As a writer and avid reader, I love to give and get books during the holidays.

Browsing the shelves of a local bookstore for a perfect present or discovering a new author by receiving a gift are holiday joys.

But the pleasure of visiting our favorite bookstores is under threat.

The challenges of today’s book marketplace, particularly from online sales and big-box stores, are endangering local, independent bookstores.

Some old friends have folded in recent years: Books Etc., Bookland, Port in the Storm.

And surviving stores like Portsmouth’s RiverRun Bookstore and Camden’s Owl & Turtle scramble to say afloat.


When a bookstore closes, its community loses a valuable part of itself — a place to meet people who care about books and a place that supports local authors.

Independent bookstores are being undermined by cut-rate prices at online and big-box stores.

But cheapest is not necessarily best when it comes to supporting local quality of life.

Buying at an independent bookstore supports our literary community and makes economic sense for our towns and cities.

The December report from the Maine Center for Economic Policy survey reveals that “in general every $100 spent at locally owned businesses generates an additional $58 in local impact, $25 more than comparable spending at a national chain.”

Consider where your $100 goes (or doesn’t go!) when buying from an online source like Amazon, e-commerce’s bookselling heavyweight.


In addition to being the industry behemoth, Amazon has key advantages against local, brick-and-mortar stores: No local employees to pay, no local utility bills, no state sales tax.

As if these advantages weren’t enough of an edge, Amazon upped the ante this month with a promotion for its price-check mobile app. Amazon’s ploy: app users can scan bar codes of items at local, brick-and-mortar stores and then order the items for less on Amazon and receive a $5 bonus.

In this way, Amazon promotes a policy of using local stores as showrooms for legions of price spies, with no local overhead.

Of course, Amazon serves worthwhile purposes like locating hard-to-find books quickly and serving rural people without access to a local bookstore.

And I acknowledge that Amazon does carry my books.

For those of us who love walking into a well-stocked bookstore, there’s more to supporting a brick-and-mortar store than simple price points.


For starters, there’s a hard-to-define value in holding the actual book in your hand and leafing through a few pages to see if the prose appeals to you.

There’s also the magic of serendipity — stumbling upon a new book by accident.

Another pleasure is the knowledgeable, local owner who selects books personally rather than ordering inventory by algorithm for mega-stores, whether they are in Portland, Ore., or Portland, Maine.

Inventories reflecting the interests of an actual human being make for rich browsing.

For example, compare Gary Lawless’ poetry selection at Brunswick’s Gulf of Maine Books to a big-box poetry selection.

Finally, local bookstores provide critical support to local authors.


I’ve been the recipient of such support for my two mystery novels.

I’ve done readings and signings throughout the state, enjoying conversations with owners and customers.

As I write my third mystery, I often think about the comments made at past signings, and I have concrete images of my readers in mind to guide what I write.

When I recently looked at a list of bookstores where I appeared, I was saddened to see how many have closed, and I know that others have drastically reduced local book inventory.

So as you stand in the aisle of your local bookstore this holiday season, look around for a moment and consider all that a local purchase really buys.

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