Monday, July 9, 2007

Frugality, Morality & Harry Potter

Being a Harry Potter fan from the first book, I will be one of those readers who gets a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the first day it comes out. It's even a line item in my July budget for the full price of $34.99.

So how did Harry get to be an ethical dilemma?

Well, it turns out that the very cheapest place I can buy the book is Wal-Mart. In fact, Wal-Mart, at $17.87, beats out Amazon by 12 cents.

For $24.99, I could support the large but independent bookseller in my town. Or, for full price, I could support the local feminist bookstore that I've loved for years (though, oddly, I seldom actually purchase books there--I tend not to purchase new books at all, preferring my city's excellent local libraries and garage sales).

What to do? What to do?

I know that Wal-Mart exploits its employees. I've watched the lawsuits regarding discrimination against women and African-Americans, with interest. I deplore Wal-Mart's anti-union stance. Yet, in the name of all that's frugal, how do I get around the fact that for many of the every day items I use, Wal-Mart is the cheapest place in town?

At least this time around, the decision is a bit easier. For a 12 cent savings, do I really want to support Wal-Mart? Ok, that's a pretty simple "No."

Amazon? Nothing particularly wrong with them, but shouldn't I be supporting the local folks? My city is home to one of the world's largest independent bookstores--a place I and every one else loves to go and hang out, the first stop for many visitors to our fair city. If everyone shopped Amazon, where would this store be? Don't I owe them something? Besides, I'd still save $10.00 off the full price.

But then there's the feminist bookstore--going into its fourth decade, run collectively, and always on a shoestring. I admire the women who run it, I support their politics, why not cough up the full price for them?

When I shop at Wal-Mart, I do so in spite of what I see as the immorality of its business. It's not like I think it would be immoral to buy from Amazon.

But would it be the RIGHT thing to do?

I'm still working on that one.


JW said...

Have you had an opportunity to check on Ebay?

Louise said...

My daughter and I have lined up every year to get our copies of Harry Potter. Along with all the little kids dressed up and excited! Then we go straight home and curl up on the lounge and read until we have finished, usually about 6-7 pm.

I have always paid full price at our little independent bookseller who knew us by name and noticed when we hadn't been in for a while. He chatted books and life in general with us and we felt like a part of a little community of bookworms.

This year he is gone. Pushed out by mutinationals.
The big names are just destroying out little local businesses. I pre-ordered from the new bookstore, it's not the same though.I hadn't started my blog then though!

Anonymous said...

And a good blog, it is, too, Louise. I've added it to my blogroll.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what the right thing to do is. It seems to me that the independent bookstores can't be making their money from this sort of book so maybe its not so important.

We don't have any independent bookstores so I purchased from Amazon. One corporate chain is much like another.

Anonymous said...

The Wallmart question seems like a situation of frugality not being about the money. A while ago there were a lot of blogs commenting on "frugal" vs "cheap".

For those of us whose values lean away from supporting an entity like Wallmart, going there for the price would be the cheap choice. Of course, some have other values and might shop there frugally.

I've put a hold order at the local library. If I'm lucky, I'll be near the top of the list when it gets processed.

SavingDiva said...

I will admit that I ordered it through Amazon. Although Walmart is currently cheaper, I would have to order it (and with shipping it would be more expensive than Amazon). In my area, there are a lot of local bookshops, but I've never really gone to them. They keep in business by the odd professor that only gives his book list to the shop...

Anonymous said...

WalMart is pennywise but pound foolish in so many ways - I wish more people would wise up to how much it costs the taxpayers to support this horrible corporation overall.

But I have never set foot inside a WalMart and hopefully I never will.

I love Amazon however and make no apologies for buying many of my books there and other items as well. I also shop at local indy bookstores, especially Green Apple in San Francisco and The Book Passage stores.

But some indy bookstores are not all they are cracked up to be, by the way - Powell's in Portland has a reputation for not treating their employees well at all, for example.

Unknown said...

I've been putting a lot of thought into things like this, and what I think it comes down to is--One of the great things about capitalism is that, as a society, we get what we're willing to pay for. The only reason Wal-Mart and similarly exploitative businesses are able to not only stay in business but make millions of dollars in profit is because we, as a society, have decided that we don't value worker's rights, anti-discrimination policies, and everything else Wal-Mart tramples all over enough to pay 'extra' for them. The way I see it, every time we make the choice to pay a little less for something that's ethically or morally questionable, we're saying that money is more important than upholding that particular virtue at that particular time. As always, money is just a way of demonstrating exactly what it is that you value most.