Monday, December 12, 2011

Amazon ousts its competitors: ouch.

This new proposal that Amazon has been bandying about has bookstore owners up in arms: basically it works like this: Amazon has created an app by which one can scan any book in a brick and mortar bookstore and get the USB code, then go home and upload that information to get a discount on the book.

Naturally, people are crying foul and being quite vocal about the fact that Amazon is now overtly trying to force out any and all competitors. Fair enough. I have to admit, though, that I do use Amazon from time to time.

Irked Readers Unite
My problem with Amazon is mainly theoretical: they are too big and have too much power. But theory means little when I don't see the practical side of avoiding them. And on the whole, I'm happy when I buy a book from them. It arrives promptly, it's not usually too expensive (though it irritates me when charges 40% more than the US site) and, of course, I know they will have whatever book I need or want.

I do try and get books from Indigo whenever possible (though trading one huge US corporation for a huge Canadian corporation seems a bit short-sighted and I'll save for another day my reflections on Indigo's huge Dundas Square store in Toronto and what it means for the future of books). But because I am almost never a browsing shopper (I always know which book or specific author's works I am looking for and I never go bookshopping just for something interesting to catch my attention), I find that when I go into small independent bookshops in Canada (when I can find one, that is), they just don't have the books that I want. And my dislike for supporting a big competition-busting corporation isn't as strong as my desire to just read the book I want to read. I'm certainly not going to radically overhaul my reading practices to 'save' independent bookstores. So everyone calling for a boycott or encouraging people buy their books at a local independent store are living in a cave, perhaps. Yes, it's unfair what Amazon is doing but boycotting just seems to be another step towards irrelevance for small bookshops.

When I do encounter an independent bookstore that has a very good selection (Nicholas Hoare, for example, or Paragraph) it's just a matter of time and convenience: should I put on my coat and boots, ride the subway for 25 minutes, walk 5 minutes in the hopes that they will have the book I want? Or am I more likely to search click and order and have the book here in a few days? It's not that I won't buy books at small places: if I am there for another reason or happen to find myself in the neighborhood, I am very conscious of the fact that buying books from them is good for the intellectual livelihood of Canada and Montreal, etc. But this is the exception: I do most of my bookshopping online (often I use Powell's though shipping to Canada is pricey and it takes a month sometimes) and in second-hand bookstores (more about that in a second).

I realize, of course, that my problem magnified to 500,000 consumers is precisely why independent bookstores are failing across North America. But unless an independent bookstore sets up shop a block away from my house and has an amazing selection, I don't see myself radically altering my behavior in order to attempt to "save" independent shops. Yes, Amazon is too big. But until someone else comes up with a way for independent booksellers to sell their books (in Canada) more conveniently, I'm not too optimistic. (Maybe some kind of independent internet site which aggregates the stock of independent bookshops all across Canada where people can order and/or pick up?)

The best bookstore in Montreal
I do love The Word and the other second hand bookstores (and I buy more books from these shops than others, perhaps more than even online purchases) and I occasionally go into these shops when I can only to browse (which means I end up buying something that catches my attention). But when we say independent bookstores, I don't think these are the shops we mean. There may always be a market for small second-hand bookstores...

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