Lots of asks about this, so let me say a few things once and for all, though this is by no means an exhaustive list. Amazon quite frankly doesn’t give a damn about the book industry and yet demands huge discounts from publishers who so often acquiesce. The Macmillan cluster a few years ago was a huge nail in the coffin for me — read about their horrible tactics here (if the link is broken, copy paste with http: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/02/01/all-the-many-ways-amazon-so-very-failed-the-weekend/ )
They frequently lie about list / rrp to make their discounts seem bigger. The working conditions in the stock rooms are terrible and when a story came out this week about it all Amazon UK said was, basically, “it’s legal.” As Tim Waterstone said, “the pattern of Amazon’s dealing with others over the years; rude, contemptuous, arrogant and subversive would be a standard reaction.”
There are alternatives to online book buying (if I want a US cover, for example, I’ll order it through the Barnes and Noble website). Why would I want to support a company who isn’t driven by growing the book industry but solely by growing its own revenue and destroying the high street. I worked in an independent bookshop for five years — and unlike Amazon, we paid all the tax we should have, supporting the running of the community that makes it possible for people to afford luxuries like books. They had £7bn in sales and paid £0 corporation tax which is fucking disgusting — and I saw the value of that beautiful store. That place is now gone, partly because of high rents but it sure as hell didn’t help when people came in, asked for recommendations and walked out with no books because they’d take our specialist advice and buy it on Amazon. Maybe I’m nostalgic, deluded, stuck in the past. But I don’t use Amazon, or Audible, or now, sadly, GoodReads, or LoveFilm.
James Daunt put it best: “If the bookshops go, they will never come back.”
The question isn’t why don’t I buy from Amazon. It’s why do you?
I’ve been intrigued by the Espresso Book Machine since I first saw it in an oversized beta version in 2007 on display at the New York Public Library’s Science Industry and Business branch and was impressed with the notion that so many printed works could be brought to life instantly, complete with cover, spine, and a choice of interiors. But the greatest allure of the device, as explained in interviews with a handful of the booksellers who have taken the plunge and installed the machine, is that it enables self-publishing by authors who have written fiction and specialized nonfiction (recipes and family genealogy, for example) and are satisfied with a small number of copies, at least initially.
Read more. [Image: Politics and Prose/Flickr]
I’m concerned about the future of books and bookstores, but I’m even more concerned about the 14,000 people who lost their jobs in the liquidation of Borders. Thomas Jefferson said he couldn’t live without books, but we really can’t live without jobs.
(And look, I’m a capitalist: I understand that an efficient economy creates jobs where they’re needed and removes them where they aren’t. I get that we can’t pay people to do work that doesn’t add value. But I think bookstores do add value, and I hope to convince lots of other people that I’m right. That’s something Hank and I are thinking about a lot as we plan for The Fault in Our Stars tour. We want to find ways to reward bookstores for all the value they bring to our lives, while still embracing the truth that the Internet is a great place to find and buy books.)
This picture genuinely makes me want to cry. Not because I liked Borders (I didn’t) but because I like books and I like booksellers (not me, although I think I’m pretty good at my job, if only because I’ve had the great joy of seeing the flash in kids’ eyes when they go from not wanting to read a thing for years to hearing about a book and needing to read it immediately).
Like John, “I think bookstores do add value, and I hope to convince lots of other people that I’m right”. I also think we’re going to be facing more and more problems with literacy in the future as we experience texts in different ways. That’s not to say boo hiss ebook or boo hiss reading on screens but it’s about having the time and making the time to read without distractions in an immersive and critical way that will become harder and harder as (I predict) originally simple and effective e-readers add more bells and whistles.
Today I tweeted that it was great to be told by a customer that they saw a book on Amazon but wanted to come to the bookshop to check if we had it first. “The death of the British high street” is a phrase often tossed around but as more and more shops become empty and unused spaces, we’ve got to stop ignoring what we’re losing. A few rambly (and annoyingly, probably a bit preachy) points: