Cheers to Bookstores (?)

by | Dec 3, 2013 | Behind the Scenes

Some PGP books at Normals, in Baltimore

Every year, Publishers Weekly honors a literary figure of major influence with its Person of the Year award, and this year they named Oren Teicher and his organization, the American Booksellers Association. The distinction was given for the ABA’s work improving the position of bookstores—as the award notes:

… in 2010, the American Booksellers Association saw its first increase in many years and by 2013, the sector had recovered enough that independent bookstores are once again seen as critical to the success of the book industry.

Great news, but is this just an encouraging gesture from PW in an era and community that favors Amazon’s good deals and eBooks? How much growth are independent booksellers actually seeing? I’m skeptical … but then how much growth would merit the award? I mean, simply not dying, at this point, is pretty remarkable, and I think the best bookstores are managed by incredibly smart people.

Or is this an early recognition that bookstores are impervious to Amazon? That people will always want a place to touch books, meet people who feel the same way, and drink coffee while they do it. The Atlantic has a good article that suggests three reasons for the resurgence: 1) the shop local movement; 2) innovative booksellers using technology like websites, social media and sophisticated inventory managers; 3) publishers working more closely with the booksellers (which I wonder if, like, are they treating them as a direct sales team now)? The whole article is worth a look.

But in the meantime, Jeff Bezos is still saying, “Amazon didn’t happen to book selling, the future happened to book selling.” And my own buying habits are shifting to Amazon. I note that indie presses are shifting their production to Amazon, too, with publishers like CCM using Amazon’s Createspace to make and sell their books. I’m constantly on the verge of using the service for out of print books. Simply put, Amazon is good at fulfilling needs.

I really enjoyed watching Bezos on 60 Minutes last night. Charlie Rose noted, “A lotta small book publishers and other smaller companies worry that the power of Amazon gives them no chance.”

Bezos’ response sounds like something I’d expect from Boss Hogg: “You gotta earn your keep in this world.” Unfortunately, Charlie Rose seemed so enamored by Bezos that he didn’t treat the issue seriously. He asked one follow up question (“Is Amazon ruthless in their pursuit of market share?”) and then switched the conversation to Amazon’s new TV shows, and then the farfetched, Onion-esque notion that Amazon will be using drones to deliver orders in a few years.

I mean, come on.

Over the years, I’ve complained a lot about Amazon (at htmlgiant, for example), but I’m a little disconcerted at how I’ve come to accept all their propositions lately. I do feel like it’s the “wave of the future,” that it’s inevitable, and that they are perhaps not the most evil corporation to completely reshape commerce. But how complicit should we be, as readers and publishers and booksellers?