Small Town Bookstore Is Taking the Fight to Amazon and Winning


When purchasing a product for entertainment, such as a novel or comic book, many Americans prioritize the lowest price in deciding where to purchase from. One bookstore owner in a small Kansas town, however, is encouraging people to reconsider that priority.

Danny Caine owns a bookstore called the Raven in Lawrence, Kansas. Named after Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name, the store was founded by Mary Lou Wright and Pat Kedhe in 1987, The New Yorker reported.

The two college friends were originally focused on mystery and crime novels, but the store and its genres began to grow rapidly. As the University of Kansas brought more and more people to Lawrence, chain bookstores began to challenge private ones like the Raven.

“Back then, it was big-box stores versus indies, and I remember worrying so much,” a Raven employee of 24 years, Kelly Barth, told the magazine. “I had really just started working there, but it already felt like such a sacred place, and I was so worried we’d lose all our customers.”

The New Yorker reported that the Raven’s sales dropped 15 percent when a Borders bookstore opened in Lawrence in the late ’90s. Still, the Raven survived partly from the passion of its workers and loyalty of its customers.

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“It’s a life style, really,” Barth said. “I love books and, even though I may never get rich, I just love it, and I think you have to.”

Now, a new and more dangerous type of competitor has entered the game — Big Tech retailers. When Danny Caine bought the Raven in 2017, he knew that he had his work cut out for him, but Barth believes that Caine found the Raven for a reason.

“Sometimes, there’s just a right time and the right person,” she said. “And that’s Danny and this is the moment. He’s like David and Goliath, but it’s Danny and Amazon.”

In 2019, Caine explained on Twitter that the Raven could not compete with the prices Amazon offered. Instead, the bookstore had to convince customers that spending a few extra dollars is worth the investment if it results in local businesses staying open.

“When we order direct from publishers, we get a wholesale discount of 46% off the cover price,” Caine said. “Our cost for that book from the publishers would be $14.57. If we sold it for $15, we’d make . . . 43 cents.”

He went on to explain that because Amazon has a vast marketplace of products and revenue streams, it can afford minor losses on book sales. The same cannot be said for a store like the Raven.

The danger of buying all of our products from a place like Amazon is that it will eventually run all competition out of business. The Constitution is clear that a monopoly for any company is not beneficial to America, which is why there are antitrust laws.

Caine understood this danger, which is why he wrote a zine entitled “How to Resist Amazon and Why.” After selling more than 14,000 copies, he expanded the zine into a full-length book of the same name, according to The New Yorker.

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“Now I feel like it’s about getting the word out to customers,” he said. “It’s not that we’re anti-Amazon, but we’re pro-bookstores and pro-community. I really just want people to think about where they’re spending their money, and why.”

Caine added that the idea of not purchasing all goods from one company does not stop with books. It extends even as far as everyday needs like groceries, which is why Caine tries to support many other small businesses in Lawrence.

“You can buy your vegetables at the grocery store, and that’s fine, but when you know the land they came from or the farmers who grew them, and how much they care about the land, it’s different, you’re part of that community,” a Lawrence organic farmer and Raven employee Jack Hawthorn said. “Same thing for books, or whatever else you buy.”

Would you pay more to support small businesses?

Another danger of allowing Amazon to gain a monopoly is the fact that it would then have full reign to shut down any ideas it doesn’t like. According to the National Catholic Register, the company has already attempted to do just that.

Recently, Amazon decided to remove Ryan Anderson’s book: “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.” 

The book does not disparage people with gender dysphoria, but rather questions whether surgery and hormone therapy is the correct response, especially with regard to underage children.

After Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Braun of Indiana and Mike Lee of Utah asked for an explanation, Amazon provided a questionable one.

“As to your specific question about When Harry Became Sally, we have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,” Amazon wrote in a letter back to the lawmakers, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Anderson himself explained why this reasoning does not make sense.

“Everyone agrees that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that causes great suffering,” he wrote in a Twitter thread. “There is a debate, however, which Amazon is seeking to shut down, about how best to treat patients who experience gender dysphoria.”

As evidence, Anderson pointed out that books written by medical professionals quite literally define gender dysphoria as a mental disorder, and Amazon has not taken them down.

“Gender dysphoria is listed in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which Amazon sells,” he said. “So the real deciding factor seems to be whether you endorse hormones and surgery as the proper treatment or counseling.”

There is no way to describe what Amazon is doing other than a digital book-burning. While most Americans used to agree that book burning was not a positive thing for America, it appears that some on the left now support it, as long as it furthers their political agenda.

“Anti-trans books are a big industry for conservative publishers, almost always regurgitating the same nonsense from McHugh, Zucker, and Blanchard,” one Twitter user said.

“Taking away the incentive to publish this crap will go a long way toward toning down the rhetoric surrounding trans issues.”

Anderson’s book is not, in fact, anti-trans. And even if it was, the argument could be made that Anderson still has a right to have his work be made available for purchase in a free country.

Monopolies are not only dangerous to the economy, but also to the very freedoms that we hold dear in America. That is why movements like Caine’s are so important.

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Grant is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He has five years of writing experience with various outlets and enjoys covering politics and sports.
Grant is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He has five years of writing experience with various outlets and enjoys covering politics and sports.