Skip

Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller
December 15, 2011 12:12 PM   Subscribe


 
Frhad Manjoo is some sort of platonic Slate ideal. He exists merelt to make controversial or supposedly counterintuitive arguments strictly for the purpose of linkbait.
posted by X-Himy at 12:14 PM on December 15, 2011 [24 favorites]


And we happily oblige.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 12:15 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


but now that i've read the article, i didn't find a lot to disagree with.
posted by Avenger50 at 12:18 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Favorite comment on the article:
I truly, *truly* hate it when technocrats extol "efficient" and "cheap" as if these things were inherent virtues rather than simply...adjectives. Masturbation may be the most efficient, least expensive (you don't have to buy dinner! or anniversary gifts!) way to achieve an orgasm. Doesn't make it the best way.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:19 PM on December 15, 2011 [52 favorites]


The guy considers Amazon's customer reviews a plus???? Good lord, if there exists a poster child for why online customer reviews are worthless, it's the Amazon reviews.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:20 PM on December 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


The "bookstore debate" really is a perfect encapsulation of how far progressive types will go to abandon reality for the purpose of bolstering favored institutions or aesthetics.
posted by downing street memo at 12:20 PM on December 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


He appears to have summarized the entirety of "literary culture" into "buying books."
posted by sawdustbear at 12:22 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Favorite comment on the article:
I truly, *truly* hate it when technocrats extol "efficient" and "cheap" as if these things were inherent virtues rather than simply...adjectives. Masturbation may be the most efficient, least expensive (you don't have to buy dinner! or anniversary gifts!) way to achieve an orgasm. Doesn't make it the best way.


True, but wouldn't you ALSO hate to live in a world where the only possible means of orgasm was with another person? Extending this metaphor back into book-selling, isn't it great that you can both while away the hours in a dusty bookshop finding things you didn't know you wanted, whilst also being able to hop online and get exactly what you want and have it delivered to you quickly (or instantly, in the case of e-books)?
posted by modernnomad at 12:23 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Now that you mention it, Mister Fabulous, libertarianism is all about unleashing the power of mental masturbation.
posted by lukemeister at 12:25 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Extending this metaphor back into book-selling, isn't it great that you can both while away the hours in a dusty bookshop finding things you didn't know you wanted, whilst also being able to hop online and get exactly what you want and have it delivered to you quickly (or instantly, in the case of e-books)?

It is, although there is also the sad matter of how the online bookstore, especially when it also sells ebooks, is able to drive many bookstores out of business. It's sort of like how terrific independent video stores were mortally wounded by the internet. I don't know of any way to push back the clock, not that I'd want to, but it's still sad.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:26 PM on December 15, 2011


Why not have the best of both worlds? Masturbate in a bookstore!
posted by found missing at 12:26 PM on December 15, 2011 [30 favorites]


Full disclosure: I have an ebook on Amazon (and Smashwords), and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and for the humble but significant money it has brought me.

That said, I can't get over the snobbishness of this article.

...that's pretty much it right there.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:26 PM on December 15, 2011


What rankles me, though, is the hectoring attitude of bookstore cultists like Russo, especially when they argue that readers who spurn indies are abandoning some kind of “local” literary culture. There is little that’s “local” about most local bookstores. Unlike a farmers’ market, which connects you with the people who are seasonally and sustainably tending crops within driving distance of your house, an independent bookstore’s shelves don’t have much to do with your community. Sure, every local bookstore promotes local authors
That dude needs an editor, and the world needs less soulless corporations and more independent, local shops giving some color and contrast to neighborhoods. It saddens me that it takes real effort to find something different about Raleigh and Atlanta. Same shops, same roads, same restaurants, same gyms, theaters... I'm worried that the whole country is turning into one boring, uninterrupted strip mall, and we are becoming less interesting because of it.

Oh, you're from across the country and you're excited to live in a new town? Too bad. All of your favorite things about home are part of a chain that already exists here and have put every local store out of business. So just change your address online. Don't bother doing anything different. Don't meet new people trying to find a nice coffee shop, or a political bookstore, or a cool independent theater. Just keep the exact same routine you had 2,000 miles from here.

(Yes, I need a vacation).
posted by deanklear at 12:27 PM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Some additional context from Publishers Weekly.
posted by twsf at 12:27 PM on December 15, 2011


His argument seems entirely predicated on his own personal dislike for bookstores. People who actually like spending time in bookstores -- especially used bookstores, which are often competitive with Amazon in price -- will find very little insight here.
posted by vorfeed at 12:28 PM on December 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm w/sawduster.

I've worked in a bookstore, and I was a better recommendation engine than Amazon ever was, and that was the best part of the job -- people who'd come in, say "I've read all the Clark you have, and now I'm stuck" and leave with a half-dozen good ones.

Amazon's got better pricing (which as an author, I'm not so happy about) and they've done a lot of good, but there's been at least some give-and-take in the tension now: if you're good at customer service, you can demonstrate your value and get them to buy from you, and buy more from you, and live another day. Amazon's now encouraging people to take advantage of the brick-and-mortar advantages, but not leave them enough on the table to continue to act as de-facto showrooms for Amazon's inventory. I don't get it.

And Amazon's customer service -- if you bring some books back and say "I started to read these and they sucked," I'll give you your money back and find you better books based on your feedback (unless you want someone else to help you now). Amazon can't do that.

Whatever, I feel like he's trolling me.
posted by dmz at 12:28 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


His argument seems entirely predicated on his own personal dislike for bookstores. People who actually like spending time in bookstores -- especially used bookstores, which are often competitive with Amazon in price -- will find very little insight here.

Not to mention his desire to have good books mechanically predicted for him. Whatever happened to the pleasure of just stumbling on something, or having someone recommend something unexpected to you?
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:28 PM on December 15, 2011


It saddens me that it takes real effort to find something different about Raleigh and Atlanta. Same shops, same roads, same restaurants, same gyms, theaters... I'm worried that the whole country is turning into one boring, uninterrupted strip mall, and we are becoming less interesting because of it.

Your problem here is the words in bold, not some country-wide homogenization epidemic.

The bit about "local shops giving color and contrast to neighborhoods" gives away the game here; the independent bookstore thing is about having something that looks good, and something to be snobbish about, not about promoting a literary culture. If such a thing exists, the internet and Amazon have obviously been enormous net boons to it.
posted by downing street memo at 12:31 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thanks, Farhad! At exactly the moment I feel the need to buy some mass market schlock, I will certainly rush off to support one of the shabbiest companies I know of. Until that time, I will continue to give my money to a brilliant bookstore owned by a friend of mine: one that has dozens of author readings a year, wins scads of awards from booksellers' associations and is at the heart of an active shopping district.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:31 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


He appears to have summarized the entirety of "literary culture" into "buying books."

And the independent bookstore crowd seems to have summarized the entirety of "literary culture" into "sitting in a hip bookstore and being allowed to have a coffee while you browse, while someone who knows so much about literature that they ended up with a job in retail makes recommendations at you".

In the last year, I went from buying literally one book a year, and maybe being given a couple as gifts, to buying close to 20. Why? Got my hands on the Kindle iPhone app. I listen to literary radio shows, or shows where they're interviewing someone about a book, I have that book paid for and downloaded before the interview winds to a close.

However; keep your hands off my funky 2nd-hand music stores, thanks. Keep off my lawn.

posted by Jimbob at 12:31 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Amazon suggests books based on others you’ve read; your local store recommends what the employees like.

Translation: Amazon filters the selection for you in a manner that narrows your horizons; your local store offers the potential to expand your horizons.

I like Amazon and independent bookstores for different things. Amazon is great if you want a recommendation for someothing very similar to what you have already read. I go to the latter specifically because I like to browse a selection that has been pre-filtered by another human being who doesn't necessarily share my tastes, and I don't feel oppressed by the fact that the selection is governed by someone else's taste. IF I don't see anything I like, I can always go somewhere else.
posted by googly at 12:32 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]




That dude needs an editor, and the world needs less soulless corporations and more independent, local shops giving some color and contrast to neighborhoods. It saddens me that it takes real effort to find something different about Raleigh and Atlanta. Same shops, same roads, same restaurants, same gyms, theaters... I'm worried that the whole country is turning into one boring, uninterrupted strip mall, and we are becoming less interesting because of it.

I'm with you on homogenization generally, but I don't think that local bookstores are the hill to die on. Every "independent" bookstore I've ever been in has been the same. Largely the same selection, the same upper middle class professionals drinking coffee, the same snobs behind the counter, the same cat. You could drop me into any one of them (including ones I've bought stuff in) and I would have no idea where I was. It's not local culture, it's upper class educated urbanite culture, which is pretty homogenous itself.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:32 PM on December 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


I'd say I'm cheap and efficient about a couple of times a week. The local bookstore's hours don't always correspond to my schedule, unfortunately.
posted by Kabanos at 12:32 PM on December 15, 2011


Not to mention his desire to have good books mechanically predicted for him. Whatever happened to the pleasure of just stumbling on something, or having someone recommend something unexpected to you?

This is why I like libraries.
posted by Hicksu at 12:33 PM on December 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


If you're finding that the internet and Amazon are limiting your serendipitous finding of new things to read and experience, you're doing it wrong.
posted by downing street memo at 12:34 PM on December 15, 2011 [17 favorites]


Also, I don't understand the whole "recommendations" obsession - do people really not know what they want to read? There are so many books in the world. So, so many good books. It sometimes startles and depresses me somewhat when I have the sudden thought that I'll never be able to read them all in my lifetime. And yet people wander into bookshops and expect the retail staff to tell them what to buy?
posted by Jimbob at 12:35 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Article review, Fun With Words edition:
I’m generally a fan of price comparison—like everyone else, I hate spending more than I should...
More than you should, or have to to legally obtain what you want? If you feel that supporting a local business is worthwhile, then you should pay a fair price so that they can continue to offer you products. If you want something cheaper, don't worry about those stocking warehouse conditions which lead to hospital visits for minimum wage workers.
Compared with online retailers, bookstores present a frustrating consumer experience. A physical store—whether it’s your favorite indie or the humongous Barnes & Noble at the mall—offers a relatively paltry selection, no customer reviews, no reliable way to find what you’re looking for, and a dubious recommendations engine.
So instead of asking an employee for what you're looking for, or having them order it for you, you sulk because you can't find what you want in the local shop? Gee, if I could only enter the title of the book and have it pop up in front of me. And that "dubious recommendation engine"? If you visit a local shop enough to know the tastes of the folks who work there, those recommendations are a lot less "dubious" than Amazon's computer-ranking based on past sales. And again, you can talk to an employee if you want to know more about a book. Chances are, they can tell you something, if they can't give you a plot synopsis and comparison versus similar titles.

