Friday, April 22, 2011

The Book: It's Not Dead Yet

Here's a link to a great little piece about how our current technology, e-books, etc may or may not be affecting those old school printed books. Take heart! They can play nicely together!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

And on a Lighter Note...

Here's something fun from Flavorwire: the 10 most badly bungled book-to-movie travesties. Because it's Wednesday and we could all use a laugh, right?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Three Cups of What?

You may have seen some reporting done on Greg Mortenson and his organization the Central Asia Institute. 60 Minutes, supported by Jon Krakauer, is accusing him of some unsavory doings: namely, that not all the schools that the CAI claims it built were either built by the CAI or exist at all.

Mortenson's publisher states that it plans to extensively review both the accusations and the book with him. CAI denies all charges.

Here is a quoted tidbit from Krakauer's statement: Using CAI funds, Mortenson has purchased many tens of thousands of copies of Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, which he has subsequently handed out to attendees at his speaking engagements. A significant number of these books were charged to CAI's Pennies for Peace program, contrary to Mortenson's frequent assertions that CAI uses 'every penny' of every donation made to Pennies for Peace to support schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Rather than buy Mortenson's books at wholesale cost from his publisher, moreover, CAI has paid retail price from commercial outlets such as Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. Buying from retailers allows Mortenson to receive his author's royalty for each book given away, and also allows these handouts to augment his ranking on national bestseller lists. (Had he ordered the books from his publisher, Mortenson would not have received a royalty, nor would bestseller lists reflect those purchases.) According to one of Mortenson's friends, when he learned that Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love had bumped Three Cups of Tea from number one down to number two on the New York Times paperback nonfiction list, 'Greg was furious. He started buying books like crazy, with the CAI credit card, to try and put Three Cups back on top.' "

Here is a link to the full 90 pages of the Karakauer piece:

I'm not sure what to think. It's always sad to hear that someone you admire for their humanitarian works has feet of clay. I do think that Mortenson's book has raised awareness of the educational issues in that region, and that his point about educating girls and providing an alternative to religious indoctrination is a good one. It is a viewpoint more likely to induce long-lasting change than bombing is. I don't think I can form an opinion at this time about the money management or lack thereof, or the possible ego involved. I'm sure we will find out lots more in the near future.

Regardless of possible financial shennanigans, I think that Three Cups of Tea has done good in the world. I would be sad to find that charitable dollars have been mismanaged. That's often the way of things, I guess. The important thing, though, is to continue to have hope for change. Without that, we are powerless to change anything.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Sales Tax Struggle

Okay, so that's one of the most boring-sounding titles I've ever come up with. However, sales tax can literally kill an independent bookstore, at least if a major competitor doesn't have to pay and we do.

Hopefully you can read the above map, but if not, the green areas are all states in which Amazon has cut ties with all affiliates because of being asked to keep track of sales tax. That's right; in Colorado it wasn't even about Amazon paying the sales tax itself, but requiring its affiliates to track it. To put it bluntly, Amazon has built its business model on not collecting or tracking sales tax. Its defense is that the burden is too onerous.

Well, it is indeed onerous for us to collect sales tax and pay it. It's onerous for our customers to pay it too. But it is the law, for everyone except Amazon and its ilk. Stores like Barnes & Noble and Walmart, both of whom have heavy online presences, manage to collect and submit sales tax, so obviously it is not an impossible feat.

Now I know that every little bit helps when it comes to a tight budget. But: our argument is that it;s unfair for Amazon to get to play by different rules. Any customer buying with Amazon right now gets a 6 to 7% savings right off the top by not paying sales tax, let alone the under-cost discounts that Amazon uses to get people "in the door", so to speak. Amazon can dictate its discounts from publishers to a certain extent, just like Walmart does, because of the massive quantities it orders. Sadly, our store is not in a position to order hundreds of thousands of copies of a title in order to get that extra 10% discount, so we have to charge more. We also have to pay rent and utilities on our store space, employee payroll, and all those other things that Amazon skimps on.

So, paying sales tax in our store means that books cost more. In fact, our books cost more, period. But believe it or not, we're not raking it in. An extremely well-run bookstore gets a 2% profit margin. We try to give value with our community events and author signings, with book clubs, with great customer service and recommendations, and by knowing your name if you shop with us. But we do have to charge and collect sales tax.

I have a feeling that Amazon's days of avoiding taxes will be coming to a close. They are taking advantage of an antiquated law from the 1990's, when the internet was not nearly so well developed, and internet businesses needed all the advantages they could get. But Amazon is being quite litigious and ruthless about holding onto said advantage.

So, we hope that you do see some value in shopping with us. And think: the sales tax you pay goes to pay the salary of your neighbor who works at the university. It helps with fighting the Crystal Mountain fire. It keeps our roads safe, and our water clean. In fact, that sales tax does quite a bit. While I do understand the tight financial situation that many of us are struggling with in this economy, paying sales tax in your local business is actually really good value.