Sure, buy that book on­line for $15. But here’s what it re­ally costs us.

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NEWS - Mary Sch­mich [email protected]­ Twit­ter @MarySch­mich

Danny Caine, who is 32, was sit­ting in the tiny of­fice of his book­store the other day when he heard a cus­tomer at the counter say some­thing he hears a lot.

Lis­ten­ing to the clerk pa­tiently try to answer the cus­tomer’s com­plaint, he sti­fled his re­flex­ive frus­tra­tion and de­cided to do some­thing pro­duc­tive.

On the store’s Twit­ter ac­count, he be­gan to type:

“To­day a cus­tomer men­tioned that she could get a new hardcover book on­line for $15. Our mis­sion is not to shame any­one for their shop­ping prac­tices, but we do feel a re­spon­si­bil­ity to ed­u­cate about what it means when a new hardcover is avail­able for $15 on­line.”

He laid out some num­bers.

“When we or­der di­rect from pub­lish­ers, we get a whole­sale dis­count of 46% off the cover price. The book in ques­tion had a cover price of $26.99, mean­ing our cost for that book from the pub­lish­ers would be $14.57. If we sold it for $15, we’d make…43 cents.”

Tweet by tweet, he con­tin­ued the math.

“We have 10,000 books in stock. If we sold ev­ery one of them with a 43 cent markup, we’d make enough to keep the store open for about six days.”

He also listed thoughts on how in­de­pen­dent book stores strengthen com­mu­ni­ties. They cre­ate jobs and pay taxes. They of­fer au­thor vis­its, open-mic nights, a place to hang out, store cats to pet and pho­to­graph, etc. He con­cluded:

“If you’ve ever won­dered why it seems like ‘there are no book­stores any­more’ or why re­tail busi­nesses keep clos­ing in your down­town, this is it. A cheap book still has a high cost.”

Caine sent his words into the ether ex­pect­ing they might be seen by a few of the 6,200 Twit­ter fol­low­ers of The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kan. That was on Wed­nes­day.

On Thurs­day morn­ing he got up and checked his phone no­ti­fi­ca­tions.

“Oh my God,” he thought.

His ini­tial tweet had been retweeted thou­sands of times, all across the country, by read­ers, writ­ers and book­stores, in­clud­ing Chicago’s Women & Chil­dren First, which is how I stum­bled on it while cruis­ing for news of the Mueller re­port.

It made me do a dou­ble take. A tweet from a lit­tle Kansas book­store had stirred more re­ac­tion than most of the tweets about the day’s big news?

On Fri­day I called Sarah Hol­len­beck, co-owner of Women & Chil­dren First, to ask what mo­ti­vated her to share it.

“When I saw it, I was filled with grat­i­tude that some­one had spelled out all the rea­sons to shop in­de­pen­dently and lo­cally in a very clear and ac­ces­si­ble list,” she said. “It’s a con­ver­sa­tion we have al­most ev­ery day at the store with in­di­vid­ual cus­tomers. To have it so elo­quently stated in a way that wasn’t hos­tile was very wel­come. Even though it was di­rect, it didn’t feel ar­gu­men­ta­tive in any way.”

By Fri­day, Danny Caine’s tweet had been liked 45,000 times and retweeted more than 18,000. He was grate­ful and amazed that his thoughts had been shared by “our book­store heroes,” places like Women & Chil­dren First and the Strand in New York.

“A lit­tle store like us in Kansas,” he said when I called Fri­day.

Caine, who grew up in a Cleve­land sub­urb, moved to Lawrence to earn an MFA in poetry at the Univer­sity of Kansas. He per­suaded the owner of The Raven to give him a job and when she de­cided to sell two years ago, he bought it.

He de­scribes The Raven as a store of “1,200 square feet, 10,000 ti­tles and two store cats.” It’s on a walk­a­ble down­town strip full of in­de­pen­dent busi­nesses that thrive on each other. And it’s pros­per­ing, as are many in­de­pen­dent book­stores in this on­line age. Turns out there are still a lot of peo­ple who want the plea­sures of a book­store.

Some of the peo­ple who re­sponded to Caine’s tweet wanted to ar­gue, and he un­der­stands that not every­one can af­ford full price for books.

“If cost is a con­cern in buying books,” he noted on Twit­ter, “re­mem­ber that used book­stores and li­braries con­trib­ute to com­mu­ni­ties too.”

Com­mu­nity is the key word in his mes­sage. Most of us want it but many of us don’t want to pay for it. That’s as true in Chicago as it is in Kansas.

I ad­mit that I wince at the price of books, which isn’t en­tirely ra­tio­nal given what I frit­ter away on cof­fee. I also be­lieve that in­de­pen­dent book­stores are part of the glue that holds neigh­bor­hoods to­gether, and when I buy a book I al­most al­ways do it in the store.

Con­trary to cer­tain be­liefs, book­stores aren’t repos­i­to­ries of nos­tal­gia. They’re an in­vest­ment in our com­mu­nal fu­ture. Chicago has some great ones, and if you need a rea­son to visit one, you might start on Satur­day, April 27.

That’s In­de­pen­dent Book­store Day. You can find a map of a cou­ple of dozen par­tic­i­pat­ing Chicagolan­d stores here: chilove­

Buy a book, at­tend an event, have a con­ver­sa­tion, check out the neigh­bor­hood.

Mean­while, back in Kansas, while re­cov­er­ing from the tweet flood, Caine has been try­ing to fig­ure out which ver­sion of a hot new pub­li­ca­tion to or­der for the store. It’s called the Mueller re­port.


A woman walks through the Book Cel­lar book­store in Lin­coln Square in Chicago in 2018.

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