Yes, local shops selling anything that is not locally produced will lose out compared to MegaStores that can purchase in ridiculous bulk quantities. That's why Walmart has such clout: they can buy a LOT more than local shops, and shift the prices in their favor. So we come back to how much you "should" be paying. Are you looking for savings on words in bulk in a relatively anonymous setting, or a truly personalized experience within your own town? The latter costs more, in money and effort, but the benefit could be greater.

My favorite part: his wife is "an unreformed local-bookstore cultist," but he hasn't attempted to offer any counterpoints from her, which would have made for less of personal rant, and more of an interesting story.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:36 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]



Why not have the best of both worlds? Masturbate in a bookstore!

Papercuts.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:37 PM on December 15, 2011 [14 favorites]


Unfortunately, there are a whole lot more bad books than good books. And a lot of good books take some time to really get going. I'd rather have someone who knows tell me that the first slow 100 pages of a 500-page book are worth powering through to get to the rest.
posted by griphus at 12:37 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


"But say you don’t care about local cultural experiences. Say you just care about books."

See, I can't bring myself to say that. I just can't.

I just left the Pioneer Valley this past summer. It was a good move, professionally speaking. And I like where I am now a lot. But the thing I miss most about that area is the bookstores. There was Troubadour Books, who's owner (Bob) could find just about anything in those teetering overgrown stacks. If you had a conversation about your current reading habits with Bob, you'd learn some things. And Bob would probably give you an additional discount on the books. Once, he dug through some boxes in the back room to find for me a beautiful hard-bound copy of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, which he offered to me at a fantastic discount. I never knew what I was going to find at Troubadour. The best plan was to go in without anything specific in mind, and just see what happened.

Then there's Schoen Books in Deerfield, which is run out of the owner's home. He opened for me one Sunday when he wasn't planning on being open. We had a great conversation about modern Jewish literature. He was something of a Celan expert, and put several translations in my hands. He knew my interests by the end of that day, and would send me an email when the right stuff came in. After one of our conversations, he ended up mailing me a Derrida volume that I was considering, but didn't buy. Said he thought it belonged on my shelf rather than his backroom. Schoen had some great lectures and poetry readings. It's a great part of the community. I wish I went to more of them.

Then there's the Montague Bookmill, where I actually haven't had as good luck with the books. But the community aspect is great. In its cafe, I wrote most of an article that I'm pretty proud of. I could spend hours at that cafe, looking at the river, drinking coffee, staying warm in winter. At the bookmill I've discovered some cool books, but also some great local beers, bakeries, artists and musicians.

The Raven and Broadside books all brought some fascinating authors to town for readings. The Colleges in the area had something to do with it, of course. But when Mark Strand or Ko Un came to town, it was a campus event, it was a community event. It was wonderful.

There's a bunch of bookstores I'm forgetting. There was that basement one in downtown Northampton. There's the one in the house in Easthampton with the friendly friendly cats. There's the one in the old church in Deerfield. There's that consortium of Antique bookdealers in Whately. The whole area was full of readers, who were sharing their love of books with each other. And were building a community of readers.

I'm in a much more rural part of New England now. It has a couple bookstores in the area. And no dearth of readers. But it doesn't hit that saturation point of oh so many used bookstores in one small area, all of whom are engaged in the community. And I can't begin to tell you how much miss it. It's not that I don't get my books: Amazon delivers anywhere, and I find what I need. It's the interactions with others who care about books so much. That's what I miss.
posted by .kobayashi. at 12:39 PM on December 15, 2011 [14 favorites]


I stopped buying from Amazon after the story broke about the company pretty much cooking their employees in a metal building during the hot Ohio summer, and then firing said employees when heat exhaustion left them unable to work.

I wrote a polite letter asking what they intended to do to rectify the situation, and I got a form response in reply. It was heavy with alleged concern and promises, short on explaining how they would actually correct the conditions. When I replied stating that I appreciated a response but further asking what they were actually doing, I got no reply.

Amazon isn't just destroying local retailers, it's using 19th century labor practices to do it. Jeff Bezos is Mr. Burns with a PR team. If you want to compound the misery caused by third-world production practices while looking at empty main streets, buy from Amazon.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:41 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Amazon auto recommendations are poor (unless it's to sell *new hot titles for you today*). The reviews are riddled with posturing, politics and games (long story). Amazon's customer experience amounts to sitting in your bedroom, alone, staring at a screen. I could go on, but Amazon is far from comparable to a real book store. We gain something with Amazon, but also loose things.
posted by stbalbach at 12:42 PM on December 15, 2011


Masturbate in a bookstore!

It feels like this should go without saying, but from my personal bookseller experiences please don't.
posted by drezdn at 12:42 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love independent and used bookstores. I won't get into a more substantial defense because I really don't care to, but I'll just say:

What's wrong with wanting cool places in your neighborhood where you can drink coffee and meet people and learn about more interesting stuff?
posted by defenestration at 12:43 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


It saddens me that it takes real effort to find something different about Raleigh and Atlanta. Same shops, same roads, same restaurants, same gyms, theaters... I'm worried that the whole country is turning into one boring, uninterrupted strip mall, and we are becoming less interesting because of it.

That reminds me of a recent "vacation" I had with the family to Disney World. Having been in the Portland bubble for a little too long, I forgot what the rest of the world looked like. Therefore, I challenge with this Googly Map. The goddamn strip malls repeated themselves down this stretch of US 192. What first clued me in was the repeated Walgreens that I saw nearly every mile. Sure, maybe Central Florida is a particularly bad example of urban sprawl with homogenized everything. But I really do think it is an alarmingly bad trend.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:43 PM on December 15, 2011


I've ordered lots of books from Amazon UK and other online booksellers. I also buy lots of books from local bookstores. I think both are great.

What's wrong with wanting cool places in your neighborhood where you can drink coffee and meet people and learn about more interesting stuff?

I hate people and I wish they'd keep the hell away from bookstores when I go there.
posted by daniel_charms at 12:44 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


.kobayashi.: I lived in Northampton for a bit. I miss it sometimes.

Now I want Herrell's. :(
posted by defenestration at 12:45 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos, perhaps you've only been in upper class educated urbanite neighborhoods?

For a real kick, try a used book store. They're likely to 1) have cheaper books, 2) be more personal, some times staffed by a single individual. But that's not what you do when you want One Specific Book, it's what you do when you want something new and interesting to read.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:45 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's wrong with wanting cool places in your neighborhood where you can drink coffee and meet people and learn about more interesting stuff?

Nothing at all. It's presenting those things as the engines of "literary culture", or the endless tut-tutting about Where Will We Get Our Books, or (as we've seen in DC) asking for tax abatements for independent bookstores, or the assumption that a fairly homogenous form of upper middle-class professional entertainment deserves some privileged, hallowed place in American life...those are the things that are over the top.
posted by downing street memo at 12:46 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


From the article:
If you don’t choose your movies based on what the guy at the box office recommends, why would you choose your books that way?
That's a weird example, since there are video stores that give the staff's recommendations for movies.
posted by John Cohen at 12:48 PM on December 15, 2011


Another reason I don't buy the argument that local bookstores aren't connected to the community in meaningful ways: The best local bookstore where I am now has a reader rewards program which donates 1% of a customer's purchases to one of five community programs here in Vermont -- from arts enrichment and literacy programs to environment and public health concerns. I don't know what Amazon's charitable practices are, but I doubt that they're as tied into the community as Norwich Bookstore is.
posted by .kobayashi. at 12:49 PM on December 15, 2011


Honestly, I do support tax breaks to book stores, movie theaters, etc. I think they give people a place to congregate and experience/share culture/art, etc. It's worked in other countries.
posted by defenestration at 12:50 PM on December 15, 2011


Local book stores wouldn't need tax breaks if Amazon paid taxes.
posted by one_bean at 12:52 PM on December 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


When you walk into Best Buy and get a salesperson to spend 10 minutes showing you a television, then leave empty-handed so you can buy the TV for less on Amazon, you’ve just turned Best Buy into Jeff Bezos’ chump.

If you make purchasing decisions based on advice from Best Buy salespeople, the chump may be closer to home.
posted by brain_drain at 12:53 PM on December 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


That's a weird example, since there are video stores that give the staff's recommendations for movies.

What the hell is a "video store"?

(RIP The Movie Place on W 105th, even though you fired me.)
posted by griphus at 12:53 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, guys, did you even read the piece? It's not stating that local/independent/physical bookstores should be shut down in favour of Amazon; it's just stating that people claiming that "Amazon, unlike the bookstore down the street, “doesn’t care about the larger bookselling universe” and has no interest in fostering “literary culture"", should put more thought into their arguments or shut the fuck up because they're wrong.
posted by daniel_charms at 12:54 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


since there are video stores that give the staff's recommendations for movies

Not any more there aren't. Unfortunately.
posted by aught at 12:54 PM on December 15, 2011


Amazon's customer experience amounts to sitting in your bedroom, alone, staring at a screen. I could go on, but Amazon is far from comparable to a real book store.

As a lazy introvert that is pretty much my ideal customer experience. Yesterday I bought half a dozen Christmas presents in about 20 minutes, and thanks to Prime they'll all be here tomorrow. In pre-Internet days I would have had to go to a games store, a book store, a toy store, and a few other places when the shopping crowds are more annoying than any other time of year. Plus I probably would have paid more and might not have been able to find everything. When I need to buy something, that's pretty much my entire focus: getting the thing, paying for it, and leaving. I have plenty of ways to figure out what books I want to read and plenty of places to sit around and drink coffee. There are definitely of positive aspects of brick and mortar stores, but personally I don't really like hanging out in stores or shopping in general, so getting everything online is an overall improvement from my perspective.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:55 PM on December 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


While someone who knows so much about literature that they ended up with a job in retail makes recommendations at you".

What else are you supposed to do with a literature degree. At the local independent I worked at the employees made it a point of pride to read as many of the newest books as they could, and also keep track of what their customers liked (And didn't like) and would steer them to great hidden gems.

The local chain went out of business, but one of the stores that has replaced it has much of the same staff and one of my favorite book blogs.

Many of the people that work at bookstores are people who love books, but are also just starting out in other careers. Two of my co-workers from the bookstore mentioned above are college professors. At the used bookstore I worked at for a few months, one of the employees left to become the photo editor of a major local magazine.

