Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Amazon vs. the Indies


There were two dueling posts in the Internetosphere about Amazon and independent bookstores yesterday that took vastly different approaches to the value of bookstores and Amazon to literary and reading life.

First, in a provocative broadside against bookstores called "Don't Support Your Local Bookseller," Slate's Farhad Manjoo tackles what he sees as misplaced nostalgia for bookstore culture, the economic efficiency of Amazon, and argues that selling boatloads of books (which Amazon does) is more important to literature culture than setting up folding chairs for book readings:
It’s not just that bookstores are difficult to use. They’re economically inefficient, too... I’m always astonished by how much they want me to pay for books. At many local stores, most titles—even new releases—usually go for list price, which means $35 for hardcovers and $9 to $15 for paperbacks. That’s not slightly more than Amazon charges—at Amazon, you can usually save a staggering 30 to 50 percent. In other words, for the price you’d pay for one book at your indie, you could buy two.


I get that some people like bookstores, and they’re willing to pay extra to shop there... And that’s fine: In the same way that I sometimes wander into Whole Foods for the luxurious experience of buying fancy food, I don’t begrudge bookstore devotees spending extra to get an experience they fancy.
What rankles me, though, is the hectoring attitude of bookstore cultists like [Richard] Russo, especially when they argue that readers who spurn indies are abandoning some kind of “local” literary culture. There is little that’s “local” about most local bookstores... Sure, every local bookstore promotes local authors, but its bread and butter is the same stuff that Amazon sells—mass-manufactured goods whose intellectual property was produced by one of the major publishing houses in Manhattan. It doesn’t make a difference whether you buy Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs at City Lights, Powell’s, Politics & Prose, or Amazon—it’s the same book everywhere.
In the other corner you have Bookavore, the manager of indie bookseller Word Brooklyn, who has... well, pretty mild-mannered words for Amazon and a list of ways she feels they could be a bit less evil:
I don’t want to make lists of the reasons why Amazon sucks because I feel like I’m handing them a blueprint for rehabilitation. Many people want so, so badly to like Amazon, and many people already do. (See: comments sections on any article talking about Amazon.) Any effort they made towards making the world a better place would be embraced wholeheartedly by consumers and publishers, who mostly, when it comes right down to it, just want things to be convenient and cheap. If Amazon started reversing any of their more unsavory decisions, they might lose money in the short-term, but I think they’d end up making more money in the long-term, by cementing the loyalty of an entirely new set of consumers who always sort of want to buy things from Amazon, and sometimes give in and do, but feel guilty about it.
We're at a major turning point in the book world right now and the future is going to be decided by our collective decisions. Are bookstores going the way of record stores and will they fade into Bolivian or do they provide such a service to the community that people will be willing to pay extra to keep them around?

Whose side are you on, not just in terms of sentiment but in actual dollars and cents? Or is this really even an either/or debate?

I tend to be the type of person who thinks they can co-exist. I love the convenience that Amazon provides. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, we didn't have a bookstore, and I didn't grow up with the same kind of nostalgia that many people have for dusty aisles of books. But I've fallen in love with enough bookstores since then and am thankful enough for their role in literary culture to think the great ones have to have a place somehow.

What do you think?

Art: "Knowledge Bursts the Chain of Enslavement" - Aleksej Radakov






86 comments:

Robin Tidwell said...

"Bolivian?"

Aside from that, I own an indie bookstore - matter of fact, we just opened October 1st. And yes, I've been a customer of Amazon, for books and other things. Naturally, now I stick to "other things!"

I don't necessarily think they're pure evil, but I DO take exception - and then some - to Manjoo's article. My first response to it, several days ago, was "sheesh, what a jerkwad!" Yeah, sometimes words fail me....

Tina Boscha said...

This is a tough one. I devoured books growing up, and we bought them at the grocery store (Piggly Wiggly! Shop the Pig!), at B. Dalton, and Waldenbooks. All chains, but that's what we had. I also got books through my school program and all those avenues reinforced my love for a physical book. Then, as an adult, Amazon entered the world and changed everything, and I freely admit I loved the convenience of ordering online. Just a few months ago, I self-published after a long, frustrating road (MFA, awards, but no pub. deal) and that was largely through Amazon and I am very, very grateful for that opportunity. At the same time, I have worked hard to get my book into local indie bookstores (including Powell's!) because I recognize the power of hand-selling and want to support the local community. I do hope there is a way for both to coexist, but I think I agree with the latter sentiment in which the writer argues that Amazon might need to back down a tad with their aggression, as it's starting to go past smart competition and into monopolistic practices.

Dina Santorelli said...

I'm with you, Nathan. I think they can coexist. I'm a fan of both -- just this week alone I bought books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and my local bookstore, where I attended a reading by a fellow author. But I do have to say that it was a shock to have to pay list price for that last book. I bought it, yes, but I wasn't too happy about it.

Sedulia said...

Why does it have to be either/or? I love Amazon and I love indie bookshops. I live in France and English books cost a fortune here, but on Amazon.co.uk I can get a vast selection of them, without paying customs, and a lot less than the big English bookstore W.H. Smith, on the rue de Rivoli, where a hardback can easily cost $50+ and a paperback $30 with the exchange rate. All right, it's expensive real estate. Right next to the U.S. Consulate....Also, I love obscure books on subjects most people aren't interested in: good luck finding those in your local bookstore, especially the small ones, which all seem to specialize mostly in fiction. Amazon is a blessing for me. I love how on Amazon you can get intelligent reviews of all kinds of books your local book dealer would never think of ordering. Ancient Chinese history? Middle English ballads? Human genetics? German politics? Some expert-sounding Amazon reviewer is there to tell you why this book is one you should or shouldn't buy. You can talk back, too. Whether you dislike or love a book, your local bookstore doesn't let other customers know.

At the same time, I love independent bookshops so much I had an app for finding them on my phone (till it disappeared. Hmm). There is something wonderful about the way you see something you would never have thought of, just by wandering around. Bookstores are usually pleasant places full of kindred spirits and I like to support them all I can. I always visit them when I travel-- I especially like the Local History sections. Yesterday I went to one here in Paris that uses a great idea-- stickers on the spine of the book to signify that the people who work in the bookstore loved the book. That way even books whose spine is all you see can be promoted.

Enjoying your blog, which I've recently discovered!

kerrimaniscalco.com said...

I definitely believe they can co-exist, but the thing that REALLY makes me angry is Amazon's business approach. There's no need to be nasty or sell your competitor in a negative light just to make a quick buck. Businesses that take low blows leave an awful taste in my mouth.

I buy from bookstores as often as I can. Often times I'll make a TBR list then check out any local stores that also sell online. Have I bought from Amazon? Yes, and it's cheap, TRUE - BUT the last book I bought (brand new) was damaged. Had I gone to my local store I wouldn't have had the hassle of sending it back and fighting with customer service.

