I think that even when I signed up for Amazon Prime I knew it was a bad idea. Mostly because of how much it would facilitate impulse shopping. I’ve definitely made more than one late night purchase in a zombied-out computer state only to be surprised two days later with a box waiting for me on my desk. (“Oh, right. Dual electric toothbrushes.”)
And, honestly, I think I’m OK with ordering the toothbrushes through Amazon. For one, my dentist recommended them. Secondly, I don’t feel like I’m taking away business from the local electric toothbrush industry because, as far as I know, there isn’t one. In New York, electric toothbrushes come from big box stores for the most part. They sit alongside other electric things like nose hair trimmers and curling irons and (I’m going to go ahead and make a huge assumption here) are not regarded with much emotion by those who unbox and stock them.
But, what about my other frequently purchased item on Amazon?
Books. Oh, it’s just sooo easy. A friend will recommend a title, or I’ll see it pop up for the third time in my twitter feed and I can have it ordered an on its way in less than a minute because Amazon feeds me cookies and remembers my credit card number and every possible address to which I could ever want books shipped. And then, BOOM. The newest addition to my library is on my desk/doorstep/kitchen table all pristine and ready for its first subway ride. And the price I paid was at least a few bucks cheaper than anywhere else.
What I kind of always knew but chose to ignore was the fact that that kind of pricing, ease of purchase and free expedited shipping comes at a price. And it’s not covered by my annual Prime subscription fee. It comes from book publishers who are forced to lower their prices and pay promotional fees to Amazon, which leaves them less money for everything they need to do, including buying books from authors.
Author Beth Kephart wrote a fantastic blog entry and referenced this New Yorker article by George Packer, which discusses this issue very thoroughly. I recommend you read it, but take breaks. It’s dense with info…and it’s a little sad. For a bunch of reasons. The saddest (for me) is Amazon’s ultimate impact on stories. Essentially, publishers are at the mercy of Amazon. They need them as a distribution channel because Amazon is HUGE. But, because publishers have less book-buying money, that means they have to take fewer chances on books that are risky (but wonderful!) or different (but will change hearts and minds!) or written by new authors (like me!).
And this basically means that Amazon is deciding which books get published. And does Amazon care about well written, groundbreaking literature?
Uh, no. No, they do not. Mostly because “caring” is trait of sentient beings, and Amazon is run by robots, algorithms and a CEO who admittedly does not care what he’s selling you. He just wants your data so he can sell you more books…or toilet paper or electric toothbrushes. It really doesn’t matter as long as he has your credit card.
But, you know who does care about stories? Indie booksellers. They’re not in it for the money, because it’s hard to make any. They actually read books and think about them and plan author reading nights and engage you in a conversation at check-out about how Laurie Halse Anderson has the best book titles (like The Impossible Knife of Memory. What? Who thinks of that! Poetry!). And then you might feel happy because you agree and those little bonds make the world a better place.
Indie booksellers are in it because they love reading and have a vested interest in making sure good books still get sold and we’re not looking at a future filled with the literary equivalent of Real Housewives of Whatever.
That’s why I’ve made this little mid-year resolution to buy books at indie bookstores whenever I can. I know that this kind of resolution won’t work for everyone. There are some people who live nowhere near an actual bookstore or simply don’t have the means to get to one, and they need books too. I don’t fault them for getting them however they can. Luckily, I am of able body and live within a 15 minute walk of one and a subway ride of many others.
I also know that my book habit alone (as large as it is) will not save the publishing industry. But, haven’t we all learned the importance of voting with our dollars? And look at the local food movement? Not a particularly convenient (or cheap) point of view, but it’s gaining traction. Plus, we’re talking about activism in the form of lingering in cozy bookstores. I think I can handle that.
Will shopping indie take a bit more time and planning? Yes. But, really it’s still pretty convenient. My local bookstore, Community Bookstore, is fairly small in size but they will special order most books that they don’t have in stock. You have to wait a day or two, (same as Prime) and then you can either pick it up OR they will hand deliver it to you using their store bike. How lovely is that?
Still, I would recommend picking it up in person for two reasons.
This adorable reading area with stained glass windows and an outdoor patio.
And this sassy store cat.
OH – and for the kindle/Nook/ipad crowd…
I have to admit, I can’t get into it. I have an e-reader and I sometimes read the newspaper on it, which is nice (no inky fingers, and I don’t accidentally backhand fellow straphangers whilst trying to un/re-fold the darn thing on my commute). But, and perhaps I’m a full-fledged luddite or just too romantic about such things as paper weight, cover stock and book dimensions, but the few times I’ve used the e-reader for novels I’ve had this feel that’s like “But, I’ve already read this one…” I dunno, the sensory experience is a little joyless for me, so I kick it old school.
BUT – if you’re partying like it’s 2007, you can still support indie bookstores via Kobo. And, honestly, that’s all I know about that. Let me know how it goes!
Wow, this turned a bit long and ranty. Not my intention, really. I felt the need to tell you about my little resolution because it will help me keep it. But, then I went to a local book store, petted a cat and got all fired up. You know how it is.
Question: What are your thoughts on Amazon? Please, speak freely. To be honest, I have my eye on a dust buster and some activated charcoal.