One of my current coworkers spends her non-retail time traveling the film festival circuit, showing her films about being transgendered (and the store she works for insurance may cover the insurance).
posted by drezdn at 12:55 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love books and bookstores, and I admire the ability of the internet to bring me books that I will never, ever see locally. However, I also like vibrant neighborhoods, and Amazon is deliberately trying to destroy them. Culturally, Amazon is a dead zone, populated by dead people. I mean this not just metaphorically but literally -- I have spent time in Amazon's neighborhood, in South Lake Union in Seattle, and it is soulless and dead. Nothing interesting could possibly ever take place there, even though it was explicitly and recently designed out of whole cloth to be a simulacrum of a real vibrant pedestrian neighborhood. For one thing, it is utterly segregated; no one but rich hip young white people can enter (much like the doors of the company itself).

You can't design a good neighborhood from scratch, by fiat. It has to grow organically. That organic growth absolutely requires shops. Weird shops, normal shops, bad shops, good shops, successful shops and unsuccessful ones. These shops have one requirement: the must be packed in tightly next to each other on walkable streets.

Yes, I know that this destruction didn't start or end with Amazon or the internet; Walmart was destroying neighborhoods before then. But I seriously believe that American culture is being destroyed from within by this kind of shopping. It's just just about "meeting people", it's about rubbing shoulders with them in the ordinary friction of the marketplace.
posted by Fnarf at 12:55 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Farhad Manjoo, link-bait king.

"It’s Not All Facebook’s Fault: You're as much to blame for the site's privacy woes as Mark Zuckerberg."
"Will Robots Steal Your Job? You're highly educated. You make a lot of money. You should still be afraid."
"Great Social Networks Steal: In praise of Facebook's thievery."
"Who Needs Him?: Apple will do amazingly well without Steve Jobs."
""We Listen to NPR Precisely To Avoid This Sort of Stupidity": The tedious, annoying complaints of public radio listeners."
"Overdone: Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?"
posted by zamboni at 12:57 PM on December 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'd rather have someone who knows tell me that the first slow 100 pages of a 500-page book are worth powering through to get to the rest.

Why would you take the word of a random bookstore employee over any one of the myriad other sources you can find? I mean, sure, you might end up counting some particular bookstore owner/employee as a friend and you might discover that that person has really similar tastes to yours. Then by all means listen to that person's advice. But it's not as if the fact that s/he works in a bookstore means s/he is any more likely to have time or inclination to read widely and interestingly than the person two stores down working in the antique store or the barista at the nearby cafe.

It's not as if bookstore employees get some secret, publisher-insider cheatsheet of which books are "really" good and which ones are crap. They're just people working in retail who have an opinion. It's not exactly hard to find informed opinion about books online. And if you're able to shop on Amazon, you're able to find those opinions.
posted by yoink at 12:57 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm spending increasing amounts of my free time seeking out bookstores before they all disappear.

Above and beyond the pleasure in browsing bookstores, there is something cognitive at work here. There is simply no better way to serendipitously come across interesting reading than being able to leaf though the physical books. The recommendations on Amazon don't cut it.
posted by Numenius at 12:59 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another thing I'd like to note is that local stores give a far easier path to basic retail positions. When I quit working for a national chain to start working for a local store, I went from a bookseller to a marking associate (my first office job!) in a few months. There was little to no chance of that happening with the national chain I worked for.
posted by drezdn at 12:59 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amazon is deliberately trying to destroy them.

Oh, for the love of God.

The city that Amazon's corporate headquarters in sucks, therefore...Amazon is trying to suck the life out of every neighborhood in America?

Anyway, just as a counter-anecdote, a used bookstore on my street recently closed and was almost immediately replaced with a yoga studio. Another one, a few blocks over, was replaced with a particularly cool new restaurant. Productive uses will replace the unproductive (i.e. physical media-selling) ones.
posted by downing street memo at 12:59 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not as if bookstore employees get some secret, publisher-insider cheatsheet of which books are "really" good and which ones are crap.

Ummm... Actually, some stores do.
posted by drezdn at 1:00 PM on December 15, 2011


no one but rich hip young white people can enter.

It's funny, but that's pretty much been my impression of these famous cultural independent bookstores...
posted by Jimbob at 1:00 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


That was a response to the "who need book recommendations at all?" comment, yoink. I have no particular preference as to where the recommendation comes from.
posted by griphus at 1:00 PM on December 15, 2011


To be a sort of devil's advocate for a moment, it's worth remembering that some used bookstores have kept going through Amazon marketplace sales (and other internet sales, though much of it seems to go through Amazon now).

I know this sounds like praising the oblivious monster shark for nurturing the poor remoras that eke out a living from its scraps, but I'm pretty sure at least two of our local used bookstores, which I love browsing in, would be history without this angle.
posted by aught at 1:02 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel the same way about bookstores as I feel about libraries or cathedrals.

My book has sold exceedingly well for an academic book on Amazon, in paper and in kindle formats. The reviews of it are accurate and fair. When you search for it you get a list of other books that are, for the most part, books I cite in the bibliography or more current works I would definitely recommend to someone interested in my book. Whatever algorithm produces that list, it's accurate, and I have never even met an indy bookstore worker (or any bookstore worker) who had any fluency whatsoever in my academic field, let alone one who knew the current literature well. A recommendation for a fantasy novel is one thing. But come on, the retail clerks making minimum wage in Ye Olde Momme and Poppe bookstore cannot possibly be familiar with more than a small portion of the vast universe of titles in print, and the idea that you would rely on a bookstore to recommend a non-fiction title to you seems odd to me, given that there are much more reliable sources of such recommendation online, all over the place.

I live in New York City and you would have a hard time finding my book on the shelf at any independent bookstore other than the two or three that specialize in university press books and serve college neighborhoods. Good luck in Atlanta.
posted by spitbull at 1:02 PM on December 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


Browsing through a bookstore on a rainy afternoon with a cup of coffee is a wonderful thing. It requires a good bookstore, which apparently Mr. Manjoo has never experienced. Not all indie bookstores are/were owned by trolls. What I really miss are the eclectic weirdo used book stores.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:03 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bulgaroktonos, perhaps you've only been in upper class educated urbanite neighborhoods?

Find me a significant number independent bookstores in suburban slums or rural areas. This is where these bookstores are, by and large. I've lived in plenty of places of non-urban/upper class places, and they don't have much in the way of independent bookstores. When we talk about these places we're talking about the experience of educated people in urban areas.

The worst part is that people talk as if its impossible to have a vibrant walkable livable community without independent bookstores, as if your cultural preferences are the only alternative to a world of strip malls full of Olive Gardens.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:03 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, if your pleasure is in serendipitous discovery, I beg your pardon, but two hours spent pulling books of the shelves at the Strand or NYPL is less likely to yield such discovery than 10 seconds of keyword searching on Google.
posted by spitbull at 1:04 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Your problem here is the words in bold, not some country-wide homogenization epidemic.

I've moved across the country twice. I started traveling for work this year, and visited half dozen cities across the country, plus some metro areas I've been to before. Sure, there are roughly a dozen metro areas that have their own style, but you could lump much of the south and midwest into the same strip mall and not notice much difference.

And by the way, the distance from Atlanta to Raleigh is the same as the distance from Berlin to Budapest, or from NYC to Portland ME.
posted by deanklear at 1:04 PM on December 15, 2011


Why read when you can masturbate instead?
posted by Postroad at 1:04 PM on December 15, 2011


Some independent bookstores will offer rep nights for their employees, offering them access to publisher reps. who provide booksellers with information about (and sometimes copies of) titles that they think will appeal to a store's customers.
posted by drezdn at 1:04 PM on December 15, 2011


That is, if you are interested in killing time browsing while enjoying a latte on a rainy afternoon, more power to you. Some people like to go to church too.
posted by spitbull at 1:05 PM on December 15, 2011


There are also cheat sheets like shelf awareness and publisher's weekly.
posted by drezdn at 1:05 PM on December 15, 2011


it's not as if the fact that s/he works in a bookstore means s/he is any more likely to have time or inclination to read widely and interestingly than the person two stores down working in the antique store or the barista at the nearby cafe.

That's exactly what it means. I'm speaking more of used bookstores than independent new ones, but the amount of time you can read on the job, surrounded by books, is quite a bit higher at the bookstore than at a coffee shop. The person working in the bookstore also, coincidentally, happens to be interacting a lot more with people who are interested in books. So they have not only their own opinions to rely on, but anybody else who happens to spend a few minutes chatting about books. In the bookstore. In the retail world, jobs at good bookstores are not easy ones to get. The people who work there by and large know more than you do about books. I guess that might be the case at the antique store down the road, but they're probably more informed about antiques.
posted by one_bean at 1:06 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Powell's Books. Even if you don't live in Portland, they have way better reviews and recommendations than any major chain. Also, it's Powell's.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 1:07 PM on December 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


Pshaw. A lifetime of bookstores, with two intellectual parents and a career in the academy, and long hours spent in nearly any bookstore of note you can name in Cambridge, Berkeley, Austin, Seattle, London, and New York, and I have never met a bookstore clerk or owner whose knowledge of any of area of literature in which I had expertise was at all remarkable.

I think the clerk as oracle is a myth.
posted by spitbull at 1:08 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was just in Powell's this summer. Two clerks in a row did not know the location of a major classic of American travel literature, and only one knew the book. Their anthropology section, while large, featured no discriminating sense of organization. I used to love shopping in Powell's and the Strand, back before Google came along. Now I find them sad places.
posted by spitbull at 1:09 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the clerk as oracle is a myth.

As is database-and-marketing-driven-algorithm-as-oracle.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:11 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


My universe feels in tune and balanced when I read something and the Metafilter comments fall exactly along the spectrum where I think they will. So thank you all for that everyone.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:11 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking perhaps your perspective on the knowledge of bookstore clerks is skewed, spitbull.

"I grew up growing and processing coffee, with master-roaster parents, and baristas don't know shit about single origins."

"I grew up playing all different types of guitars, accompanying a wide-array of professional musicians, with Luthier parents, and those guys at the local music instrument store don't know shit about guitars."
posted by defenestration at 1:14 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't care about any of his arguments.

You can't make sidelong glances at cute bookish girls on a website.
posted by justalisteningman at 1:17 PM on December 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


I live in New York City and you would have a hard time finding my book on the shelf at any independent bookstore other than the two or three that specialize in university press books and serve college neighborhoods...I have never met a bookstore clerk or owner whose knowledge of any of area of literature in which I had expertise was at all remarkable.

