A Very 99 Percent Holiday

Before You Go to Amazon to Do Your Book Shopping

Let Me Lecture at Your Face for a Moment

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STEVEN WEISSMAN

A Very 99 Percent Holiday

Guess which Seattle bookstore gives the most back to the community. Guess! Nope, it's not Elliott Bay Book Company—though that's owned by a good lefty bleeding-heart businessman. And nope, it's certainly not Amazon .com, which celebrates Tea Party values by keeping money out of communities with its nationwide war against paying sales taxes. (Also, Amazon is run by libertarian douchebag Jeff Bezos, who gave $100,000 last year to defeat an initiative that would create a tax on the very wealthiest in this state.)

The correct answer is University Book Store, which has charitable giving written into its DNA. Founded in 1900, UBS was transformed during the Great Depression into a for-profit corporate trust of the University of Washington, overseen by a board of trustees made up of five UW students, four faculty members, and one UW administrator. The board votes on all major decisions relating to the bookstore, with the greater goal of promoting the university's general welfare.

What this means, according to public relations manager Stesha Brandon, is that the bookstore "gives back a portion of our proceeds to the campus," to the tune of about a million dollars a year—a fairly substantial chunk of the store's $50 million annual earnings. The money you spend on books at UBS goes toward a student rebate system—$28 million has been refunded to UW students and faculty since 1930, Brandon says—and three quarters of a million dollars last year went to a textbook scholarship for students in need of financial assistance. UBS's trust was built with the understanding that the community should come together to support those who devote their lives to learning; beliefs don't get much more Occupy-friendly than that.

But that's not the only reason to give UBS your business. The store cares about its workers, too: Brandon praises UBS CEO Bryan Pearce for being "very supportive of making sure we don't have layoffs in this economy. That's been one of his driving principles." Instead, as Amazon eats away at bookstore profits, Pearce has been "finding other ways of controlling costs." Something else Amazon doesn't do that University Book Store does: sponsor 500 public book events a year, 80 percent of which are totally free of charge. (Elliott Bay is the same way.) Hosting readings and lectures and keeping them free is one of the most democratic charges a bookstore can keep. Knowledge belongs to the people. recommended

 

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1
How many near-minimum-wage jobs does UBS supply -- as opposed to the thousands of well-paying jobs that Amazon provides? Those Amazon workers -- mostly young and liberal -- in turn spend their money at local businesses and supporting liberal causes.
Posted by bigyaz on December 7, 2011 at 10:52 AM · Report this
2
The problem with your argument "bigyaz" is that very company(Amazon)is destoying local business with its predatory business practices. I realise "predatory business practices" is an oxymoron--big business is always screwing the little guy.I am a long time bookseller and while I don't make a ton of money--I don't work for a shitbag corporation.You are probably one of those people who come into my place of employment, look at books, and then buy them on Amazon! The big MoFo corporations don't need defenders. Fuck Amazon!
Posted by gberry on December 7, 2011 at 11:39 AM · Report this
tim 3
Amazon keeps money out of communities? The worthy recipients of this non-existent money at 826 Seattle might beg to differ.
http://www.phinneywood.com/2009/09/11/82…
Posted by tim on December 7, 2011 at 12:51 PM · Report this
4
I feel sad when I think about small businesses suffering, but Amazon provides a service that I value, so I will continue to shop through them. I still buy books from the local bookshops in Iowa City, but they won't deliver and it is 30 miles to get there.

They also carry my book, Henry Wood Detective Agency, and have helped me follow my dream of writing.

A woman on Twitter asked if anyone had a suggestion of something she might read. I asked if she liked mysteries and she said she did. I told her that I had a mystery that takes place in 1955 New York and would she like the link. She said she would and 3 minutes later she tweeted to me that she had downloaded my book and was reading it...in Antigua.

It is impossible for a small bookstore to deliver all over the world, in 3 minutes, so they can't compete in that area. But, I can't drink a cup of overprice coffee, write my next novel on my ipad and enjoy the ambiance of people mingling on Amazon. So I will continue to spend my dollars in both places.

I suspect that many people will do the same.
Posted by ExtremelyAvg on December 7, 2011 at 1:07 PM · Report this
5
ExtremelyAvg-- a lot of independent bookstores, Elliott Bay included, sell ebooks on their websites.
Posted by wilt on December 7, 2011 at 10:50 PM · Report this
6
Amazon hires thousands of near-MINIMUM-wage jobs with poor labor conditions—
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/11…

While Amazon's "well-paid" employees are some of the most stressed in the tech industry—
http://www.geekwire.com/2011/facebook-am…

Yep, O What a Paradise It Seems….
Posted by TheWorkHouse on December 7, 2011 at 10:59 PM · Report this
7
ExtremelyAvg - I found your book for sale on the websites of Elliott Bay Book Company, Third Place Books, and Powell's Books. I'm pretty sure they all deliver.

The vast majority of physical bookstores can not only deliver books via their websites, but also have access to external distributors that allow them to promote and sell books that they haven't already taken the risk to pay for (as is generally necessary in most retail industries, books included).

Most indie bookstores also sell ebooks now, thanks to a fairly recent affiliation between Google and the American Booksellers Association. Granted, you won't be able to buy ebooks from an indie store to read on a Kindle, but your iPad doesn't sport quite as proprietary of a system, so you're good to go. As is your Twitter contact, I imagine.

