Late last week, Alex Shephard wrote a long piece for MobyLives about the current clash between Amazon and Hachette, and how authors have taken sides. The whole thing’s totally worth reading, but particularly this section:
I make no bones about the fact that I think Amazon has been bad for literary culture in America, but I don’t want to take it away from anyone. If Konrath and other self-published authors are happy with the way Amazon is working for them, then that’s great for them and it’s great for literary culture. I just want Amazon to also work for publishers and I don’t see why that’s a problem. The goal should be to grow literary culture, not stifle it. There’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution and this certainly isn’t a fight to the death.
Or at least it shouldn’t be.
For my money, I used Amazon for a while in…say, the early-to-mid 00s. Then I started realizing things: I was obsessive about getting free shipping, but generally ordering two trade paperbacks would take me just below the $25 threshold for that, so I’d end up ordering more, so in trying to get free shipping, I’d end up spending $10 or $12 more than I’d planned. And inevitably, shipping would still take the better part of a week. So I started heading to local indies: when they were around, Coliseum Books was located a few blocks from where I was working at the time. Then I started spending more and more time at McNally Jackson (then McNally Robinson). And then WORD opened about five blocks from my apartment. And I noticed that–regardless of any other factors–ordering a book through a bookstore was going to take roughly the same amount of time as going through said online retail giant. Plus, there was the added bonus of interacting with people. Smart people. People who, in many cases, have become friends of mine. For me, this wasn’t a hard decision at all. Since then, I’ve embraced the idea of supporting independent bookstores wholeheartedly; there were also, though, entirely practical reasons for me to make that first move.
Shepard also goes briefly into the question of bookstores not selling Amazon Publishing books. I can only imagine that there’s got to be something frustrating about being on the Amazon Publishing side of things: many of the books that they’ve done seem like the sort of work that would be designed for handselling–but it’s not surprising (and very understandable) that indie bookstores want nothing to do with work coming from a corporate entity that has its eye on supplanting them. And it’s also worth noting that Neal Pollack’s recent defense of Amazon ended up being more of a defense of Amazon Publishing than anything else.
I have bought two books that Amazon Publishing’s done: Benjamin Anastas’s memoir Too Good to Be True, and Shawn Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho, both of which I enjoyed. For the record, I got the former as a Christmas gift, and ordered the latter via Powell’s. (And, at the time I’m typing this, I see that Vestal’s book has won the 2014 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize; I’ll be curious to see if this changes anything with respect to how bookstores handle it.) I’m also planning to pick up Nicole Haroutunian’s collection that Little A is publishing when it comes out next year–I like her writing (we published one of her stories at Vol.1) and her work with Underwater New York (who, full disclosure, have also published one of my stories.) Where I’ll get it remains to be seen, but I’ll certainly be handing money over to someone for it.