I mean, aside from the sour grapes / your research sounds unimportant to a general audience aspect, (non university press) book stores aren't for academic experts.
posted by one_bean at 1:18 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can't make sidelong glances at cute bookish girls on a website.


It's called OKCupid.
posted by defenestration at 1:19 PM on December 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


There are also cheat sheets like shelf awareness and publisher's weekly.

Eh, they're good for industry news/gossip and knowing what's going to be heavily marketed, but they're about as reliable a guide to quality books as Billboard is to quality music.

Oh and Shelf Awareness' April Fools edition is usually pretty damn hilarious, so there's that too.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:20 PM on December 15, 2011


You can't make sidelong glances at cute bookish girls on a website.

Conversely, you don't get ogled by creepy dudes on a website.
posted by griphus at 1:20 PM on December 15, 2011 [14 favorites]


My local indie bookstore fucked off to an inaccessible location, so now my local bookstore is Barnes and Nobel. I will absolutly buy from Amazon without guilt and consider them vastly superior. Now, if I lived next to Powells or something it would be a different matter...

(also if we run out of diapers or baby wipes last thing at night Amazon will deliver them to the door before dawn the next day - when did you ever do that for me, local indie bookstore?)
posted by Artw at 1:20 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't this sort of a double?
posted by Toekneesan at 1:24 PM on December 15, 2011


book stores aren't for academic experts.

"I grew up growing and processing coffee, with master-roaster parents, and baristas don't know shit about single origins."

"I grew up playing all different types of guitars, accompanying a wide-array of professional musicians, with Luthier parents, and those guys at the local music instrument store don't know shit about guitars."


So first we get the argument that the reason you need to talk to bookstore clerks is because they have this incredibly profound understanding of the literary scene which you can't possibly hope to approximate with something as paltry as The Entire Internet. And yet when it's pointed out that in fact they very rarely have any such exotic expertise (not never, certainly, but incredibly rarely) it's "who needs to know about any of that highbrow wankery"?

My experience is exactly like spitbull's. The only bookstores in which the salespeople genuinely impress me with their knowledge of the field are specialty bookstores which focus on a very specific area.

I do love browsing in a second hand bookstores, though. Though there, again, if there's something I actually know I want, I'll go to ABE books first time.
posted by yoink at 1:27 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Conversely, you don't get ogled by creepy dudes on a website.

Depends on the website.
posted by yoink at 1:28 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I never made any of those arguments, yoink.
posted by defenestration at 1:28 PM on December 15, 2011


Jimbob: " It sometimes startles and depresses me somewhat when I have the sudden thought that I'll never be able to read them all in my lifetime."

It's not that you don't know which to read, but which to read first, given that you have an incomplete picture of the universe of books.
posted by pwnguin at 1:29 PM on December 15, 2011


So first we get the argument that the reason you need to talk to bookstore clerks is because they have this incredibly profound understanding of the literary scene which you can't possibly hope to approximate with something as paltry as The Entire Internet. And yet when it's pointed out that in fact they very rarely have any such exotic expertise (not never, certainly, but incredibly rarely) it's "who needs to know about any of that highbrow wankery"?

No somebody suggested that a bookstore clerk knew as much about books as the antique dealer down the street. And yes, there is a difference between going into a bookstore and asking for some help finding books that are similar to an author you just enjoyed and going in asking for a reading list so you can pass your qualifying exam.
posted by one_bean at 1:34 PM on December 15, 2011


What the hell is a "video store"?

You know. That red vending machine out in front of Wal-Mart.
posted by straight at 1:39 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Unlike a farmers’ market, which connects you with the people who are seasonally and sustainably tending crops within driving distance of your house, an independent bookstore’s shelves don’t have much to do with your community.

Yeah, this right here is the core of Russo's argument - that a great bookstore nurtures a local/regional literary culture the way good soil feeds a healthy garden - and it's the steamiest pile of horeshit in Manjoo's collection of trolling assertions.

Speaking as an author, there are countless tasks (most) indies do that no big-box store or Bezos emporium will. I've never visited an indie bookstore that didn't have a prominent "local author/regional interest" section. What's more, big boxes and Bezosites don't set up book sales tables at your reading or presentation. They don't make sure to have extra copies of your previous books on hand when your new one comes out. They don't sell tickets to the local literary festival or put signs in the shop window (or on the webpage) telling people where your event is. They don't hand-sell copies, point people looking for Friedman's latest pile of mixed metaphors to your book instead (to cite a very personal example), talk you up to their regular customers.

Now, obviously Manjoo's being Manichean for the linkbait, but still: a healthy literary culture needs both mass market discount convenience online megalo-book-marts and little curated indies. If I want a Stieg Larssen novel, I might use Amazon (though I prefer The Book Depository), and if I'm looking for, say, a 25-year-old scholarly study of the building of the Erie Canal, I'll probably order it from Alibris. But if I need a gift for my brother and can't think exactly what I want for him, I'll go talk to Simone or one of her staff at Pages up the block, because they know me and they know books and whatever dozen or so titles they have in my brother's favourite genre will be excellent. And while I'm there I'll wander past their carefully curated new fiction table, which I need because I find it enormously difficult to find fiction I like based on if-this-then-this algorithmic stuff (and I have an even worse time with the selective, stodgy book review sections of newspapers and such), and I'll notice (another specific example) Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, and it'll sound vaguely familiar and the clerk will gush about it and I'll buy it and read it in almost a single sitting and then buy everything Jennifer Egan's ever written (some of which, yes, I'll buy online).

Again, as an author? Glad if you live in Outer North Fort Nowhere, Saskatchewan, you can get my books in a click or two. But as a writer with a career and as a reader with eclectic tastes? My local indie's indispensable.
posted by gompa at 1:42 PM on December 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


since there are video stores that give the staff's recommendations for movies

Not any more there aren't.


That would be beside the point even if it were true. I'm just saying it's not clear why the author would think staff recommendations of movies would be absurd (and thus staff recommendations of books are equally absurd).
posted by John Cohen at 1:52 PM on December 15, 2011


Honestly? I have worked both selling books and renting movies. The people who rent movies have seen a lot more movies than the people who sell books have read books.
posted by griphus at 1:54 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have witnessed, not too long ago, people turn up at a cinema and pick which movie to see based on the poster. I supect that's a far more common occurance than anyone thinking to ask the staff.
posted by Artw at 1:59 PM on December 15, 2011


Coincidentally, this morning, I was thinking about growing up in video stores then working in them years later. When I was a kid, my dream was to own and operate my own video store.

Oh well.
posted by defenestration at 2:08 PM on December 15, 2011


I mean, aside from the sour grapes / your research sounds unimportant to a general audience aspect, (non university press) book stores aren't for academic experts.

Nice dig, considering I didn't express even the slightest fucking "sour grapes." My book has been reviewed in numerous non-academic publications, and is an absolute best-seller among university press titles in my field (and because it deals with a popular music genre, it is indeed important to some general readers, and my (4.5 star average) reviews on Amazon all come from non-specialist readers (whose main gripe is about my academic language).

Of course, if all you need a bookstore for is mass market paperbacks and NYT best sellers, I guess that's what they're for. You sort of make my point for me.
posted by spitbull at 2:12 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


You're Sasha Frere-Jones, aren't you?
posted by griphus at 2:14 PM on December 15, 2011


No, thank god, although my book was blurbed by a rock star.
posted by spitbull at 2:15 PM on December 15, 2011


Anyway whatever, indulge in all the print nostalgia you want. The printed book is in its last decade, as everyone I know in publishing would attest. The bookstore is going with it.
posted by spitbull at 2:16 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I mean, aside from the sour grapes / your research sounds unimportant to a general audience aspect, (non university press) book stores aren't for academic experts.

That's why there's University Press Books!
posted by liketitanic at 2:17 PM on December 15, 2011


University Press Books, Book Culture, and yes, a few other places. But I wouldn't waste the two hours it would take all told when you could order it as a kindle book and download it in 5 minutes, as many people do.
posted by spitbull at 2:20 PM on December 15, 2011


What's wrong with wanting cool places in your neighborhood where you can drink coffee and meet people and learn about more interesting stuff?

I love those places! Seattle is full of them, and not just Starbucks, either - there are three solidly excellent coffeeshops within half a dozen blocks of home, and I don't even live in one of the swanky parts of town. Oh, but you meant bookstores - well, yeah, every now and then they have an espresso cart or something, but compared to a real coffeeshop they generally kinda suck. Especially since the only places that can afford to hire a real barista are the big corporate chains.

Snark aside, I don't get the focus on recommendations either. Is it so hard to know what you like? How do you have so much time you can run out of books? I pretty much always have two or three books-in-progress on my nightstand, and yet my "to read someday" list is hundreds of items long. People recommend their favorites, people mention good books online, Amazon suggests things, friends rave about their latest discoveries. I read blogs from authors I like, and they mention people they like, and their commenters mention people they like. And of course it's all in stock, all the time, on Amazon - all I have to do is pick out what I want to read first.

We live in the future, people. It's awesome.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:29 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


awesome spitbull im so excited for a ridiculous future full of drm and edit-fuckery on a bunch of shitty disposable machines

jesus christ i hate technology evangeloids
posted by beefetish at 2:31 PM on December 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


I sometimes do the opposite of what was suggested in the last amazon thread, and look up online book reviews on my phone while browsing in a real bookstore. Mwahaha.

Anyway, amazon is a terrible company. Haven't supported them since they filtered LGBT books out of their topseller list a few years ago. Buy from them only when I have no other choice (eg it needs to come today because I am leaving on a trip tomorrow).

The other thing is: many physical shops are terrible (some are great - more and more often they have to great, to stay in business) but whether they are great or not, shopping in a brick and mortar store trumps shopping online, for me. I work, play (minecraft) and socialize on my computer: the last thing I want to do is SHOP on it too.
posted by subdee at 2:35 PM on December 15, 2011


I'm thinking perhaps your perspective on the knowledge of bookstore clerks is skewed, spitbull.

Yeah, you know, but books are my life. I read more books in a month than most people do in a year. I am always reviewing at least one for a press and another for a journal, literally a constant stream. So I know certain literatures very thoroughly (others not at all). I get quality book recommendations every single day from colleagues, from articles I read, from students, and from press catalogs. I never wonder what I might read next. It's not a question. Just go back to the giant stack on my desk/hard drive and keep plowing.

To me, the digital revolution (of which Amazon is only a small part) has been a positive, radical transformation of my relationship to the printed word, a vast improvement in efficiency and comprehensiveness over the old distribution model that centered on sending chopped up trees on gas-burning trucks out to little storefronts run by people who generally have very limited expertise in the subjects that matter to me.

