I shocked myself recently. Or maybe disgusted is a more fitting description. The source of this noxious disgust was borne from a £0.01 book for sale on Amazon. The book in question details the daily grind of a waiter in New York City and for anyone who has ever waited tables or worked in the hospitality industry, this guy's deft observations and sharp anecdotes are like a life-affirming bitch and moan with a fellow comrade-in-arms and brings a smile to my face each time I find myself in the midst of similar customer vs waiter scenarios. Starting out as a blog, this book has sat perched atop the New York Times best-seller list and has since permitted the author to quit his waiting profession to write full-time...we all have our heroes. But I digress. The disgust and shock derived from my reaction to the standard UK delivery fee. I was peeved at the £2.80 charge for a 1p book! What had I become in that moment? Didn't the problem lie with the ridiculous asking price for an entertaining read? Shouldn't I be supporting the very industry I'm hatching bets on cracking? In my bitter repulsion at my ill targeted annoyance I swiftly exited out of my account, shopping basket devoid of loot and vowed wholeheartedly to take myself into the nearest local independent bookshop to buy/order my next book and experience that instantaneous moment of gratification and, dare I say, smug satisfaction of knowing a noble and ethical deed was being carried out.
The battle between Amazon and the publishing industry rages on, creating headlines despite operating behind a wall of silence and drawing sighs from those of the general public who lament the demise of independent book-sellers in our towns and cities. The fact that it sells all of its books at a loss is neither here nor there for a company that is often aligned with words such as 'predatory', 'ruinous' and 'dominating', since its book sales are small fry in the face of everything else it advertises and sells.
Along with acknowledging the value I deemed this book warranted (a considerable mark up on its Amazon pricing for sure), a sense of moral principle and pride was also called into the mix. Given the consumerist nature of contemporary life, we tend to evaluate things based on their social footing. Unsurprisingly, books have long held an elevative artistic prestige but fast joining these ranks are the wares to be found in food courts, deli stalls, farmer's markets and foodie festivals across the board which appear to dictate who we are by way of our mealtime choices. In a world that has gone loopy for sourcing organic, non-genetically modified, gluten-free, coeliac friendly, all natural, locally sourced products, food has officially established its own social and cultural currency. Your weekly shop has taken on a fashion edge and your choice of salad now runs the risk of saying more about your ideologies and trend-setting dexterity than any Roksanda Ilincic dress could ever wish to do so. But alas, as wholesomely lovely and heartwarming as it is, the idea of solely consuming artisanal products is both an expensive and time-draining affair. Given the competitive prices on offer as supermarket chains fight to outdo each other in the dawn of the Aldi/Lidl era, a one-stop shop at Tesco means more bang for your buck and a mere half hour to successfully flit through the aisles and tick the items off your to-buy list.
The bigger picture at play here however is the questionable ethos of folk when they fail to think twice about paying £100 for a pair of trainers that cost next to nothing to make in a Bangladesh sweatshop and yet seldom stop to question the nutritional makeup and lifecycle of the food they choose to fuel their bodies and minds. We're nothing if not a bundle of contradictions.
It's a case of first world problems at their finest. Individually, paying the extra amount for an item that is locally crafted and sold as oppose to opting for the cheaper, mass-produced variety makes little difference but changes are wrought when carried out collectively; local businesses thrive and that personal sense of locality and camaraderie can live on alongside our virtual communities.
I think nothing of flashing the cash on a night on the tiles yet come to an abrupt stop to consider the cost of a book I desperately want to read while investing in in an industry I care for and admire deeply. It's scary to even begin to contemplate the power Amazon wields over publishers and the dispiriting effect of what the huge income loss has had on many authors. It's been almost a week now since I balked at my reaction to a 1p book and its £2.80 delivery fee and the subsequent realisation that my priorities and focus on this occasion were all wrong. I may be of the cheap airfare and Primark generation but books hold a solid cultural significance and inherent value that I am not willing to squander and so I am going to put my money where my mouth is from here on in and support the independent book outlet while I still can. At 1p a book it's unlikely your local Pizza Express waitress could quit the day job any time soon and join the writerly ranks!