Can I Afford to be Moral?

book reading

Books by Native American Authors

The delightful feature of attending Portland’s annual literary fair—held this month–was discovering the works of American Indian writers.

I was transfixed, hearing Layli Long Soldier, Tommy Orange, Trevino Brings Plenty, and a host of American Indian writers talk about their craft.

Listening to each speaker, I took notes, and–once ensconced at home–made a list of the books I wanted to read or share with family: There-There, Heart Berries, Scared Smokes, and Awakenings.

I discovered our beloved bookstore, Powell’s, carried all four books, which could be had for about $108.

After checking Amazon I found I could purchase the exact same books and save about $36.

OK, $36: That’s the price of one fat book or two slim books.

Now I find myself stymied: do I support my local bookstore or buy the volumes at the behemoth?

I figure the writers aren’t to blame—they are caught in the wheels of the publishing structure.

The question is: who benefits from my purchase?

Do I want my dollars to land at Amazon, where I can get books cheaper and delivered right to my door?

Or do I support my local merchant and local workers—some of whom are former students–and schlep over to Powell’s across town—take two hours from my day–and buy the books in person?

Do I have a moral duty to support my hometown bookstore?

Truth is, my family would rather shop at the local hardware store and avoid the Walmart monopoly.

We prefer the neighborhood cinema to the giant movie franchise.

And we sip local coffee rather than Starbucks.

Behaving morally comes at a cost: I will pay 33 percent more to shop locally for four books than I would if I bought them at Amazon.

But if my budget were tighter, could I afford to be moral?


Day 25: Native American Heritage Month

25 November 2018























About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in Amazon, american indian, monopoly, nativescience, Powell's and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Can I Afford to be Moral?

  1. Cynthia, you have named a quandary that is much considered and discussed at our house. Often the books I w ant must be ordered which adds another layer of complexity. I also try to buy used books whenever possible. Very often this means I use Amazon. When possible I also use the library. Our local libraries have begun to purchase contemporary Native lit, and have found out there are plenty of people in the community eager to read those books. Anyway, I find myself saying something I used to say frequently when I taught, “Well, it is complex….” I wonder though, whether maybe things are less complex than I make them….


  2. A dilemma, for sure. I fear it also brings out privilege, because people with limited incomes take advantage of savings–I get that. And you’re right–the library is a great resource. But they get cross when I make notes in the book


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