The idea that I can go on Google and search for a keyword across thousands of volumes so vastly trumps the only method of going to the library and pulling every book off a particular shelf to look in the index. The idea that I can go online and read people in my field discussing their current reading lists, recommending titles, etc. so far trumps any bookstore clerk I've ever met with a BA and a bored expression (not to mention the searchable indexes of journal book reviews that determine "what you should read next" in academia). The fact that virtually any book in print can be delivered to my doorstep within 48 hours for a fair price, or my computer screen in 2 minutes for an even lower price, makes me wonder why I'd ever take the crosstown bus to go look for something on a shelf.

I'm not a huge fan of Amazon as a business either, and in fact I do order books from Powell's online (and other used retailers, like Alibris). But whether it's Barnes and Noble or the classic "independent" bookstore, the business model of a few books on shelves and a few people with very selective knowledge bases and tastes guiding me through that small selection just seems so slow, inefficient, archaic, and non-systematic. I don't begrudge anyone the pleasure of having a new novel recommended to them by the cute 24 year old guy/girl stocking the shelves as Purple Prose of Passion, or enjoying their Alice Munroe stories over a steaming latte perfectly prepared while Haydn quartets play in the background, or the pleasures of hearing the local poet read her stuff on a friday night. That's all very nice. I like antique stores too. I'm not knocking it.

But be clear that whatever "literary culture" is, it's moved on from that model and if books are important to you, the internet is, these days, where anyone I know for whom that is true does most of their browsing and shopping and reading and sharing of recommendations, conveniently indeed if you can do it where they also serve good lattes and play good music on the stereo.

I'm not a technology evangelist. I'm a realist.

As for all the "amazon is a bad company" stuff, sure. How much do you think Barnes and Noble or your corner bookstore are paying their retail employees again? Last I heard, the average bookstore clerk was making close to minimum wage, with no health insurance. And I've known a few.
posted by spitbull at 2:44 PM on December 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


What's wrong with wanting cool places in your neighborhood where you can drink coffee and meet people and learn about more interesting stuff?

Because rather than give a dollar to a local business and keep your neighbour employed you can give eighty-six cents to Jeff Bezos. Fourteen cents is a lot of money.

The worst part is that people talk as if its impossible to have a vibrant walkable livable community without independent bookstores, as if your cultural preferences are the only alternative to a world of strip malls full of Olive Gardens.

I would like to believe that it is possible. Experience suggest that it is not. When I first lived in Toronto in the eighties and nineties, my cultural touchstones were a brilliant games store, a superb underground record store, a pool hall run by the same guy since the forties, a mom-and-pop Hungarian restaurant, a venerable movie palace, another great games store, a guitar store and a string of three independent bookstores in the same block. Today these same buildings house respectively a McDonalds, a Starbucks, another Starbucks, a chain 2-for-1 pizza slice place, a Subway, a Pottery Barn, another Subway, a Kinko's, a condo, a chain Mexican restaurant and a vacant storefront. Perhaps you have a different definition of "vibrant" than I do.

I am sure Amazon is a godsend if you live in Lower Treesquat. For those of us who live in or near actual interesting and lively cities, it is mostly a horror.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:48 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I should also mention that I collect first edition social science books from the early 20th century (why I shop at Powell's and Alibris, in fact). I too fetishize the printed book, albeit as an antique collectible.
posted by spitbull at 2:48 PM on December 15, 2011


For those of us who live in or near actual interesting and lively cities, it is mostly a horror.

Hmm, does Greenwich Village count as "Lower Treesquat," because to me, Amazon is a godsend, not a horror.

I find it hilarious that we are having this debate in an online forum where people are moaning about the terrible, destructive things the internet has meant for our culture.
posted by spitbull at 2:50 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


jesus christ i hate technology evangeloids

Dead-tree books are a technology. They're just one you're used to. Eventually you'll get used to a new technology. They each have their advantages and their disadvantages. Our kids will be amazed that we used to read books that had no backup mechanism. That it was possible to "lose" a book, or render it unreadable by spilling something on it or dropping it in the bath. It will seem utterly bizarre to them that when you were going away on vacation you had to think about how much you could physically lift when you were planning what you'd take to read.

Yes, a beautifully printed book is a lovely thing. And there are some physical modes of searching a book that can't yet be well replicated on an e-book. But the essence of the book is, to me, the words on the page. And the e-book gives that to me in a cheaper, more portable, less vulnerable form that won't threaten to physically take over my house. It's the economics, of course, that will force the death of the physical book, but for this reader, at least, I won't see it as a net loss in technological utility.
posted by yoink at 2:53 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, I got The Complete Bone, B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs 1 and 2 (massive hardcovers with like 3 or 4 trades in each volume) recently from Amazon, express shipped (it took a little under a week) for just over ninety bucks. Considering the Bone book, 1,300 pages of excellent comics, is $80 in any store you can find it in here in Brisbane, I basically got B.P.R.D. for free (which I'm afraid to say is about what it's worth...I'm not sure why people go on about it).

I'll buy a book on a whim from Folio now and then but if there's a bunch of something I know I want to get, then Amazon is the only way. It's a shame and I do like to support independent local stores, but between getting what I want and saving a whole bunch of money, and nobody getting anything at all, then I'm afraid bookstores are going to miss out.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:55 PM on December 15, 2011


Dead tree books have rights management too. It's called a copyright notice.
posted by spitbull at 2:55 PM on December 15, 2011


Because rather than give a dollar to a local business and keep your neighbour employed you can give eighty-six cents to Jeff Bezos. Fourteen cents is a lot of money.

This argument really doesn't hold up. If I spend less on books I spend more on other things. Is there some moral imperative that says that the clerk in the independent bookstore has a higher claim on that money than the barista in the cafe next door or the chef at the restaurant down the street? Heck, if I buy more books because of it, I'm supporting more actual authors.
posted by yoink at 2:56 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


The amount of sheer space in my house I've been reclaiming by moving to e-books is amazing. 10 bookshelves down to 4 now, and hopefully 0-1 in the future. I had an entire bedroom dedicated to books at one point. Now that is a waste.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:57 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hmm, does Greenwich Village count as "Lower Treesquat," because to me, Amazon is a godsend, not a horror.

Huh. I was sure from the clues you'd dropped in this thread that I'd figured out who you were (I was going to archly drop some comment about it making sense that you posted in the Donna Summer thread). But that guy lives and works in London.

So there is at least one other person who writes from an anthro perspective on popular music and has a university press book rated at 4.5 stars on Amazon, spitbull--just in case you're thinking you're unique!
posted by yoink at 3:01 PM on December 15, 2011


Dead tree books have rights management too. It's called a copyright notice.

When I was a kid almost all the paperback books I read (Puffins, Penguins etc.) used to have a little notice at the front "For copyright reasons, this edition is not for sale in the U.S.A." I always used to think 'those poor American kids--they'll never be able to read this great book!"

It never occurred to me that they might be able to buy different editions.
posted by yoink at 3:04 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Conversations like these are always slightly bizarre to me. I grew up pretty poor. We bought our books from K-mart and otherwise stuck to the library. Other than B. Daltons at the mall, I never set foot in a "bookstore" until I was thirteen or fourteen--and that was a used bookshop that stocked almost entirely mass market fantasy and SF novels and let me trade in my old books for even cheaper ones. I went to the Strand once or twice in high school, and eventually visited a very nice indie bookshop with my now-husband in college, but all this talk about indie booksellers who will hand sell you stuff . . . it's pretty foreign to me.

(Even today, my mother buys most of her books at a thrift store. I got her a nook, but who wants to spend $10 on a book?!)

And I read a ton. More than anyone I know. Now that I'll someday be writing books that are published, I wonder if my feelings will change . . . but I hear a lot of disdain from authors about predatory big box stores and online retailers and even publishers don't seem to love libraries so much and I'm sure they wouldn't be into the kind of used bookstore I frequented in middle school. It's hard for me to look down at anything that puts books in hands, though. Especially books into the hands of poor kids who otherwise wouldn't be reading.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:08 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


The amount of sheer space in my house I've been reclaiming by moving to e-books is amazing. 10 bookshelves down to 4 now, and hopefully 0-1 in the future. I had an entire bedroom dedicated to books at one point. Now that is a waste.

Chacun à son goat. The old set-up sounds awesome to me, but I live in a house with a few thousand books in it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:11 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think I once discussed this in a different thread, but I personally own around 3000 books, the result of a lifetime of reading and collecting them. At least 1500 (since the collection grew during those years) of those books -- let's call it 500 pounds to be conservative, since I have a significant number of large hardcover books -- have moved approximately 15,000 miles with me, from college to grad school to first job to current job. I shudder to think of the amount of fossil fuel that has required, the backbreaking labor of moving those boxes up and down stairs (I've moved offices a few times in the last decade, and it always takes a full day to pack and move the books), and the inconvenience of having to keep track of which books were where (I loan out a lot of books to students). The sheer wasted energy is appalling when compared to the way a much larger quantity of books can now be carried on my darn iPod. (Same, in spades, for my record and tape collections.)

The solution to maintaining the vitality of local economies in an era of digital media, upon which we are now well and irreversibly launched, is going to be a fair tax system in which global retailers pay sales taxes to local communities, as is increasingly the case for Amazon and other major retailers. Record, book, and video stores were hugely socially important locations for several generations of us (and bookstores as coffee-houses and key bourgeois social institutions goes back to the Enlightenment). But the handwringing, apocalypse-declaring, nostalgia-dripping talk about the vanishing independent bookstore I hear from even people younger than me (late 40s) is really quite something. Why would it be any different than the disappearance of locally owned and operated businesses of any sort -- radio stations, theaters, restaurants, furniture stores, toy stores. The bookstore as last-stand-of-local-culture thing seems overtly sentimental to me. I'm sentimental with the best of them. When I think back on the hundreds of happy hours I spent in used record stores in the 1980s, I can shed a misty excuse-me-there's-something-in-my-eye tear too. I miss the sociability of record hunting with my music pals and I grew up haunting bookstores with my parents and siblings, memorably including the Strand, Foyles, and others of that ilk, on many a weekend. Ah, lost youth.

No one hates bookstores, right? Or hates on other people loving them. Oh, maybe this Manjoo cat does, but the point otherwise stands. They just aren't the last stand of literate culture.
posted by spitbull at 3:14 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I mostly agree with what Mars Salzman said above, but I have one thing to add. The reviews at Amazon are not generally helpful to me in deciding to purchase or not, but nevertheless they can be be useful for other things. Occasionally I will recognize a reviewer's name or read a particularly well written review where the reviewer is tagged as a top reviewer, and those pages of reviews can reveal things new to me I was glad to find out. Sometimes the negative reviews of horrible books (Atlas Shrugged or Awaken the Giant Within e. g.) are absolutely hilarious.