Also, the convenience of buying online is great, especially after a long day at work - but I hope the beauty of walking into a store and speaking to an actual human being about books never goes out of style.

Serenity said...

I'm really hoping we don't have to choose. Amazon's prices make me swoon (and CLICK, which is the more important point for authors, publishers, etc., I think). And physical bookstores are extremely happy-making as well. As someone who plans to sell books through both means, I don't feel I can dismiss either of them. Wouldn't that be horribly hypocritical?

Sarah E. Robinson said...

In this economy, most people can't afford retail.

If Amazon didn't exist, author's sales would plummet. If bookstores didn't exist, a lot of people would be unemployed. Where's the middle? Not sure. Personally, I usually buy about a book a week, (or 4 a month for super saver shipping). If Amazon didn't exist, my bookshelves would be bare and I'd have to rent from the library.

Rachael said...

I'm with you on co-existence. I tend to buy books from brick-and-mortar chain and independent bookstores, typically after trawling through the "books you might like" part of Amazon (although when I was buying books in bulk for my high school classroom, I used Amazon -- my school couldn't fund a more expensive bulk purchase from a brick-and-mortar). I typically only use Amazon to buy things like CDs or DVD collections, stuff that might be harder to find in physical stores. I like to pick up books and feel them before I buy them.

David Kazzie said...

good post, but in particular, I LOVE the "fade into Bolivian" reference.

Stephanie {Luxe Boulevard} said...

Truth be told, I love a good bookstore. I love the nostalgic feeling. I love searching the shelves and displays to see what's new, old, or fascinating.
But ... I also have to be mindful of my bank account. My finances have to come before my desires, and wanting the book is desirable enough. If I feel the book is more than I would like to spend, I will head to Amazon.
But ... when there is a book I wait and wait and wait for, I simply cannot wait for the shipping process. Tried that when a book released, and it killed me when B&N made me wait an extra week after the release date to actually get it in the mail. I really wanted to just go and buy it already.

Jody Rein said...

I vote for indie bookstores--and small to mid-sized pubishers. Love your even-handed question in the face of Farhad Manjoo's stunningly uninformed piece, Nathan, but there's a larger point to be made than selling "boatloads" of books.

The issue is fundamentally about a system of commerce that either supports or works against the promotion of quality literature. At the moment Amazon and its price wars are tipping the scales toward mass--production of poor quality work.

No major house can consistently "mass-manufacture" or "produce" intellectual property--with the exception of predictable bestsellers, which take years to build. To exist, publishers have to find, hone, build and endorse new talent, and promote that talent through reliable outlets, ideally staffed and handsold by knowledgeable salespeople.

Sure, you can mass-produce some genre books following rules & conventions, but that's where Amazon excels.

And sure, that model is disappearing. But I'm not willing to let it go without a fight. Let's reframe the conversation--what can we do to keep quality literature alive if Amazon drives out of business all the places that publish and sell it?

ChrisC said...

This one is tough for me. I buy a lot of books for work, all via Amazon. It's just way easier to set up an account that all of our team members can use, rather than dealing with going to brick-and-mortar stores, submitting expense reports, etc. And it takes me 5 minutes to order what I need instead of having to drive to the nearest local bookstore. Plus, Amazon has pretty much everything we could possibly need, and living in Northern California and with Amazon Prime, many of our books arrive the next day (even with 2-day shipping).

For my personal purchases, I WANT to shop at local bookstores, and I go in and browse all the time. But it's really hard for me to justify spending nearly $20 on a paperback book at my local store, once you add taxes, when I can get it for less than half that on Amazon. If the difference was just a couple bucks, I'd be local all the way, but when it's that big, the thrifty side of me tends to win. And the other issue I run into is that local stores just can't compete with Amazon in terms of stock. Unless something is out of print, I'm pretty much guaranteed to find it on Amazon. But my local stores, while they are really great for browsing and discovering new books in a way that Amazon is not, are not so great when I'm looking for something really specific and possibly more obscure. I don't want local bookstores to disappear at all, but right now, they just don't meet all my needs.

Anonymous said...

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MotherReader said...

I'm glad to see someone saying that it doesn't have to be an either-or conversation. Independent bookstores are wonderful for browsing, author visits, book clubs, and readers advisory. Of course the way to support those things is to buy books. But Amazon is doing some great things for publishing with low prices translating to more books sold (I'd guess), getting access to books for more people and more titles carried overall.

That said, their particular campaign against other businesses with the comparing prices thing was mean-spirited. (Though that article did point out that books were not included in that horrible $5 day.) Fighting back on that online is necessary so Amazon gets that they crossed the line.

But it was all silly in a way, because is there anyone out there who doesn't think that Amazon's price isn't going to be lower? If I'm going out to a store - book, music, or whatever - it's because I want to shop or I want the items right then. Delayed gratification is kind of hard sell, I'd say.

TLT Publishing said...

I understand Manjoo's point, especially his argument that bookstores don't hone in on local authors as much as they used to. I mean, yes, if I can get a mainstream book for 10 bucks cheaper on Amazon, why wouldn't I. But he's completely missing the atmosphere and sanctuary a bookstore offers us. You can't spend lazy afternoons drinking coffee and leafing through a book with a friend on Amazon. Sometimes it's worth spending the extra 10.

Philip Steiner said...

I think Amazon is going to win in the long run. In my neck of the woods, the Vancouver area, independent booksellers like Duthie's Books are nearly extinct. First assaulted by big box retailers like Chapters, then discounters like Book Warehouse, all that's left now are a few second-hand shops, and Costco, WalMart to fill in the gaps.

I try first to borrow from the library. If it's something i think i will value and keep in the long run, i'll first try to get in on Kindle, then try second-hand from Abebooks or Amazon if there's no ebook. Digital is too convenient, now that I've got an iPad.

I am a lifelong reader, I love books, but the writing's on the wall - strike, screen for indies.

Collectonian said...

Also with others asking why can't Amazon and bookstores just co-exist? For me, they serve different purposes. To note, I'm speaking of bookstores in general, not just "indies" cause I don't remember the last time I shopped at a non-chain bookstore.

I do shop from Amazon and am a big fan, but looking back at my purchases over the last few years, I actually don't use them much for new books. I need a new video game, Amazon for sure. DVDs, yep. Gifts being shipped, definitely. Used and older books, yep, they almost always either have it in stock or I can get it via the nice network of used stores (including independent bookstores who have smartly learned how to sell online without the overhead of their own e-Comerce system).

In 2011, so far, I've bought 58 books not counting gifts. Of those, exactly 4 came from Amazon, with 2 being from Marketplace sellers. Maybe 15 or so from eBay. Most of the rest were bought in-store at either Half Price or Barnes and Noble. I go to both at least once a month, and most times if they have what I'm interested in, I buy it there.

