What Do You Get at Indie Bookstores? You Get Phil

What Do You Get at Indie Bookstores? 'You Get Phil"

The following is an editorial by James McGrath Morris in this month's edition of the Biographer's Craft. McGrath's Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, & Power will be published early next year.

You will have a choice when it comes to buying my new book when it comes out in February. Amazon will sell it to you for $19.79, or you can wander down to your local bookstore and pay $29.99. That 34% price difference is on my mind every time I visit Collected Works, Santa Fe's oldest locally owned independent bookstore and one of the nation's finest bookstores, along with Elliott Bay, Tattered Cover, and Politics & Prose, among others.

What is it we get when we pay full price at an independent bookstore? In the case of Collected Works, the answer is simple: You get Phil.

I'm a nonfiction guy. I spend my days reading and writing the stuff. So when I wander into the fiction section of the store, I'm as lost as a Thunderbird drinker looking at a rack of chardonnays. This is where Phil comes in.

Like a wine steward, he learns of my tastes and guides me to a selection. So far, he is batting 98%. (I wasn't wild about Olive Kitteridge.) When I take into account his services, I think paying full retail price is worth it. Apparently there is a sport profession where batting 30% will earn you millions. Phil's salary seems a small price to pay for what he does. In the scheme of things, it's seems far more socially valuable than hitting a leather-bound ball with a wooden stick.

Paying full price also keeps one of my town's important cultural centers alive. On almost any night, one can find a crowd gathered at Collected Works for an author's reading, a fundraiser, or a community gathering of some sort. Readers meet writers. Writers meet writers. Poets find readers. Readers find poetry. Without such a place, our community would be impoverished.

Yes, I get a little preachy when it comes to the topic of independent bookstores. But, as a friend of mine who recently heard my tirade said to me, "Zealotry in defense of independent bookstores is no sin."


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