Today I quickly found what I dislike about Tolkein without wading into that Tolkein thread and stressing anybody out. It was from the third two-star review of Fellowship of the Ring:

I began to read this book thinking that with all the praise I had heard it received it would be great, filled with action and adventure. However, the book is so detailed that it gets boring very fast. The extensive descriptions of the places that are being traveled through become work to read. The 360 something pages (I think) of this book could easily be condensed to a little over 250. Great plot and interesting at times but it ends up boring and tedious to read with all the details.

Now see this is exactly what I think about the Tolkein books (as opposed to the movies which I thought were the greatest) and the time it took me to read, cut, and paste that was about one-twentieth the time it would have taken me to put my idea into a readable few sentences.

That said, Amazon's website design is horrible. A few weeks ago they did a complete site overhaul and it was even worse and then two days later it was oops, let's revert to the last horrible website design. No doubt some high paid guy got fired for that fuck up.
posted by bukvich at 3:18 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Like the guy with 3000 books needs help from a sales clerk. C'MON!"
posted by defenestration at 3:21 PM on December 15, 2011 [14 favorites]


My bookstore options are:

A Barnes & Noble crammed to the ceiling with John Grisham novels.

A Books-A-Million crammed to the ceiling with plaster Jesus statuettes.

An awesome, eclectic, funky used bookstore that's 30 minutes away and which I frequent whenever I can. It's great for serendipitous finds and browsing, less good for actually having the book I want in stock.

Or Amazon.

Thanks to MetaFilter and LibraryThing and GoodReads and Twitter, I find book suggestions more often online than not. There IS no "cafe culture" here for me to rub shoulders with. I'm sure there's a reading group at the local library. I'm just as sure they're not reading anything I'd be interested in.

And I've worked at a local independent bookstore. It sucked. I made very little money and spent my time fetching signed copies of cookbooks for middle-aged white women and getting the stinkeye from my boss for suggesting our periodicals section carry No Depression and Terrorizer. There are plenty of "independent" bookstores who are marching lockstep with the big chains, and just because they offer better customer service is no real reason to shop there.

If I lived somewhere with a great bookstore culture would I shop there? Hell yes. But I don't. So Amazon really is my best option, and I refuse to feel bad about that. I'm not throttling local literary culture -- there isn't anything here to throttle.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:24 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Heck, if I buy more books because of it, I'm supporting more actual authors.

If my choice is between buying eight books and supporting an active, well-run local business that is staffed by helpful, knowledgeable people and buying ten books shipped to me by wage slaves in a distant and uncomfortable-to-the-point-of-dangerous warehouse*, the fact that two more authors get a few more cents is not really an issue to me.

*Even if they are shipped in two days.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:26 PM on December 15, 2011


Pretty sure all books pass through a warehouse at some point.
posted by Artw at 3:28 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


to me, Amazon is a godsend, not a horror.

Well, that didn't last long.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:30 PM on December 15, 2011


It's true. I caved. It lasted a few weeks, but there really is no credible option for some purposes. I did move some of my business to B&N.com, which has been a pleasant surprise, but somehow I doubt they treat their workers any better.
posted by spitbull at 3:33 PM on December 15, 2011


I only watch local TV, and refuse to support the big corporations that give us emmy award-winning tripe.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:33 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's true. I caved. It lasted a few weeks, but there really is no credible option for some purposes. I did move some of my business to B&N.com, which has been a pleasant surprise, but somehow I doubt they treat their workers any better.

Well, as long as people can get cheap books, that is the main thing.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:40 PM on December 15, 2011


inre: which tech pwns the other:
dead batteries vs. opening a book




that is all.
posted by liza at 3:45 PM on December 15, 2011


I get all the arguments in favor of Amazon, and I've bought stuff from there before-- mostly class books-- and I really, really hope that their shitty treatment of employees + increasingly stupid UI and stuff will doom them, because I work in a local bookstore and it's the best job I've ever had. We specialize in children's books, and for that reason we might survive a bit longer than a lot of the other stores, 'cause you can't really ebook picture books that well yet.

We rarely get customers with really specific interests that we can give great recommendations on-- every once in a while that happens, but usually the questions are a lot more general, and we're great at doing those. We're not doing the "bookseller as oracle" thing for people who are interested in books on nuclear physics; we're showing what kids like in certain age groups, helping people find local authors, stuff like that. And we do regular author events and storytimes where we read to kids. Stuff like that.

What customers come in and want to pay for is recommendations, a lot of the time, particularly if they have kids in their family and they don't know current children's/YA literature well, and we have a lot of good chats with them. I had a lovely conversation a few weeks ago with a woman with a deaf son who wanted to read him Harry Potter, but ASL is his first language (as opposed to signed English/lip-read English etc) and so she would have to translate it for him, and she was having a hard time with all the names, and I told her about Rowling's name origin stuff and that she could probably find translations of most of the stuff she chooses for names for if she decided to do that. And then we looked for non-Christmas holiday books for multiculturalism at the Deaf school and stuff. And that happens every day; I spend almost all of my time at the store actively talking to customers. It's not one-off recommendations and back behind the counter; a lot of our staff is, at any given time, on the floor, finding the best coloring books or explaining how to identify the local press stuff or doing storytime with the kiddies.

It's the kind of thing that makes for fiercely loyal customers, which is gonna be SUPER rare for any online company-- the last company I bought something from online that really inspired that kind of loyalty in me was Asian Man Records, or maybe Diesel Sweeties-- and it's not something every brick and mortar store can do, because it's expensive to have a lot of employees that can give individual attention. And we're losing video stores, and I'm seeing less and less comic/hobby stores that have that kind of staff too. (For some reason video game stores never got super awesome like that. Or maybe that just never happened where I live. So I'm a lot more okay with throwing money at Steam than I am about throwing it at ebooks.)

So it's a little arrogant of me to say that without little bookstores people will not have anyplace to go to get recommendations from their booksellers about what to read after The Hunger Games or whatever and they will end up totally lost, and it's a little inaccurate because I get recs from friends and here and occasionally reddit. But without little bookstores, I won't have a job where I talk to people about books all day and read The Stinky Cheese Man to children, and so I selfishly really want Amazon, and ebooks, and all that kind of stuff to fail. But I sort of roll my eyes at the absolute outrage about that Amazon promotion, because it's not all that different from "we take our competitor's coupons/match our competitor's prices", and a lot of the people that are mad about it are mad because they are luddites who just hate change and are looking for things to be mad about.
posted by NoraReed at 3:49 PM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


I remember the day my parents took me to the spiffy new public library on Read Road in New Orleans East. I had never seen so many books, rows and rows of shelves and shelves, and I had no interest at all in the kids section even though I was about 7 years old. The idea that so much knowledge was available to me was awe inspiring. It was my first inkling of just how vast the universe was, because "travel" was kind of abstract and boring and didn't relate well to things I could concretely understand. But all those books ... every one of them written front to back by someone who cared enough to put down all those words ... I knew I could never absorb them all. I was in a temple of something larger than I could ever be. And then my Dad told me that this was only a branch library, of a relatively small system, which itself couldn't compare to things like the library of congress.

To those of us who have had that epiphany there will always be something almost sacred about rows of bookshelves. Yet, modern electronic search is to that stack of books what that stack of books was to the world that didn't have such things. It's different and it's not as symbolic and it doesn't have that distinct smell, but it's where the information is now.

My wife is a much more voracious reader than I am, averaging a book every couple of days, and so a friend decided to give her a Kindle for Christmas this year. When it arrived she opened it and immediately found reasons to bitch about it. She couldn't get it on the wifi, it didn't come with a power supply (she didn't understand the USB charging thing), and since she never reads instructions she couldn't figure out the controls. By the time I got home from work she was ready to send it back.

So I got it on the wifi, signed her up, and later when she had more trouble pushed her through the web library borrowing experience. (Which, incidentally, really is horribly counterintuitive if nobody has explained it to you.) By bedtime she was ready to grudgingly accept that it might be a worthwhile thing to have. She's about to spend 3 weeks in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly birdwatching, but opportunities to recharge batteries will be scarce.

When I got home the next day, she had found and downloaded 113 free books and for the next few days she reached for it reflexively whenever she had a bored moment in the middle of, for example, a football game that was going badly. It doesn't make me too happy but the Kindle wins.
posted by localroger at 3:50 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


inre: which tech pwns the other:
dead batteries vs. opening a book




that is all.


That's why computers have never caught on.
posted by yoink at 4:05 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there some moral imperative that says that the clerk in the independent bookstore has a higher claim on that money than the barista in the cafe next door or the chef at the restaurant down the street?

Well, they do have all those loans to pay off from getting their PhD.
posted by googly at 4:22 PM on December 15, 2011


the same snobs behind the counter, the same cat.
Oh, a kitty!

My universe feels in tune and balanced when I read something and the Metafilter comments fall exactly along the spectrum where I think they will. So thank you all for that everyone.


Um... I recall a Metafilter thread a little while ago which turned into a sorta consensus about how many people really hate shopping in stores-but with the main exception of browsing in bookstores. Where are these Mefites now? Probably sleeping, eating or browsing in bookstores.
posted by ovvl at 4:33 PM on December 15, 2011


the same cat

Fup was special!
posted by Artw at 4:34 PM on December 15, 2011


Awww, Fup. I saw her only once, but I think I still have her business card.
posted by Numenius at 4:53 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dead tree books have rights management too. It's called a copyright notice.

Yeah, but DRM is much more restrictive than a copyright notice. It takes many of your rights as an owner of the book away. See The Right to Read by Richard Stallman for a nice explanation of the rights that DRM strips you from as a user and owner of books.
posted by k8lin at 4:55 PM on December 15, 2011


Our kids will be amazed that we used to read books that had no backup mechanism. That it was possible to "lose" a book, or render it unreadable by spilling something on it or dropping it in the bath.

No they won't. Books will not die like player piano rolls (which still exist in their much better digital touch-sensitive version).

I've never dropped a book in a bathtub, but I know I could fix it if I did. Dropping a Kindle in the tub would be a little more problematic.

Bookstores are not full of elitists, and there are certainly more young people in bookstores than there are in symphony halls. THAT is a bigger, and slower-moving problem.