Why? Well, Half Price is likely obvious (cheap used books). But why B&N? As others note, it is cheaper to buy online most of the time. I have the B&N member card, so I usually save 10-30%, but Amazon can still usually beat it. Heck, even B&N.com beats their in-store prices (which I do not get at all), so why?

Because I like to. I like going to the Bookstore, getting a drink at the cafe (and maybe indulging in a warm chocolate brownie), then meandering over to the manga section to browse. Sometimes I go to other sections. And what makes me get that shiny new title? Probably impulse. It is a lot easier for me to go "oh, look, its in my hand, I wants to read it now" versus shopping online when I can more easily go "well, I'll wait a bit." I have literally hundreds of items on my Amazon wish list...most of the books will end up being bought because I stumbled upon them, in person, while in a book buying mood in the store.

There is also, of course, the instant gratification, though I do still have the store order stuff and pick it up, even though it would be faster to go home and get it online.

Also second Robin's reaction of Manjoo's article. I read it yesterday and was like seriously, dude, this some bookseller kick your dog or something? The level of venom and vitriol was way over the top. Did he never stop to think that maybe folks just shop at bookstores, because it is fun?

(OpenID is down...weee)

abc said...

Coexist! I'm not gonna lie, Amazon is huge in my life, but I love the local bookstores. I love browsing. I love looking at the jackets. I love seeing the people.

My hometown has only gotten a bookstore/coffeeshop within the last 10 years. When I grew up there we had nada (like Nathan). I would have been all over this place. And now it is a local hangout for artist types or retirees (like my parents) and others who want to meet for coffee and maybe pick up that week's reading material. It's like freaking Cheers. When I walk in during a visit to the parents, the owner Larry always says "Hi Alison!". The huge children's section is a dreamland--great for taking kids to. I can't imagine places like that not being around.

And don't mess with Richard Russo, Mr. Manjoo!

Matthew MacNish said...

Personally I think Amazon is a pretty good company as far as giant corporations go, but I also love Indie everything - bookstores, record shops, record labels, coffee shops, etc. so I certainly hope they can both survive and thrive.

And is that Mike Tyson reference purposeful, or is that autocorrect?

Wyndes said...

I feel no guilt whatsoever for shopping at Amazon. None. Because I don't live in a city. I love visiting bookstores when I go to a city, but that's once a year at best. Locally there's nothing but a B&N and I have no idea why I should support that huge corporation instead of another huge corporation that's more innovative, more creative and better for authors.

I admit, I'm mystified by some of the romanticism of the bookstore idea. When I was a kid, pre-Amazon, we had Walden Books in the mall. It was not a place that served coffee and held author events and brought the community together: it was a skinny little store with limited shelf space. I loved it madly, of course, but it didn't provide a community service. We had libraries for that.

I think bookstores are always going to exist for urban dwellers, but they're a for-profit luxury item, which I think sometimes their fans are blind to. And personally, I'd rather see people throw more support behind libraries, making non-profit community spaces better. I'd rather have partnerships between Amazon and libraries then have Amazon making nice to indy bookstores.

Nathan Bransford said...

Matt-

Intentional, though now I want a Mike Tyson autocorrect. Someone needs to build that.

Iliadfan said...

I was shocked when I read Manjoo's article yesterday. Not because I didn't agree with most of it, but because I'm so used to hearing the other viewpoint (where Amazon is evil). I've been a faithful Amazon customer for over a decade. Still love brick&mortar bookstores, but they serve a different purpose. Both Amazon and indies could thrive if they recognized they have completely different strengths and played to those.

But I have to agree - Amazon's most recent sales tactic was sooo unnecessary.

Gehayi said...

I think that brick-and-mortar bookstores and online bookstores can co-exist and should...but I agree with everyone else that Amazon's article was a low blow and not remotely necessary.

Robin Connelly said...

I don't use Amazon very often. Most of my amazon purchases are movies, music or other small things. Books are a rarity and if I do buy a book, it's going to be by an author I trust to be worth the money. Amazon recommends books based on my purchases and searches, but they rarely let me read the first few pages on the screen. I enjoy sampling the book before I purchase it, feeling it in my hands. In which case, I'm better off going to the bookstore and buy it their if I decide to. So I find Amazon a convenient way of getting items cheap and easily but it's not an easy place to explore other options, discover new things. Talk to people who've read the book before....

Lisa Lane said...

I think the line has been drawn in the sand between the big corporate monsters, and the Indy bookstores can only hang onto the sidelines and hope there's still standing room after everything has been said and done. Unfortunately, that means each of us must decide which side of the line to stand on ourselves (Indy bookstores aside) ... and that's no easy decision.

Vera Soroka said...

I hope they can coexist together. I live in Canada so here we have Chapters and McNally Robinson. They both support local authors and have lots of events to attend to, from reading to music and lots of stuff for kids. They also sale more than just books. I would love to go to these events but I live in the country. So most of my book shopping is done on line through chapters. Whenever I am in the city I certainly love to go to them. They always have tables with discount books and of course there is the smell, you can't beat the smell of all those books.
I have never been on an Amazon site so I have never ordered anything from them.

CourtLoveLeigh said...

I'm supposed to be working, and I'm reading everyone's eloquent responses instead. No matter what side you're on or not on, it's encouraging to see so many thoughtful comments.

Thought I would bring up the article in Publisher's Weekly (probably biased, but still) about not only Amazon's price-check app, but also of their bullying of publishers with the whole co-op payment thing. It's a pretty intricate article, and I would suggest googling it iffins you're interested. And even though I read it with a grain of salt, it still reinforces the rumors that are afoot regarding Amazon's questionable business ethics of late.

must drink soup and ponder THINGS.

Mary Beth Phelps said...

I agree they can co-exist. I live in a rural area and don't have a local bookstore (unfortunately), so I do appreciate the fact that Amazon can ship books directly to my doorstep. However, when given the opportunity to go out of town, I'm more than willing to stop by the smaller bookstores, browse around and treat myself and my family to a book or two. To be honest, though, I don't really have the expendable cash to buy many books from anywhere, so I usually stick to the library (or borrow from my sis) when I need new material to read.

Nancy Kelley said...

I shop at Amazon when I know exactly what I want. I shop at bookstores to find something new. While it is possible to "browse the shelves" at Amazon, it's far, far easier to do when those shelves are physically in front of you.

Powell's is one of my favorite places on earth, and it makes my heart hurt a little to think that in ten or twenty years, it might not exist. I have found so many amazing things there--at very affordable prices--that I would not have found otherwise.

How do used bookstores help an author? When I find a new author I like, I want to go buy their entire back list. As authors regain control over those titles and start releasing them as ebooks, readers like me will snap them up.

Maya said...

