There are a lot of people out there getting their knickers in a twist about Amazon. They’re doing terrible things to the publishing industry, apparently. They’re single-handedly sounding the death knell for sweet little independent bookstores everywhere. And they kick puppies.
I like sweet little independent bookstores as much as the next person, I do. (And I really like puppies.) The thing is, the Amazon-haters are just so demanding. They want me to pay more for my books – and to do it with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. They want me to spend my precious hours of free time getting on the train to my nearest non-chain bookstore, failing to find what I want on its shelves, ordering it, and then heading back out in a week’s time to pick up my purchase. They want me to sacrifice the joy of finishing a really good book by an author I’ve never read before and immediately finding another one by the same writer, downloading it onto my Kindle, and getting stuck in.
In other words, they want me to act in a way that’s contrary to my own interests.
They say it’s the right thing to do. They claim it’s worthy. They almost go so far as to suggest that we
owe it to the owners of those sweet little independent bookstores. That to expect anything so uncouth as a profit motive to enter their cultured heads is somehow unreasonable! Apparently, I should pay for these corduroy-wearing luvvies to stay locked up in their ivory towers, secure in the knowledge that I’ll keep shelling out more than the minimum of my hard-earned because doing anything else marks me out as an unconscionable Philistine!
Call me a hardened capitalist if you like, but I resent the suggestion that buying books on Amazon is one step away from clubbing baby seals.
And in any case, all this stuff about boycotting it misses the point. There’s no need to don hair shirts to save our independent bookstores: they simply need to focus on the things they can provide that Amazon never could.
Amazon can’t give me a happy hour or two wandering around a store that’s filled with temptations, unearthing a title I would never have realised I wanted until it called to me from the shelf and quickened my heartbeat (the last one was the “The Hallucination of Words”). It can’t compete with the simple pleasure of admiring your new purchases with the rich aroma of coffee in your nostrils and a mouthful of homemade carrot cake. It can’t get people together over a glass of wine to listen to an author or a poet read their work. It can’t do any of those things, any more than independents can offer hundreds of classic works of literature for precisely no money at all.
Amazon makes it easy for people to buy books. It encourages people to read, and to read more. And if if its success means that other retailers have to adapt to survive, that they have to work harder to offer something that people continue to be prepared to pay for – well, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.