No need to wax poetic about the beauty of physical books. But it's always worth a passing thought, just as smelling flowers will never become a fruitless endeavor. Books are part of what makes life worth living. For some of you, eBook readers are what makes life worth living, and who am I to argue with that?

At any rate, this article has its flaws, as do all forms of transmission of data. But when the data is so linked to our selves, especially our emotional narrative-driven carefully constructed sense of selves, its transmission methodology is relevant. Rodney Brooks' argument about the advantages of developing AI along the lines of bodily experience, as human intelligence has so developed, is relevant here.

Bodiless quasi-physical books will never replace the real thing (yes, I think books are more real in terms of our present day sense of the world). And the same thing goes for bookstores, a place where real people sell real books. I don't think I'm a snob. I use Amazon, too. It works better sometimes.
posted by kozad at 5:00 PM on December 15, 2011


Dropping a Kindle in the tub would be a little more problematic.

you put it in a Ziploc bag, right?
posted by Artw at 5:05 PM on December 15, 2011


I have a long-standing affection for bookstores, but unfortunately that affection dates from my youth, when I would walk home from high school down 5th Avenue and shoplift paperbacks from Brentano's, Scribners, and Doubleday to feed my rabid reading habit.

Then I grew up and stopped shoplifting, and bookstores were my favorite place in the world; then Amazon came along, but I still spent a lot of time browsing and buying in bookstores.

Now of course I just pirate ePubs, so the only bookstore I go into any more is McNally Jackson and that's mostly because I'm so in love with Sarah McNally that I could puke.
posted by Now I'm Prune Tracy! at 5:25 PM on December 15, 2011


See The Right to Read by Richard Stallman for a nice explanation of the rights that DRM strips you from as a user and owner of books.

That story is hilariously hyperbolic. It's about someone terrified the police will lock him up and throw away the key if he let's someone else read the books he has on his computer. Not "gives them a copy of the books" but "lets them borrow his computer and read the books." Guess what? I can lend someone a copy of an e-book if they have a compatible e-reader. Guess what else? If I buy an e-book from Amazon, I can download a copy to my Kindle and another copy to my iPad and my wife and I can read it at the same time.

I've never dropped a book in a bathtub, but I know I could fix it if I did. Dropping a Kindle in the tub would be a little more problematic.

So you've never lost a book by any means? You've never left one on the train or the bus? You've never lent one to someone and forgotten who it was? You've never bought a second hand book and discovered, too late, that it had a bunch of missing pages or a section misprinted? You've never dropped one overboard on a yacht? etc. etc. etc.?

Yeah, there are ways that a Kindle can be killed (though they're surprisingly sturdy)--but a Kindle is just a reader--it's not the book. If I break the Kindle, I can just buy a new one, connect it to my account, and download all the books I've already paid for from Amazon again.

Bodiless quasi-physical books will never replace the real thing

They already are doing so at an extraordinarily rapid rate--far more rapid than the replacement of the LP by the CD and even more rapid than the replacement of the CD by the downloaded audio file. The economics of this one are just too easy to predict. I think coffee-table books will survive (nice, large, glossy pictures). And I suppose we might see a print market develop (like the vinyl LP market today) that caters to the real refuseniks in the reading public--but which will only offer a very limited range of material. But I think that the day when most trade publishing is confined to electronic forms is just around the corner.
posted by yoink at 5:37 PM on December 15, 2011


the amount of time you can read on the job, surrounded by books, is quite a bit higher at the bookstore than at a coffee shop.

the really hilariously ironic thing here is that if people do what they are being encouraged to do, and patronise those dying indie bookstores - this will become less true. I mean, they only have that time because nobody is in there shopping.
posted by jacalata at 6:05 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


yoink, have you ever read about the digital dark age? A well-bound book with good paper can last a thousand plus years. The half-life of digital data is a couple orders of magnitude less than that. E-books may be wonderful for saving physical space, but for long-term survivability of content paper wins.

The issue for me with e-books and DRM is that DRM hinders preservation of digital content. If I were to make a sizable investment in e-books I would want to be sure I could still read them in 10 or 20 years time, and the only way I can guarantee that is to break the DRM (which admittedly doesn't seem like it's very hard to do). I can't depend on Amazon still being around fifteen years from now, or if still present not having adopted some radically different data format or business model.
posted by Numenius at 6:16 PM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


"some of the least efficient, least user-friendly, and most mistakenly mythologized local establishments you can find: independent bookstores. "

Aaaand there it is folks. His own mythology that is the basis for his argument.

I'm done here. I cancelled my Amazon account because /they suck/ and my local bookstore rocks.

Fuck this guy.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:24 PM on December 15, 2011


You know, I love books. I really do. I also love Amazon. I've said it before, and I will say it again: Amazon (and other online book retailers) allows me to read more. I grew up in a town where the only bookstores were a sad mall-based Waldenbooks and a used bookstore run by a dour and unpleasant man who made shopping there an ordeal. Today, I know what I want to read when I go to the bookstore; I don't need a 19 year old salesperson telling me what I should read. Furthermore, the brick-and-mortar bookstore (and, even worse, the indie bookstore) is almost guaranteed not to have what I want. Let's see what I've bought in the last six months or so:
  1. Programming in Scala, Martin Odersky
  2. Specification by Example, Gojko Adzic
  3. Southeast Asia in World History, Craig Lockard
  4. New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton
  5. T-SQL Programming, Itzik Ben-Gan
  6. JBoss in Action, Javid Jamae
I've picked up some fiction elsewhere, but this has represented the bulk of my reading for the last six months. None of it is even remotely available in local bookstores, except perhaps the Merton. If you ignore this long tail effect, you're really ignoring one of the biggest strengths (and benefits) of internet shopping. Granted, technology is one of the most obvious areas where this effect can be observed—if you don't want Learn Java in 7 Days!, you're pretty much out of luck at any chain or indie bookstore—but the point stands: without Amazon I would not be able to buy many of the printed books that I want to own in a timely fashion.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:42 PM on December 15, 2011


I don’t understand "loving" Amazon. They provide a cheap, faceless service, like Walmart with less personality and no real stores. If you really need that one particular book, it’s hard to find, you don’t want to pay much for it, and don’t want it used, then Amazon is OK.

Just today I went to buy Christmas gifts. I haven’t been frequenting indie book stores for many years because my wife worked at Borders for a long time, and I’m lazy. I thought I’d try the local indie store. I walked in with a list. They only had a couple of the things I wanted (in their defense it is a mostly used store) but I immediately found much better choices sitting on the shelf. Totally unrelated choices that I would have never thought of (or heard of), and this is a small shop that, as I said, doesn’t even carry a full selection of new books. They were 20% off because my wife had been a customer there before. It took about 10 minutes.

>Anyway whatever, indulge in all the print nostalgia you want. The printed book is in its last decade, as everyone I know in publishing would attest. The bookstore is going with it.<

Yeah, like analog watches. The tech hard on thing is really annoying. The reason people think physical books are going away is because the most decisions in the world today are being made to favor the cheaper, shittier, shallower outcome, not because they’re better.
posted by bongo_x at 7:48 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


>When I think back on the hundreds of happy hours I spent in used record stores in the 1980s, I can shed a misty excuse-me-there's-something-in-my-eye tear too.<

Me, as well. I didn’t buy a lot of music in the late 90’s-early 2000’s, but with the rise of online music services I started buying a lot, and got back into it. I’ve been very enthusiastic about the internet and music in general and found a lot of great stuff. But a strange thing happened this week while shopping for Christmas presents. We decided to get my teenage nieces and nephews a turntable and LP’s. My wife and I both worked in music stores and distribution for many years and weren't really that thrilled about digging around record shops. But it turns out we had a blast and found a lot of great stuff. So much so that I’m thinking about canceling my emusic account (that and their tragic site makeover).

Music does not require the same hands on browsing for me that books do, but there is still a different kind of serendipitous discovery that comes from browsing a real store. There is no keyword search that works like that. And I’m short on keywords as it is.
posted by bongo_x at 8:04 PM on December 15, 2011


Uhhhh... is someone arguing that a Kindle is more durable than a book printed on paper?

You remember when Amazon made those editions of Orwell's '1984' magically disappear?
posted by ovvl at 8:05 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


yoink, have you ever read about the digital dark age?

Yes, of course. Frankly, though, I think that's a problem that will apply largely to a fairly short period (everyone of a certain age has a bunch of floppy discs they're not sure what to do with etc.). But now, in fact, everyone is aware of this problem. I just don't believe that we're going to see such massively disjunctive development of the software that we won't be able to continuously update the data. We're talking about pretty damn simple files in the end: it's strings of letters for the most part. Unless we're facing some sort of apocalyptic demise of the digital age, I'm not that worried that novels I buy today as Amazon e-books will be so much gibberish 30 years from now.

A well-bound book with good paper can last a thousand plus years.

Yes, it can. They mostly don't, of course. There's a reason that most thousand year old books will cost you an enormous amount of money. And books that have survived that length of time have usually done so as the result of an extraordinary investment of resources over the centuries (monks maintaining libraries, rich noblemen collectors buying up the monks libraries when they were dispersed, rich American collectors buying up the libraries of the rich noblemen etc. etc. etc.). Any similar expenditure of effort in the contemporary age would find it trivially easy to preserve an e-book.
posted by yoink at 8:21 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


My city's last real independent bookseller - read here, not a used bookstore - managed to survive Barnes & Noble coming to town, but died when Borders showed up. Now Borders is gone, B&N sucks, and most of the time, the used booksellers don't have what I want.

I miss Thackeray's. I miss the hours and hours I spent there, I miss bumping into neighbors and friends there. I miss bumping into Millie Benson, who was always such a delight and so full of ideas about what I should read. (Mrs. Benson was a customer on my newspaper route, and I about peed myself when she was able to reveal that she was the original Carolyn Keene.)

I'd happily flip Manjoo the bird and support my local bookstore...but I don't have one to support any more.
posted by MissySedai at 8:29 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


The reason people think physical books are going away is because the most decisions in the world today are being made to favor the cheaper, shittier, shallower outcome, not because they’re better.

And that people are less willing to spend money and time on the unnecessary trappings of 'hardcover' and so on in order to get to the actual words, which are the point of most books. (I would find it difficult to imagine e-books taking over the kiddie picture book market though, so in theory you'll always have a younger generation familiar with them. No kindle can yet replace the cardboard chewable genre of books).