Great post. I think a lot of us have the same internal dilemma. For a long time, I bought books from Amazon because they were cheap. Then I realized they were putting bookstores out of business, so I started patronizing local bookstores more. It was partially a nostalgic thing, but partially a practical thing. I have never enjoyed browsing on Amazon (their UI is awful) and I have always loved flipping through books that catch my eye. At the same time, I've gotten accustomed to reading a few reviews before buying, so internet culture was also playing a part there. Every day, people are coming up with new ways to discover books online, so maybe physically browsing is less necessary. I don't know what the future will be, but I think bookstores in many ways are already a luxury buying experience because of the huge price difference with buying online.

Just like there has been a backlash with big agro and mass-produced foods in favor of local, organic foods, I think it is possible that people will continue to value the things offered by physical bookstores even if the number shrinks significantly.

Laura Pauling said...

I truly truly hope that it's no either/or. I wish it wasn't or made out to be. I have a local bookstore but in the small children's section they basically carry classics and some best sellers. But not usually the ones I want. I can order through them but find it more convenient and cheaper to go through Amazon.

But down near Boston I found some incredible kidlit bookstores that carry almost every single title I'd ever heard of. Now I would go there. I would hang out and just look at the books. And I'd probably buy one. I love the nostalgia of bookstores but don't shop in many because there aren't many where I live.

And yes, I will go for the cheaper price.

Amber, Storytime Librarian said...

I agree that they can co-exist, but indies have to work exceptionally hard to become important to their communities. I wish more of the nostalgic fans of bookstores would address the fact that some stores simply aren't creative or driven enough to survive.

Melody said...

I'm glad someone is finally noting the amazing ease and low cost of Amazon. I'd love to shop local for shopping local's sake, but it costs too much and I don't even necessarily need the book new - I just want to read it. I'm too young to remember all the record stores, and the only bookstores I've ever frequented - not that I frequent many - are the big chain ones, like Borders. So there's not a whole lot of nostalgia for me.

Rick Daley said...

I buy from Amazon, a local indie bookstore, the local Barnes & Noble, and the local Half-Priced Books. It depends on where I am and what I'm after.

I have a Kindle and 60%-70% of my reading is e-books, but I still like to turn real pages every now and then.

Bittersweet Fountain said...

Honestly, I have no nostalgia for indie bookstores. I'm sure this makes me a bad person, but I grew up in a military family that moved a lot. Large chains were my staple. I knew I could trust them wherever I went. I bought books at Waldens exclusively until I was in the ninth grade and discovered Borders--Waldens' grown up big brother.

So I love Brick and Mortar bookstores. But I also order a lot online. I tend to go to my local B&N (now that Borders has died a long and tragic death) the day a new book I MUST HAVE comes out. And while I'm there I peruse the shelves and write down the names of all the books that look interesting, for later ordering online. I've been known to lose myself for five hours in a bookstore. Which is why I tend to order online (from the list I make at the bookstore). I waste less time that way.

And as much as I hate to say it, the whole perusal thing is the only reason why I need a brick and mortar bookstore now. It's hard to peruse online. I like the comfort of pulling an interesting book of the shelf, reading the back, and then the first chapter and determining if I want to read it. It's just harder to do online.

So I guess I'm saying I think brick and mortar and amazon/online can co-exist. But I'm not sure where indies fall into this.

Hiroko said...

Such a silly post Manjoo has made! Books are about the readers, and so long as readers stick to what they love about local/indie shops, they won't be going anywhere.

While I've already picked up the ball in downloading and reading e-Books from Amazon, I still read print books just as much.

I don't see why readers can't tap into both types of bookstores and both types of books.

Bryan Russell said...

I'm okay with Amazon. I buy from Amazon occasionally, though I tend to do even my online book-boying elsewhere.

I'm more of a bookstore guy, though, and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is. Part of my love of bookstores is nostalgic, true, but this is only a very small part. A larger part is for the physical experience. I like bookstores. I sit at a desk all day for my job, and it's nice to go out into the real world and see and hold and feel real things. I like having a coffee and wondering around a book store. I bump into people there. I get enticed by moleskine notebooks I know I'll never use. My kids can find books and toys. This is all absent from an online cataglogue.

And most importantly I think it simply provides a better browsing (and finding) experience. It's the advantage of a room of books over an online catalogue guided by coded algorithms that tell me "If you like this, then you'll like this!" (they're very chipper, those algorithms). Now, if read only urban romance featuring angels, well, I may be perfectly fine in the land of the algorithm. However, I don't simply read urban romances featuring angels. I read all sorts of things. I read as many different things as I can, and it's hard to predict just what it is I want with an algorithm. Indeed, my tastes are often anti-alogrithmic, in that if I read something "like this", the last thing I want to read next is another something "like this." I just read that. Now I want something different.

Among my favorite books, a huge number of them have simply been found from wandering and browsing through book stores. I don't know what I want until I see it. And it's hard to capture that random magic online. There's simply too much to browse through in a random manner, and the whole purpose of sales algorithms is to defeat randomness. Bookstores, to me, are simply the best way to find new books, particularly when you don't want to read just the books with buzz, or you don't want to read what your friends are reading (sometinmes they read dog books that would simply kill you stone dead).

I want bookstores because I want to be able to find those new books that peel open my head and heart. I found David Foster Wallace that way, and a Strange Piece of Paradise. And so many others.

Amazon's great when you know what you're looking for, when you're trying to track down a hard to find book. But I sort of need bookstores, still. I need them to find books.

Courtney Price said...

I recently went looking at local bookstores for GONE WITH THE WIND.

None had it.

Derrrrrrrrr, what?

DeniseCovey_L'Aussie said...

I'm in both camps. Australia is big on indie bookstores which often provide a coffee shop as well for a relaxing browse. It's great to chat to lovers of books and get recommendations - a service not yet provided by Amazon. I don't like the high prices, but understand they struggle, especially with high import duties here. Postage is so steep from America to Oz that often the price in the local store isn't so bad after all.

Long live the dusty, friendly bookstore.

Denise

Anonymous said...

They can coexist like Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers...

You still hear about Brett Favre on occasion, some still remember him fondly, but now is the time of Mr. Rodgers.

Elisa Michelle said...

I have connection to both bookstores and Amazon. I got a Kindle for my birthday, and I've bought at least seven ebooks this month alone (birthday was earlier in the month), and they're great for me, both in price and format. We have a small amount of living space at the moment, and a lot of it is already taken up by books. Saving space and getting ebooks makes sense for me right now. Also, we're not exactly doing well financially, so I can't afford the paperback $9.99+ at all. I can't justify spending that much on a single book. I'd saved up $30 to buy Kindle ebooks, and that $30 went a long way. Seven books is way better than three paperback books.

At the same time, I miss my local Borders. I bought so many of my books there, and the next closest chain store is twenty minutes away. A little bit of a hassle, still doable, but then a lot of the local bookstores here don't have great selections. They're struggling, and they just don't have much that interests me, through no fault of theirs.