As physical bookstores move increasingly into the digital age, there are fewer and fewer reasons to give your money to a company which, frankly, doesn't care a bit about you as an author, a reader, or a physical member of a physical community.

Occupy Amazon: Shop Local:
http://www.facebook.com/events/297611696…
Posted by LitBooks on December 7, 2011 at 11:03 PM · Report this
8
I worked at UBS for years. When I stop by for a book (or art supplies, wrapping paper, small gifts, greeting cards or or or) I see a lot of familiar faces... five years later! I assure you, employees get paid decent wages (hey, it's still retail) and are offered dental AND medical. Far above this "minimum wage" you mention, bigyaz. Retention of employees strikes me as a good indicator of a good company to work for.
Posted by mews on December 8, 2011 at 1:12 PM · Report this
9
I worked at UBS for about five years. When I'm back in the store to pick up a book (or art supplies, wrapping paper, greeting cards, gifts, a cup of coffee or or or) I see a lot of familiar faces... five years later! Employees make a decent wage (heck, it's still retail) but ALSO get medical and dental insurance. Hey, BIGYAZ, did you know there are over FIVE departments in their main store? Or NINE locations? That a lot of employees getting insurance and making, I assure you, far more than minimum wage.

Needless to say, retention of employees is a good sign of a great company. Amazon has its place in the world, I won't argue, but I do love UBS and will do my holiday shopping there. Also, free gift wrap that isn't tacky.
Posted by mews on December 8, 2011 at 1:28 PM · Report this
10
dfjk
Posted by seozheng on December 8, 2011 at 7:02 PM · Report this
11
Actually UBS provides a good wage and excellent benefits. At age 24 I was diagnosed with cancer and with the help of UBS (and their insurance) I was able to beat it without sacrificing the rest of my life.
Posted by supertajjii on December 10, 2011 at 2:36 PM · Report this
12
So, if the local indy seller doesn't have a copy of Bate's "The Flute" and a small indy selling on Amazon does have it, I should not buy from him? I get most of my books via Amazon simply because Henderson's or Michael's may not have it already on their shelves. The vast majority of these books are shipped from small local stores or book lovers selling ex-library or special subject books as cottage industries using Amazon to help them get those titles out to readers who, in turn, get a good read and support the small guy.

I buy my books where and when I find them and don't feel guilty about it. BTW, we have a local seller in Fairhaven who's a hard core lefty, I seldom go there because his store has become a Bellingham book boutique with shelves full of vanilla reads and very little for the conservative reader. They recently celebrated Banned Books Week by highlighting liberal reads and hiding the conservative stuff! At least on Amazon, I can get what I want or need without the political censorship that gets in the way.
Posted by ironvic on December 11, 2011 at 9:12 AM · Report this
13
I for one am tired of UBS being touted as a "community " bookstore. Default on a college loan because the economy isnt providing jobs? Mortgage payments late? Don't try to get your life to get together working for UBS, you wont pass the CREDIT CHECK. What does my credit have to do with my ability to work? I am college educated, I have no criminal record, not even a parking ticket. I cant work there. Trader Joe's has the same policy. Libertarian owners. BS...I will never shop at either store, I advocate a boycott as often as I can.
Posted by Dr. Gonzo on December 12, 2011 at 1:52 PM · Report this
14
I for one am tired of USB being touted as for the community. Default on a student loan? Late mortgage payments? Don't apply at USB to try to get back on your feet, you wont pass the CREDIT CHECK! I have experience in retail, no criminal history, I had two follow up interviews for a job. I only found out later a credit check held me back. Trader Joe's is the same way(also run by libertarians) I advocate everyone I can to boycott both.
Posted by Dr. Gonzo on December 12, 2011 at 2:13 PM · Report this
15
@12 ironvic: What do you think about Village Books? I try to avoid the malls, but have friends who swear by Barnes & Noble.
Posted by auntie grizelda on December 12, 2011 at 2:55 PM · Report this
16
@12:...or is that the lefty store in Fairhaven you meant?
Posted by auntie grizelda on December 12, 2011 at 2:58 PM · Report this
17
@1--How many of those well-paid Amazon employees work in customer service, talking to actual customers? I would guess, judging by my attempts to resolve a problem with Amazon, approximately zero. I vastly prefer to go to a bookstore with people who really seem happy to talk to you and help--which is pretty much every non-national-chain bookstore I've ever been in.

And, or course, no local bookseller ever decided that if I bought a particular stupid book for a present I wanted a bunch of stupider vaguley-similar books shoved in my face any time I went back for the next few years. Amazon's data storage gives me the willies.
Posted by fruitbat on December 15, 2011 at 1:57 PM · Report this
18
I'm still going to shop at Amazon or other sites for books and have done so for years since they have the best prices, and you pay A LOT less for even new copies of books than you would in a chain bookstore.
Posted by KellyCapitolHill on December 15, 2011 at 2:02 PM · Report this
19
2% is not "a healthy percentage" for a company to give to charity. Most corporations (including Amazon, I bet) give at least that much. Color me unimpressed.
Posted by Crisscross on January 9, 2012 at 1:21 AM · Report this

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