in love with a local author’s work? Would you be more likely to walk into a local bookstore and buy that author’s work? It worked in Arizona. Why can’t it happen in your local community?
Let local bookstores know you support indie authors…
When you stop in at a local bookstore, ask them to show you what books are written by local authors. Most independent bookstores will carry local titles regardless of who published them if their patrons request them. The problem is they’re competing with the big online retailers, so in order to survive, they must stock titles that draw local people in their door. Discrimination against local authors is a self-defeating cycle because this is what happens when the average indie author tells somebody about their book.
SETTING – LOCAL PTA MEETING
PTA Mom: “Really? You wrote a book? Where can I buy it?”
Author Mom: “Amazon.com.”
PTA Mom: “But I like to read in paperback. Where can I get it?”
Author Mom: “The only place you can get it is at Amazon.com. Or you can order it from your local Independent Bookstore and they will order it from my printer, Createspace, which is an Amazon.com company. But they charge full list price and you’ll have to go back down to the store to pick it up.”
PTA Mom: “But I don’t want to pay the $3.99 shipping at Amazon.”
Author Mom: “If you group together your order with other stuff worth $35 total, you can get the shipping for free and have it delivered right to your door.”
PTA Mom: “But I want to support local businesses.”
Author Mom: “Well I wish I could send you to the local bookstore or library to find my book, but they discriminate against me. So if you want to read my book, you’ll have to order it from Amazon.com.”
PTA Mom (surfing Amazon website with cell phone): “Wow! All this stuff at Amazon is so cheap! Here’s a toy for my son! And that thing I needed from the hardware store! And a new pair of shoes! And if I subscribe to Amazon Prime, I’ll get free next-day shipping. I never have to step foot into a local store again!”
Contrary to the rhetoric, Amazon.com is not the evil empire (well, okay, maybe a little). Jeff Bezos started out as an online bookstore before he realized books are a gateway-drug to selling more profitable things. Even though book selling is only marginally profitable, Amazon promotes indie titles because, a) his wife is an author and b) while a customer is there to download that free ebook they just spotted on BookBub, they show you the SmartPhone you priced out the last time you were there. And then when you leave their website, they stalk you with AdWords and send you emails saying ‘hey, you just looked at this product. Come on back and buy it!’
Nor can you vilify indie authors for promoting their own books. We have as much as a right to eat as you do. Because Amazon treats indie authors (mostly) fairly, Amazon now has an army of over 485,000 indie authors who pay their own money for advertisements to drive millions of customers to their website every single day. Bezos doesn’t have to pay for marketing. All he has to do is –not- treat indie authors like dirt and they’ll do it for him.
Do the math:
8,000 Big-5 authors per year recommend local bookstores in their home town
485,000 Indie/small-press authors per year recommend the bookstores which support their career, which in most cases, sadly, is limited to Amazon.com
If you prefer to shop online, you can still support local authors by taking advantage of one of the Listopias that feature local authors from your community. Remember, even if you don’t buy from your local bookstore, you can still encourage jobs and money to flow back into your own community by supporting local authors, local editors, local cover artists, local printers, local e-book formatting specialists and author-website designers by buying locally written and produced books.
Books by ___your home town or region name____ authors
Books set in ___your home town or region____
Books about ____your home town or region____
There are many such listopias on Goodreads or local author’s guild websites. Search us out. Many independent authors offer the first book in their series for free as an enticement to get you to give them a chance. Grab a local book and, if you enjoy it, leave a fair and unbaised review. Ask your local bookstore and library to carry that author’s other titles. The tax base and economy you support will be your own, not some far-off, foreign-owned multi-national corporation and a mass-market printer based in China.
And if that ‘local’ author is a Big-5 published book, please support them as well! Why? Because it’s the ‘local’ part which matters. Why not support your neighbors? The taxpayer base you support will be your own.