All of this to say I hope there can be a coexistence, not an absorption of bookstores by Amazon. Besides, as some have pointed out, Amazon's tactics are a little dirty, and I don't think that helps them any.

Katherine Hyde said...

What bothers me about Amazon is (a) they want to take over the world; (b) they don't play nice (eg the recent move to try to make publishers publish exclusively for Kindle); and (c) I'm pretty sure that at heart, the corporate culture is not about love of books. It's about love of profit. Most bricks-and-mortar bookstores exist because the person who founded them loved books.

I do buy from Amazon sometimes. I don't live within 10 miles of a bookstore, and sometimes I can't find something I want at the library or a semi-nearby store. But I would never willingly give up the experience of browsing in a real bookstore, picking things up at random and reading a paragraph or two and sometimes finding a total gem. That's something Amazon can never replicate--you have to have some idea what you're looking for when you shop online. Serendipity is lost. And so is the real, in-person community of people who love books hanging out with other people who love books.

Besides, if it weren't for bookstores, where would my husband and I go on our date nights?

Gretchen said...

I love my local bookstore, but they simply don't have the selection I can find online, so I will order from Amazon, too. Shopping online is a wonderful resource when you live in a small town.

I had to google "fade into Bolivian" I loved it so much. It lost some appeal when I found out the source. Still, I think it sounds rather wonderful and peaceful.

Ryan said...

Indie stores are important for us "Indies" because where else would we go to feel like a total solicitor?

"Hi....uhhhh...my name is Ryan and I wrote this book...(stammer)..."

A world consisting of only Ikeas and Amazons and WalSucks would be lame.

It doesn't have to be "Versus." It's slowly working into Amazon AND Indies.

Julie Hedlund said...

I hope they can co-exist, because they must - at least if we want to have physical bookstores around in the future.

I do think the price-check app ordeal was below the belt. A Wal-Martish type act of the worst kind.

BUT - indies can't expect Amazon to NOT compete with them - on price or any other factor.

Where Amazon can't compete is in the customer-service, the hand-selling, the author visits, the tactile sensation of flipping through books. Price is only ONE factor.

Anonymous said...

For people who really care about books and reading, it would not be a good thing if there were only one source of books.

Price is not the only factor. And the price argument doesn't always favor Amazon, either. If price were the sole criterion, then libraries would win every time.

But even if you want to own the book, then there are certain places where you can walk into your local used bookstore and get a book for a quarter, with no shipping charges, no wait, and nobody putting your email address on a marketing list.

Kane said...

I live in a fairly small town, with only a couple of bookstores, so I started off using Amazon only to buy books that I could not find in bookstores. Now most of my books come from Amazon. I don't mind paying a little extra in a bookstore. I like looking through bookstores, but every bookstore in my area has, more often then not, had really bad service and at one point has been very rude to me. I know it sounds silly bot if I am going to pay more then have to, I'm going to want a friendly smile and good service not to be treated like I'm an inconvenience.

Andrew Leon said...

As an independently published author, I'm coming down on the side of Amazon.
I love book stores. I love to go browse and flip through books. I love the smell. But book stores are failing to make the shift the same as the publishing industry. They fail to offer things that Amazon cannot. Not in any substantial way.
And my local book store (and by local, I mean locally owned, not a national chain)? The local book store that claims to support the community? They refuse to host any authors, including local authors, who are not published by a major publishing house -and- a best seller.

Mira said...

I think the discussion is fascinating. Thanks for opening the dialogue, Nathan.

For me, I liked both of the articles.

In terms of the Manjoo article, I agreed with most of his points about over romanticizing indie bookstores, and his defense of Amazon's contribution to the industry. I especially like what he said at the end:

"But what (Amazon) does do — allow people to buy books anytime they want — is hardly killing literary culture. In fact, it’s probably the only thing saving it."

I agree. Amazon and e-books have re-invigerated the book market even more than Barnes and Noble did when they first came onto the scene.

I liked Bookavore's article, too, where she's questioning why Amazon is willing to risk alienating some consumers with their business practices. It's an interesting question.

In terms of Amazon's interesting business practices, I think the best thing for Amazon would be competion. But that won't come in the form of indie bookstores, it will be another on-line e-book provider that offers attractive services that compete with and could replace Amazon.

In terms of whether indie bookstores will survive, it's a loss, but it's very doubtful.

The hard reality is that it's not Amazon that will kill bookstores but the e-book. Although I know people want both print and e-book to survive together, I think it's unlikely. Nostalgia for print books will fade with new generations.

Blaming that technological advancement on Amazon makes no sense. If Amazon hadn't done it, someone else would have. The Big Publishers were ripe for competition, on-line technology arose, e-books were created, and someone stepped in.

So, sadly, it's not Amazon's 'evilness' that will lead to the passing of the indie bookstore, it's the technological advancement of e-books.

Hopefully, indie bookstores will morph into a sort of book club/community center. I could definintely see that happening!

Haley Whitehall said...

Bookstores might become a boutique business but I do not think they will disappear completely. CDs are still being sold and I remember when people said those would disappear too. I agree with you, Nathan. I believe they can coexist.

R.J. Keller said...

I'm on the side of co-existence. I love going to my favorite local bookstore (quick plug for Bull Moose Music and Books in Bangor Maine...they rock!), but speaking as a book-lover who lives in the boonies, Amazon fills a definite need. I don't always have the time to travel the hour-and-a-half round trip, and I can't always afford the gas money.

Heather M. said...

Amazon = Freedom to authors and customers alike. I'm always on the side of freedom. People who hate Amazon do so because it makes them feel superior to pay more when the rest of us are paying less.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Amazon is just too cheap and convenient--although Manjoo's article makes it sound like this is somehow the bookstores' fault, that they're holding the books hostage at high prices, when I've more than once heard that Amazon's low book prices are unsustainable. Nevertheless, I've been able to buy a greater volume of books through Amazon than I would at any print bookstore.

I think both can coexist, but like libraries, physical bookstores are going to have to become more than just places to get books. And physical bookstores, I think, might have a harder time adapting, because libraries can provide the same atmosphere and browsing opportunities (provided they receive the funding), host author events, and so on, and many are starting to emulate the book cafe experience by putting in coffee shops, etc. And they give away the books for free. Everyone points out how Amazon sells books cheaper, which accounts for their prosperity, and you can't get cheaper than free. (Of course, like I said, libraries' ability to do this depends on funding, which is always an issue of contention...)

Jasper Youngfield said...

In this time of confusion and economic downturn, as a previous small business owner, I can attest to consumers not being willing to pay a premium on "environment." It shouldn't be a battle, as everything is now. It should just be everyone reading how they want to read. But I do think that unless publishers and bookstores get a little more competitive with pricing, instead of just relying, as was said, on "nostalgia" or the loyalty of their "followers" (who probably come to hang out and read without buying), they will eventually end up in Bolivian.

jnduncan said...

