Uruena, a town in Valladolid with 191 inhabitants and nine bookstores, is known as “The book town.” The recognition sounds good but it gives for what it gives. Not for that reason its bookstores swim in abundance.
Any sale that goes through the box, physical or virtual, counts. Everything depends on the art of the shopkeepers and good online conditions to expand the public beyond those walls of Tierra de Campos. The first is guaranteed; the second needs the Post Office. This public company and the Ministry of Culture have an agreement with small bookstores, particularly rural ones, which allows them to take on Amazon, capable of bringing novels from refrigerators to customers in 24 hours. Of course, without the care or specialization that they champion in Uruena or in other modest temples of reading.
Bookseller Tamara Crespo, in charge of Primera Pagina in Uruena, snorts when she remembers the threat of a heart attack she suffered on November 29. An email from Correos said that the agreement that allows it to send packages of up to four kilos for less than four euros, less than the market price, would expire on December 31. “It would be one more problem in Spain that has been emptied from the nose,” exclaims Crespo, a subscriber to this service agreed between the Ministry of Culture and the Post Office in 2021 and who has even had to fight with the Uruena postman to distribute their orders. The 51-year-old affected complained on Twitter and an apology from the company soon arrived, which attributes it to a failure. “To the bookstores that received, by mistake, the communication of the end of the contract, I have already warned them that everything remains the same, the service is still active and no contract has been suspended”, say Correos spokespersons, who detail that “the objective of the agreement is to support local bookstores, not just rural ones”. Shipments are made between 24 and 48 hours.
The rectification comforts this Uruena bookseller, who commands 15,000 volumes. Of the four euros that the Post Office charges for this delivery, she charges the reader 2.50 euros. “If I give them full price, it discourages them,” she explains. This extra expense reduces the profit per volume, which is 25% or 30% per sale. The tight margins mean that Crespo, which has been operating for nine years, is suspicious of the comment “how brave you are with a rural bookstore!” and warn of difficulties: “As we are fewer, we are less listened to.”
This small businesswoman also suffers from delays in shipments from publishers, weighed down by the frequency with which the postman goes to town and which challenges the patience of buyers. The same occurs in Alins (Lleida, 290 inhabitants), where Meritxell Alvarez runs Natura Llibres and, despite signing the agreement with Correos, does not use it. The postman only visits this place in the heart of the Pyrenees once or twice a week and she cannot fulfill the orders: “I chose to work with couriers and set a higher shipping price to cover costs. The client knows that there are seven euros for shipments under 50 and free for higher ones”. Both refuse to transfer the packages to their nearest office, 20 and 30 kilometers away respectively,
The asset Correos becomes a backbone for the prosperity of A libraria da Proencia, located in the parish of Proendos (200 inhabitants), in the Lugo municipality of Sober. Paula Vazquez, 38, has run it for a year and a half and needs digital sales to supply buyers interested in the Galician literature that she offers, especially women’s literature and focused on studies of the Ribeira Sacra and its Roman past. “If you couldn’t have the cheapest parcel service, it would be unfeasible to make small shipments of individual books,” calculates Vazquez, who will soon be linked to the Post Office because its small volume of shipments would not make it profitable for her to resort to private companies. She works with the “Basic plan”, which for 20 euros a month includes maintaining her web store plus reduced-price shipping.
A Christmas obstacle, adds Tamara Crespo, is that the Post Office is “collapsed” by the distribution giant Amazon, which uses these public resources despite paying “a pittance.” The multinational entered more than 6,000 million euros in Spain in 2021 but only paid 292 million, 4.8%, according to its own data. Amazon does not offer cheaper prices on literature, warns the bookstore, since the sector has agreed that new books can only be reduced by 5% to avoid unfair competition. “They don’t sell cheaper or better, nor do they treat them with so much affection,” claims this trained journalist, who recalls that establishments like hers respond when orders fail and know the reader better than algorithms. Amazon, he argues, “creates an absurd need for speed,
“We need huge majorities that value small booksellers and publishers to continue resisting. We depend on our community, it’s hard for me to call them clients, ”says Crespo next to his cat Chuche, who purrs between volumes or settles on the visitor’s lap. That commitment can mark the survival of bookstores like those in Uruena and contain the enrichment of tycoon Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and with Castilian blood. His grandfather was born in Villafrechos, only 25 kilometers from that villa of the book that aspires to continue being so despite the grandson’s multinational.