For all who love books and community, this Op-Ed piece from today's Times.  Read it, and make certain that your next book purchase isn't online.



Anonymous said...

Richard Russo is my favorite living novelist. And I'm open to the idea that Amazon is a harmful entity. And I agree it was a nasty promotion. But people who wanted to get a discount on the eligible items (toys, DVD's, CD's, sporting goods, electronics) would have been quite unlikely to go to an independent book store this past Saturday. Instead they probably went to places like Toys R Us, Sports Authority, Best Buy, Target, and WalMart. And Russo didn't come up with a single example of a bookseller who actual saw a customer with a cell phone acting strangely around a CD display.

The real scandal revealed by the op-ed may be this: New York Times staffing levels have gotten so low that they can't check an op ed for surface plausibility before letting it through.

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

Seems awful-but I will say Amazon provides me with books I can not get locally, or sometimes even in a neighboring town. I buy lots of used books, there are independent booksellers there and I check abe and other sources too. It is an internet world-we know if can't replace the contact we make with people but it is a huge part of our lives-while many will complain, none of these authors will stop Selling their books @amazon or .com. pgt

The Devoted Classicist said...

There is an independent bookstore near my house, one of only three bookstores within 100+ miles. Although I buy miscellaneous items there, it would be very unusual to find a book that I would want to purchase. The architecture/design/decorative arts book section has been dramatically reduced to almost nothing, replaced by pricey quilted fabric handbags & totes.

Reggie Darling said...

I am an Amazon shopper, but I divide my book purchases between it and the independent booksellers where I live (Archivia and Shakespeare & Co. in NYC). I don't consider Amazon to be a force of evil, but rather a reality, like the big box retailers another of your commenters notes. Like it or not, it is here to stay. It is a useful resource, but should be considered one of a number of options available to us as consumers. I, like PGT, buy a lot of my books used, too, both online and bricks and morter. Reggie

The Ancient said...
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The Ancient said...

I have tens of thousands of books. It's a genuine problem. New books, old books, ancient books. They fill walls and bookcases, they wind up in piles, they wander and get themselves lost. Long ago, I shopped at little bookstores on Beacon Hill or in Georgetown, both now dead, and I still buy regularly from the best bookstore in the world, Heywood Hill in London.

But I am not a romantic. I don't care that I can get a book more cheaply at Amazon. I care that I can get it quickly and easily. If I see reviews in the NYRB or the Times or some British paper, I know I can have that book within a couple days. I don't have to bestir myself to go out, and I don't have to rely on some local bookshop to order it on my behalf.

The small local bookseller is going the way of the local butcher or the local vegetable dealer -- but with a difference. When you have to buy meat or vegetables from Whole Foods, you are only modestly disappointed, if that. When I use Amazon in place of, say, the old Francis Scott Key Bookstore in Georgetown, I get every book I could want quickly and efficiently without ever wondering when the ladies will get around to doing the paperwork for my order.

There is romance in a local bookshop, but it's not my romance, it's the bookseller's. And I don't feel the need to put myself out to subsidize someone else's dreams. (My own are sufficiently ruinous, thank you.)

There's something wrong with a world when so many people -- and booksellers are just a small example -- complain that other people aren't doing enough to support their would-be lifestyles.

P.S. I used to haunt used bookstores, trying to fills gaps in various collections. Usually it was a waste of time, but occasionally I found something I'd been looking for -- or better, didn't know existed -- and it was a real delight. Now, with abebooks, all my collections are complete. I still buy from antiquarian bookstores, but technology speeds it all up and allows me do things that I enjoy more with my free time.

P.P.S. The local Barnes & Noble is closing, to be replaced by an enormous Nike store. Running shoes for people whose only encounter with books comes through their iPods. This is how the book world ends, not with a bang but a jogger.

Rose C'est La Vie said...

Oh this does make me feel bad. My only defence is that if I see a book in a local store that I want, I will buy it then and there and not slope off to Amazon to get it cheaper. Otherwise, yes I can't resist the ease of buying online and the reliability of the delivery.

Blue said...

I buy from Amazon almost exclusively. The only bookstore left near me in Atlanta is a branch of Barnes and Noble which I visit mostly to check the quality of a book that interests me. If I think the book worth it, I buy it online. With the SnapTell phone app I can check immediately where the book is available for a price I'm prepared to pay. Sometimes Barnes and Noble online has the book at a competitive price - a price never seen in their stores.

When in New York we buy at Crawford Doyle and Archivia - we like them and they are within walking distance of where we stay.

AbeBooks was recommended to me recently and there I found the only copy of a privately printed book I've coveted for a long time.

the quarter rat said...

I'm lucky to have one of the best small bookstores in the country, Faulkner House, down the street from me (I used to live next door!). It's a social center as much as mercantile experience (the Faulkner Society has constant readings and parties, often upstairs in the DeSalvo's apartment).

However, one problem with these indie bookstores is that they're often highly curated towards the owners' and staff's tastes. While FHB would order anything I want short of hardcore pornography, I've gotten the "why do you want THAT" look a few times, so I go to the burbs and BN and get some things on my monthly magazine run when I suspect its imminence. Anything new with pictures I get from my friend Nadine Blake's shop down the street.

When the used book emporiums of the French Quarter fail to yield the desired tome (although great books have LITERALLY fallen on my head in them), I'll go to AbeBooks - I've had too many problems with independent Amazon sellers not having the book.

The Ancient said...

The contrary case -- for the little Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart::


Sarah Faragher said...

Here is a rebuttal to Russo, from a young technology writer at Slate who laments the "inefficiency" of bookshops, and thinks they offer "a frustrating consumer experience" and are "difficult to use":


I enter bookshops when I want to be surrounded by books (books not already my own, I should say). To me, they are not something to be used, and rarely have I ever found them frustrating or inefficient. I buy locally, I buy online, I sell locally, I sell online. My book-buying dollars are spread around. The more books the better, in my opinion. But I do believe that books are not merely products to be consumed (God save me from a "consumer experience"). The Ancient kindly links to the NYT article about bookseller George Whitman, who said, "I wanted a bookstore because the book business is the business of life." Long live the bookshop, long live the book.

smilla4blogs said...

We are blessed with our wonderful community bookstore which is a short walk down the hill, so I never order online...but I love my IPad and its convenience when traveling. No more heavy carry-ons stuffed with paperbacks. I used to have book anxiety every time I boarded a plane, now a modest library is always on hand!

home before dark said...

I agree with all of the above: it's complicated. I buy mostly from Amazon. As I tell my husband Mr. Amazon is there 24/7 and always delivers. The book store I miss in our college town is J Hoods. You could wander about and find amazing things. I always came out with wonders I never knew I needed. I miss that sense of book synchronicity. It was always an added pleasure to know the person's name written on the book, or underlining or notations—sometimes a notecard with unrelated jumbles even recipes. I fear the book may be doomed and feel a bit like my dad, a shade-tree mechanic as he called himself, hoping his death would come before metric invaded his world. He got lucky that way. Hope books outlive me.