Sometimes, I get the feeling that many think Amazon is trying to put bookstores out of business on purpose. I have my doubts they're that conspiratorial. They're a business attempting to make money. Their method is to make things as easy and inexpensive to get as possible. They take certain things at a loss in order to build customer loyalty in the long term. They're big enough to afford this practice. It's not evil. It's just good business sense.

Digital has changed the publishing landscape. Forever. Amazon is attempting to capitalize on this sea change by attempting to make digital reading a more viable, worthwhile option than paper. A certain segment of the population embraces this. You can't really fault Amazon for pursuing this avenue for all it's worth. There's money to be made. Are they doing it at the expense of bookstores? Probably. Where else are they going to lure readers from?

That being said, I don't even own an ereader at this point. I like paper, and to be honest, I haven't been able to afford one. I'll likely have one at some point. I like the convenience they offer. All nostalgia for paper aside, they're pretty cool. I also love bookstores. The shopping experience is far better, and always will be relative to online shopping at Amazon, no matter how many titles they offer. It's impersonal, while bookstores are not, good ones anyway.

In the long run, I imagine bookstores will become more niche, more specialty, an experience dedicated to the smaller audience willing to invest the time and money in it. This will become the minority of readers. For better or worse, our culture is built on convenience. In all aspects of life, people want what they want, as fast and as inexpensively as possible. This is not a bookstore. Likely never will be.

In the long run, I believe there will be more readers. More books will be sold. This, by itself is a good thing. This country is sorely lacking in its levels of readership. We need more interest in books, and if Amazon paves a path toward that goal, I can't say I am against this overall. Are they bullying their way along that path? Probably. There will always be a need and desire for paper books. It's just going to become the minority method of reading stories in the future, and it does suck for the bookstores losing out on this change. Unfortunately it's rather unavoidable at this point.

Could publishers do something to alter this? I have no answer to that. They need people to buy the books they produce. If there was a way to make it possible for bookstores to sell books at the same price as Amazon, this would deal with the consumer need for price, but really, I don't see any way bookstores will ever be able to compete with convenience, not on the level required to compete against the Amazon's of the world. For better or worse, that is the state of affairs we must live with now.

Natalie said...

Perhaps I'm out of the loop on something, but I just don't see what is so "evil" about Amazon. As a consumer, I am able to get books and other things that I want or need at the lowest prices on the planet. Since I got my Kindle, I can have my books without leaving my house or waiting and I get them at a lower price than the bookstore. As a consumer of products, what's the downside for me?
As a writer (or if you are a musician), I have the opportunity to publish my work and build an audience. I get to go directly to the reader. Amazon has made that possible in a way that has never existed before. As a writer, where is the downside?
If a person likes to spend 30-50% more on their books just for the experience of standing in an aisle and browsing covers and the first few pages, all the more power to them.
As for me, I love that I can be on a beach in Hawaii, decide that I'd like to read a saucy summer read, browse on my Kindle, download some samples then hit buy and get the book I want instantly, and never spend more than $10 on a book.
Those that spout how evil Amazon is rarely back up their rhetoric with any specific examples. It feels a lot like kids getting trounced on the ball field complaining that the other team cheated when in fact they lost because the other team was just better. Maybe there's something I don't know about Amazon and their business practices, but if their job is to sell stuff, and they provide the same product faster and cheaper than anybody else, that just sounds to me like their better at the game.

Anonymous said...

I love bookstores. I always have. But I don't think it's going to matter much in the future what I, or anyone else, thinks.

They are going to disappear as technology advances, unless they can come up with a viable means of survival. And I don't see how that's possible right now.

And this is nothing new. Small bookstores started going under when large chains like Borders opened. I could list ten people I knew who lost nice next eggs on bad business propsitions when they opened a small bookshop and it failed.

At least digital has engergized readers, which is something the large publishers and bookstores were not able to do.

Laurie Boris said...

Why can't we all just get along? As a small press author, I need online outlets for sales. As a reader and writer, I want to go to book signings and meet authors. I wish it were the case that local bookstores were truly local, but I would pay a few dollars more to keep more business in the community. Communities without bookstores make me sad.

Stephanie Barr said...

I've bought books everywhere. I have a tablet that has an ap that does books for the Sony eReader, which I had before, and, of course, the Kindle and Nook. So I can read any for electronically.

And I have gillions of paper books, too (and keep buying them). Currently, I'm on a serious manga kick and that means more paper.

BUT, I am much more likely to buy from Amazon than anyone else. Convenience is a big part of it. So is price. I've been a Prime member since they've started that and I've more than made it worthwhile.

I can find the books I want right away. If it's out of print, I can usually get a used copy (often from those same indie bookstores). I can look up everything the author had and have it delivered to my door while the urge is on me. Make me get out the car, pack everyone in and go to the bookstore, I wont' buy nearly so much. I have to chase small ones and the bookstores, even Barnes and Noble, won't have the off the beaten track books I like best.

I've bought some of my favorite authors from a used bookstore that looks for her books for me. And I'll do so again. I'll pick up books in grocery or department stores if one catches my eye, but Amazon gets the bulk of my money not just on books but on nearly everything I want.

Beth said...

I grew up in a small town with no bookstore too. I learned to love them as an adult and felt deprived that there wasn't one in a 90 mile radius of me when I was younger. But as the last writer without an e-reader, bookstores are the only way I can get something I have to read right this minute without waiting days for shipping. And maybe it's because YA hardcovers aren't the expensive but I've failed to see significant savings on amazon. Not to mention, bookstores do a lot to promote writers that amazon never will.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

The problem isn't nearly as cut-and-dried as either Slate or others make it. The first attack on the "neighborhood" or "local" bookstore was chain warehouse stores, like Borders, and then Barnes & Noble got into not only selling books but publishing them.

You yourself published that fantastic itemized list of the cost of producing books--paperbacks, versus ebooks, I think it was--identifying, for the first time I'd seen it, the amount of a book's cover price assigned by "traditional" publishers that goes toward "distribution," which really appears to be essentially institutionalized kickbacks. Publishers PAY bookstores to carry their books?

No wonder self-published writers can't compete in terms of publicity or placement.

There is no such cost to Amazon, I might add. Which is probably why they can publish (through CreateSpace, or Amazon Encore) books that cost less and still return more, in terms of royalties, to their writers.

So, if a local bookstore can't survive--or compete--with a warehouse chain store like B&N or the now defunct Borders, because they can never generate enough in these kickbacks--not, I'll note, actual book sales--and so go under, it isn't Amazon's fault but the fault of a "literary" (publishing) culture that dictated popularity and tried to actually manipulate rather than identify tastes or even new or exceptional writing with their kickback scheme.

