Just to be clear before I start — I'm not against Amazon. I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars with the company. I own a Kindle Fire (and had the previous iteration before that), am a Prime member, and merrily download book after book onto the device. I've tracked down reasonably-priced copies of out of print books via them. When I needed a keyboard for my kid, stat, and the local music store (having promised a delivery the week before) punked out, I was straight over to Amazon and they had something with me in 24 hours. Amazon is a great way of getting hold of books and other gear quickly and conveniently, especially stuff that’s hard to get hold of where you live. Amazon, we like and value you. You’re our pal.
So don’t blow it. Don’t act like a bunch of total assholes.
Offering to sell people books at a discount if they take a picture of them in their local independent bookstore *** [please see caveat below]*** is an act so crass that it takes your breath away. It’s precisely Apple’s serene tendency to not do this kind of thing that makes me such an fanboy. Many yards have already been written about Amazon’s shark-like recent sales tactic, but for me it comes down to one basic question: do you want to still have bookstores, or not?
Farhad Manjoo’s infantile article/apologia for Slate magazine missed so many points that I don’t even know where to start. This, for example: “It’s not just that bookstores are difficult to use. They’re economically inefficient, too”... Is the statement of an utter moron. If you believe economic efficiency (whatever that may be) is the most important thing the world, then you scare me. If you find bookstores difficult to use, you’re a simpleton. You either understand that the world is a better place for the existence of bookstores on the streets, or you don’t. You either get how they contribute to an environment of respect and enthusiasm for the printed word and everything that goes with it, or you don’t.
Amazon is actually essential to my career, especially since the demise of Borders. The kind of novels I write don’t appeal much to the folks who run the independents — I can guarantee that if I like a bookstore, they won’t stock a single copy of my books (whereas Amazon, of course, do, and thank god for that). That’s not the point. The point is that Amazon, effective and useful and much-valued retailer though it is, has the power to destroy the independent bookselling market, and if you don’t want to live in a world where that’s happened, you can neither defend nor excuse this venal little tactic — and certainly not by arguments as facile as claiming that bookbuyers will spend the money they save in local farmers’ markets. For a start, they won't. Secondly, independent booksellers are the local famers’ markets, you buffoon. No, the authors and publishers aren’t local, but the people who sell the books, and offer advice, and provide an environment of affection and respect for the printed word, most assuredly are. I want books to be local, too, not just another thing that arrives in the mail.
This afternoon I made a note of two books I saw on Amazon. Next time I’m downtown I’m going to buy them from either Bookstore Santa Cruz or Logos, two of the great independents that Santa Cruz is lucky enough to have. I like Amazon very much, but I don’t love it — certainly not to the degree that I love being able to wander into some quirky local bookstore and walk amongst the stacks, allowing serendipity and the smell of paper and the owner’s haphazard acts of curation to help me select something new. I like taking my child into these places, too. It bores the hell out of him, but I choose to believe that amidst the tedium he’s absorbing the message that books are a good thing, and deserve to take up space in our society and our towns; that his dad values them in a special way, and that they’re not just another thing that you click a button to possess, like baked beans or a power tool.
If you love bookstores, support them, because you’ll miss them when they’re gone. And Amazon, support the love and purchase of books wherever they may be found. Otherwise not only will you come across as a bunch of rapacious dickheads, you’ll be cutting off the roots of the market you so want to own.
[*** Correspondents suggest that in fact, the one-day offer was not targeted at bookstores, in which case, I done rant wrong, and I apologise. I'm leaving the above in place because I said it, and if I was wrong, I was wrong, and it would be sneaky to just whip it out of sight. However: the Slate article was still fatuous, and illustrates a widespread suspicion of Amazon's motives; there's little doubt that the company is trying to dominate the marketplace in negative ways; and my point about the importance of independent bookstores still holds — use them, or you'll lose them.]