I don't believe it is "Amazon v the Indies" in the sense that any lover of books loves bookstores, while any passionate reader is far less concerned with where or how they obtain something they want to read (did lending libraries put bookstores out of business?) and may not give a hoot to wander through stacks of books glancing at prominently-placed best sellers or publishers' hopeful best sellers based on the attractiveness of their researched and focus-group tested covers or paid-for placement and advertizing.

It's not like "traditional" publishers, or the few remaining "indie" bookstores, for that matter, couldn't see this coming a million miles away and years ago when Amazon started offering books for sale online and set up its own distribution system and then progressed to creating an ereader that set an industry standard, then made an agreement with readers to get an application for the Kindle on their pc or handheld device, then purchased and promoted the most easy to use Digital Text Platform and bingo-bango-bongo, became the world's largest, and most accesible to readers, publisher and bookstore virtually overnight.

I love wandering in a local bookstore and seeing what they have, and having a place to give a reading or meet with readers, and seeing my books displayed there prominently.

But I ask about some of my friends' books, even (mostly) those published by traditional publishers, that weren't invested in with promotion by the publisher, or likely kickbacks, and I'm frequently told "we don't have it" because "it wasn't selling."

Whose fault is it that a book doesn't sell, either on Amazon or at a local bookstore? The readers'?

Anonymous said...

I despise Amazon. And Walmart. I think that their size and power do much more harm than good. But I do business with them because I can't afford to be principled.

D.G. Hudson said...

I don't care for Amazon, and only use them when I can't find the item anywhere else.

I order through Chapters online, or go into the Indie store nearby.

Kai Strand said...

I admit that when I see the 'don't support Amazon - they only support themselves' attitude, my first thought is about all those authors who now have a chance because of Amazon. They aren't all bad, though I don't like their recent marketing ploy. Slimey.

My guess is those of you who think Amazon and bookstores can co-exist, live in larger cities. My town isn't so large. We are now down to one chain store and one indie (and several struggling used). Towns smaller than us are likely to be down to less than that. They will co-exist, but not for everybody. I don't WANT Amazon or the internet to take over book sales, but I think that's where we're heading - fast.

Philip Stephens said...

I believe Amazon is acting as the 800Lb Gorilla. They are treating authors and publishers very badly, looking for more profit. I do NOT like this, but that is business, unfortunately.

I own a Kindle and buy E-books from Amazon, as well as other suppliers.

I do NOT buy physical books from Amazon. If I cannot find them in a local bookshop I go to: bookrepository.co.uk and they will deliver them to Australia cheaper than Amazon will sell & ship.

I have bought thousands of books over the years, and most have been donated or sold. I am now, as I get older, more selective in what I buy. I tend to borrow first, and buy once I decide a book is a keeper, or buy an E-book and then buy paper once I decide I cannot live without my own copy.

I read Cory Doctorow's books as E-books first, free from his web site and then in 60% of cases, but the paper book as well.

E-books will change the face of publishing, and unfortunately many authors have been sacrificed upon Amazon's altar or profit. I do not have much love for the publishers, who have dealt badly with authors for decades (read Robert Heinlein's memoirs) but I do feel for the authors who are caught in the crossfire.

Phil S.

Megan said...

As an author about to publish to the kindle, I feel like it's a great situation for first-time authors, especially indie authors.

I can't hep but think about "You've Got Mail", where Meg Ryan's character's "Shop Around the Corner" gets taken down by Fox books -- because the books are less expensive there. I see both sides. We like the indie stores, but I think they're definitely a luxury not everyone can afford -- including authors. I once read what percentage of the list price authors receive from the brick and mortar stores, and I was shocked at how low the profit was. If anything, amazon offers authors a chance to take more control of that profit margin.

Just my two cents, anyway.

Anonymous said...

How can easy and inexpensive access to an unlimited selection of books from anywhere on the planet be bad for reading?
Amazon POD technology and ebooks have exploded the old model--and good riddance!
Publishers and bookstore chains had been digging their own graves for years with mergers, consolidation, focus on short term results, pandering to the lowest common denominator and best seller mania. How was that good for readers--or authors?
The tragedy is that so many bookstores have physically disappeared. That is bad. How are children to learn to enjoy browsing through shelves, picking up a book, flipping through it,getting absorbed and finally excited about the printed page?
It is my hope that Great Indie Bookstores (I think of Changing Hands in Tempe; Powels in Portland) will survive by offering readers something more than just books which have become a commodity, like wheat or oil.
Let us have the best of both worlds.

Lex said...

I love bookstores and hope that they never go away. My dream is to walk into a store and see my own book. When I was an "active" musician, my dream was to hear one of my songs on the radio. I realized that dream and I'm confident the book image will also come to be.

But, in the past couple years, I haven't bought any books there; I buy from Amazon.

Like many, though, I'm rather upset with the prices at Amazon. The latest Koontz - kindle version - $13.99? I know Amazon doesn't set the price and I should be directing my ire at the publisher; but Amazon is visible and "touchable".

These days, I mostly buy indie authors and I've found some great ones at better than reasonable prices. I wouldn't have discovered these in a bookstore and that's a shame.

Sean F. Roney said...

The dinosaurs known as bookstores are on their way out. Like all niche specialties, there will be a few here and there. But like record stores, they will remain limited to communities that suffer incredible nostalgia for them. They cannot coexist with Amazon, because the mass consumers know that Amazon is a much better deal, being speedy and affordable. Amazon will eventually kill the so-called indies that sell almost nothing but the same New York books Amazon does. Besides, there are plenty of books ready for loving and nostalgia down at the library.

Dennis Beery said...

I really don't see this as a debate. The "debate" will be decided by market forces. If indies find enough loyal customers, then they will get the cash flow they need to survive. I wish them all the best. As for me, I've moved on, and, IMHO, Amazon rocks!

Bethany Joy Carlson said...

I think independent bookstores need to adjust their business model to avoid being put out of business. It's not a question of evil or not evil. People need value for money beyond nostalgia.
*Embrace the internet. Have a good webstore for physical and especially eBooks (through Google eBooks, for example).
*Have other reasons for customers to come to the physical location and spend money. Coffee shop / wine bar / art gallery / writing workshops / book club etc.
*Feature unique merchandise that customers can't properly evaluate on Amazon: foreign books, photo books, art and architecture books, and minimize expensive physical costs like space and inventory for books that are easier to buy online.
If Amazon is the Costco model, then independent bookstores need to be more like higher end or luxury boutiques. If the service model and customer experience is basically the same but just with a higher price, that business is going to go out of business. Since indies can't compete on price they need to realistically compete with something else.

Matthew MacNish said...

Nathan - thought so, and: agreed.

Maya said...

For the people saying that they don't see what is so "evil" about Amazon...I'm sorry but you need to read more about it. It is NOT just because they sell cheap books and are putting bookstores out of business. I agree, that is just business.

But please read about the controversial Kindle Lending Library and their shady price-scanning holiday schemes...and see if you still feel that Amazon is still in the right.

Ulysses said...

Big difference between Amazon and my local bookstore: my local bookstore employs people from my neighborhood. Some of the money I pay goes to a New York publisher (and from there to the writer, agent, etc.), but some of it stays here, where it pays the wage for a couple of people who live nearby and buy groceries at the local store... which also employs some local people... and so I get to see my money support people I know.

With Amazon, I support a handful of people I'll never meet and who don't much care about me outside of customer sat... and I help Jeff Bezos embed himself a little deeper in the 1%. I don't actually want to pay to enable either of those things if I don't have to.

Tammy said...

I am guilty of purchasing more books through Amazon than my local bookstores simply because I can get more for my buck. I do, however, frequent local used bookstores because of the pricing and the possibility of finding a First Edition tucked away. I also make a point to visit and purchase at my local, new-book, bookstores. Although their prices are higher, I am willing to pay for the ambience and their staff's knowledge. Purchasing at a bookstore is an event. Some people enjoy barhopping, I enjoy book stores. It makes me quite happy to spend a Friday or Saturday night browsing the stacks.

Nick Rolynd said...

Well, I love bookstores. It's just the ability to go in and actually browse all those different books, wandering through the aisles, etc. etc. I like that experience.

But the problem is I can't afford most bookstore prices. I just can't do it. Amazon's discounts are what allow me to actually read what I want to read. If it wasn't for Amazon, I wouldn't own over half the books I own. It would just be impossible with my budget.

So, I mean, there's really no answer here. Both Amazon and bookstores have their own merit. I hope there's some way they can coexist, but I'm not entirely sure that's going to happen.

deborahserravalle said...

I agree with Amber Storytime's comments.

Further to the conversation, I'm glad to see this huge elephant in the room addressed in a realistic manner. Like it or not, the way we read and purchase books is changing.

Melissa Adams said...

I'm grateful for my local indie bookstore, The English Bookshop (http://shop.englishbookshop.nl/), which brings together the literary community in Amsterdam and saves me international shipping fees.

Tumblemoose said...

Yeah, well some folks will always take shots at something "too big to fail."

I love Amazon although there are some policies that need revamping

evilphilip said...

It doesn't matter what you buy; books, toys, TV's or games -- Amazon does it better than your local store.

I wasted 3 hours in local stores NOT finding the toys my kids wanted for Christmas. Stopped by the house and checked on Amazon and found everything they wanted in 15 minutes.

Overpriced retail storefronts are a dinosaur.

rese said...

am i the only one who agrees w/ manjoo's article? sure, i have some bookstore nostalgia in me, too. but honestly, i don't understand all the hostility against amazon. it's using aggressive business practices? isn't that what businesses do? the business world isn't exactly known for its niceness. what's that saying - "it's not personal, it's just business."

Mark Asher said...

How's that local stores vs. Wal-Mart thing going? Yeah, that's Amazon vs. indie bookstores.

Indie bookstores will survive if they can manage to get by on 20 - 30% less revenue, because ebooks are going to eat away at their sales.

My guess is many will go under, but some will survive. I'll be sad to see some go, but look at what e-readers give us - instant access to a huge selection of books, including tens of thousands of free classics to download. What a fabulous gift to future generations to put entire libraries in their hands with inexpensive e-readers. If the cost of doing that is seeing a lot of bookstores close that's unfortunate, but I think free books and removing the stranglehold the publishing industry has on authors is a good thing for readers.

Rachel Ventura said...

Boy, does this guy make me mad, and Amazon too. I know, this is going to sound absolutely horrible, but with a name like that, he probably works a tech support hotline for Amazon in the Sultanate of Ali Bin Outsourced. XD

All kidding aside, though, Amazon was initially thought to be the liberator of frustrated authors who believed themselves to be "shut out" of the big leagues that the Grishams and Pattersons had "grandfathered" themselves into, pre-Internet and conglomerate era. Now Amazon is set up to be the Web 2.0 equivalent of the corporate cannibalism that's overtaken the pub. industry, taking advantage of gullible, desperate sheeple so desperate for immediate publication they sell out their creative souls to this conglomerate monster. "Publish America," anyone?

Don't forget, too, that you don't pay state sales tax with Amazon. States can't charge sales tax over the Internet because even though you, yourself, live in the state where your physical computer is, Amazon distributes globally, and for whatever reason can't be held to the same standards as even your local Wal-Mart. I don't care so much about Amazon as a writer and potential publish-ee, but as a citizen and a consumer of the corrupt digital global economy. If Amazon were forced to charge sales tax it would go the way of CD Now.

Sanjaya there or whoever he is can go bury his head in the sand wherever he's from. As long as there are printed books, I'll keep buying them and renting from the library. At some point I'll be the Burgess Meredith librarian with all the books in my house, a custodian of history like the "Anonymous" antihero in V for Vendetta... Doesn't anyone see the bitter irony in something like Fahrenheit 451 being "burned" to the format of a "Kindle"? A pox on Bezos and his money-grubbing, technophile ilk; may he get fed to the Amazon crocodiles and go up Digital River without a paddle. >:(

Rachel Ventura said...

Oh, by the way: Sorry for the double post, but I just had to include the second word verification that I saw.

"Tradi." Which is exactly who the hero, albeit maybe not the winner, of this publishing battle is clearly cut out to be. :)

Serendipity, anyone? :D

Sean Roney said...

Wow, Rachel, you pretty much nuked any credibility you had when you opened with a mean-spirited racist attack on a writer based on his race.

Traditional/legacy/dead tree stores aren't going to win the battle. Some will survive as a niche market, but they won't be mainstream. Amazon is taking over the mainstream, thanks to the power of the mass market.

Now as far as their being unfair, we can thank the money-fueled American political system for that. Our law makers are as much to blame for letting Amazon get away with things as Amazon is for being bad and then bribing them.

Tamson said...

Here's the thing: you can't really reverse the "progress" that's occurred already. I worked for a fairly successful small bookstore chain that seemed to do all the right things to maintain their foothold. The bookstore I worked for was THE FAVORITE in the town at the time. They built a superstore with a cafe in anticipation of the coming B&N and they maintained for a while, until management changed. Once things changed, as far as I can tell (I wasn't working there anymore) the customers moved on. The store I worked in was always a wreck after that and people stopped buying their books there. I think one of the things Independents have that's both their achilles heel and their asset is...independence. This is the thing that aesthetes everywhere prize. The distinct, unique point of view. Personality. But in marketing, uniformity works. The same message over and over again seeps in. And, as consumers, most people like to go for what they know. That's why Starbucks works, same roast, same system, no matter which city. I can understand it and I think that's a very difficult thing to fight. But I also think it would be worth it to sacrifice a little independence for the sake of a few good small chains like the one I worked for. I think Indiebound and the ABA could be used better. They could share more resources for one to enable stores to charge less and offer more. I miss my little chain. I'd love to resurrect something like it.

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