What's stopping a local bookstore setting up an online storefront, and selling ebooks? (I've never looked into this, so there might be something really obvious stopping them). Especially putting qr codes or similar on their physical books, so if I am in there browsing, I can scan the book and get the ebook from them straight away. I'd probably buy way more per trip because I wouldn't have the physical stack of books over my head reminding me to stop.
posted by jacalata at 8:32 PM on December 15, 2011


>What's stopping a local bookstore setting up an online storefront, and selling ebooks?<

I think the store I was in tonight had a sign saying they did something like this. I’m not totally sure because I wasn’t really interested, so I didn’t investigate.
posted by bongo_x at 8:57 PM on December 15, 2011


No one hates bookstores, right? Or hates on other people loving them.

Well, no one except you. apparently.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:04 PM on December 15, 2011


This article was ok, but this essay by John Tynes that was written 12 years ago is better, I think.
posted by Snyder at 9:28 PM on December 15, 2011


Chacun à son goat.

Manjoo certainly got my goat.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 10:00 PM on December 15, 2011


I like the way that the bookshelves at the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores feed literary culture: by keeping books out of landfill. Also, you don't have to feel guilty about how cheap they are, because what you pay is helping people.

Only place better for books is the library, where you can get awesome books, and then take them back for someone else to enjoy.
posted by jb at 10:34 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


What's stopping a local bookstore setting up an online storefront, and selling ebooks?

Serious booksellers have been doing that for years, particularly those who sell rare or antiquarian books. But you can also order books (new or used) from independent bookstores like Powells (in Portland or Seattle?). Of course, that still not a "local" bookstore.

Best author visits I've been to were organized by libraries or universities.
posted by jb at 10:37 PM on December 15, 2011


Amazon suggests books based on others you’ve read; your local store recommends what the employees like.


Amazon's recommendations thingy once suggested Justine and The 120 Days of Sodom, both by the Marquis de Sade. The recommendation was apparently based on my high ratings of the Harry Potter series.

The staff recommendations at my local indie bookseller at least make sense.
posted by palomar at 12:23 AM on December 16, 2011


I'm not that worried that novels I buy today as Amazon e-books will be so much gibberish 30 years from now.

Does anyone still believe they will even have their Kindle e-books in 30 years?
posted by Yakuman at 1:08 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]



So you've never lost a book by any means? ...
If I break the Kindle, I can just buy a new one, connect it to my account, and download all the books I've already paid for from Amazon again.

Sure but if I lose a book (which has happened less than a handful of times in 40 years) -- I;m out precisely one book and the cost of replacing it is relatively low at the cost of one book.

If you break your Kindle you have lost access to all your books until it is replaced and the cheapest Kindle is $79 (which would barely hold all my books, if at all).

Then there's the cost maintaining a wifi connection would add , the cost imposed over cover price the Kindle adds on to cover price¸and how many books I would have to buy to make it worthwhile . Which of course goes up if you break it, upgrade, it inevitably fails or you need to new batteries.


And to actually have your supposed advantage I would really need to rebuy my existing collection otherwise I would just have added another potential problem, so I have two. Well I would have two since I own books that aren't available, (well three since there would be the small matter of spending half my years income to make it happen).
posted by tallus at 1:29 AM on December 16, 2011


I think people are talking about Amazon on the wrong scale. It's not just about books, and it's not just about abusing your employees to undercut the competition. Amazon vs. local isn't like, say, Borders vs. local or Starbucks vs. local, where there might be some shady business practices that make it hard for the local shop but both business models are basically viable.

Amazon vs. local is more like ... paper phone books vs. the internet, or analog film cameras vs. digital, or paper mail vs. email, or typewriters vs. word processors. A new technology for retailing everything is poised to largely displace the old one. If you value things about the old technology, you need to think in terms of how to preserve it at a smaller scale now that it's no longer economically viable at a large one.

I know that's a huge claim, so let me try to support it.

Here's a few of the things I've bought from Amazon since they started giving me free 2-day shipping: a mini-to-RCA cable. A shoe rack. A chin-up bar. A mini-brownie baking mold. A full-spectrum lightbulb. A toner cartridge. For each one, I checked out a bunch of options before picking the one I wanted, I rejected alternatives with negative reviews, I spent ten minutes or less on the task, and it got to my house in one or two days with free shipping.

I live in an urban area with great local culture. So (honestly, not ideally) what would have happened without Amazon? I would have paid four times as much for a cable from Radio Shack and a toner cartridge from Staples. I would have bought the shoe rack from Target, probably, because I make poor financial decisions, and it would have fallen apart on the second day. I would have visited three stores per item looking for a chin-up bar that was long enough and a baking mold with the right size holes and a bright full-spectrum daylight-balanced CFL. And in each case it would have taken me a week to get around to visiting the store.

So across a wide range of stuff, I'm finding better items or items I couldn't get locally with better advice than I would get locally, I'm paying 20-75% less, and I'm getting the item faster.

All of this feels familiar because it's the same feeling I've had over and over as computers displace something expensive and slow and inefficient with something cheaper and faster and more efficient, by a wide margin. And I suspect (but can't prove) that this would still be true even if Amazon was paying fair wages and sales tax and ensuring worker safety -- I might pay a buck or two more per item, but there would still be no competition. It's just a better way to get done what I'm trying to do.

OK, so there's huge problems with this, right? I like being able to get something at the last minute from the hardware store (although I bet Amazon is headed for same-day service). I like that people who live near me have jobs. I'm worried about the environmental consequences of driving things I buy to my house in cardboard boxes (although there's environmental wins here too). I like having guitar shops and bike shops nearby that can teach me something about my guitar or bike when I come in. And yes, I still think there's something important about standing in a room with a ton of books.

So I think the question we should be asking is, can we still have the communities we want in a world where most people no longer make money by taking a bunch of things and storing them near your house so you can buy them? Because the case for Amazon is too compelling. Trying to get people not to use it, once they catch on, is going to be like trying to get people to switch back to paper phone books or analog film or typewriters. That can't be your whole game plan, because it's just not going to work.

So what's the alternative?

This is a crazy-introspective first-world kind of comment, all about me and the things I like to buy. But I think the way Americans decide to consume things ends up being kind of important for the world. So for now let's call it a case study rather than just narcissism ...
posted by jhc at 7:01 AM on December 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm normally amazed by the quality and insight provided by you guys on the blue, but I'm more than slightly mindboggled by the number of people who are simply unable to differentiate between a place to talk about books and a place to buy books. Even better, I moved $5 to PayPal today just to say this.

Of all of the comments on this thread that support "bookstores", I would venture that roughly 75% of them are simply looking for a place to get advice, a place to get coffee and read, or a place to interact with like minded people. Technically speaking, none of those things have a thing to do with selling books. Historically, bookstores have evolved to offer a number of those things free of charge, while using the profits generated from the actual selling of said books to fund them. BUT THEY'RE TWO SEPARATE AND DISTINCT THINGS.

And here, where some of the most intelligent and interesting people on the internet gather to discuss... whatever, it seems like the large majority are just not getting it.

Now let me repeat myself so I can be sure to get my $5 worth... Local bookstores are places to buy books, and yes, due to competition they will need to adapt to stay in business. If they can't adapt and go the way of the local movie and/or music stores, then those high minded few who want places to discuss books, or anything else for that matter, will need to adapt as well.

Thanks, and stay off my lawn.
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:56 AM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Richard Russo responds to Mr. Manjoo in an Open Letter on facebook.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:04 AM on December 16, 2011


do people really not know what they want to read? There are so many books in the world. So, so many good books.

Your second point answers the first. I have several good books on my shelf, some unread, but I still find myself going to the library.

I rarely buy new books - I read very quickly, so it's an expensive habit; I have limited space and I find it hard to get rid of books bought new for some reason; I like the thrill of acquisition that comes from finding the book on your wish list sitting on the shelf in a charity shop or the used bookstore, as it feels much more exciting to come across it than simply walk into a chainstore and pick it easily off the shelf. (Plus they usually have nicer covers.) I am too forgetful to use the library often as I end up running up fines that are near enough the cost of buying the books, so I use a local book exchange a lot.

I grew up somewhere which once had three bookstores and, as I became a teenager and had more money to buy my own books, ended up with one small airport-sized mainstream bookstore - possibly fitting for a town with a fairly anti-intellectual culture, but frustrating to have to travel if I wanted to find anything. And when I moved out, I was a student and couldn't afford to go new bookshopping unless I needed to. So the habit of using retail bookstores hasn't stuck. Second hand ones, yes, but Waterstones and the like? No.
posted by mippy at 8:12 AM on December 16, 2011


"WHAT'S TODAY?" Scrooge cried.
"Eh?" returned @bobcratchit, with all his might of wonder.
"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" typed Scrooge.
"To-day? Why, Christmas Day."
"OMG! It's Christmas Day! I haven't missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night."
"LOL!!!!!" replied @bobcratchit
"Do you know the Bookseller, in the next street but one, at the corner?" Scrooge inquired.
"I should hope I do," wrote @bobcratchit.
"Tomorrow go and buy every copy of A Christmas Carol they have and give them away in the streets!"
"Great idea IMHO! Merry Xmas!"
posted by Toekneesan at 8:18 AM on December 16, 2011


>Of all of the comments on this thread that support "bookstores", I would venture that roughly 75% of them are simply looking for a place to get advice, a place to get coffee and read, or a place to interact with like minded people. Technically speaking, none of those things have a thing to do with selling books.<

I didn’t get that. I think people were just pointing out some of the side benefits of bookstores. I don’t sit and read, drink coffee, ask the guy at the counter what he likes, or hold long conversations at bookstores, I just buy and look at books.
posted by bongo_x at 9:29 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amazon's recommendations thingy once suggested Justine and The 120 Days of Sodom, both by the Marquis de Sade. The recommendation was apparently based on my high ratings of the Harry Potter series.

Amazon's homepage, personalized recommendations are largely useless (mostly, I think, because we all tend to buy so many gifts that are unrelated to our own tastes). But their "Customers who bought this item also bought..." section on each book's individual page is extremely useful: it is a place where you can make exactly the kind of serendipitous browsing discoveries being touted as the physical bookstore's chief advantage. Unless the book has been bought by a really tiny number of people, the books featured in that section will genuinely represent the best possible answer (statistically, at least) to the "I just read X and I loved it, what else would you recommend like that?" question that so many people seem to take to their local bookstore clerk.
posted by yoink at 10:21 AM on December 16, 2011


If you break your Kindle you have lost access to all your books until it is replaced and the cheapest Kindle is $79

Uh, no. I can read them on my laptop. I can read them on my iPad. If I had a smartphone I could, in a pinch, read on that.

And I suspect you're focusing on this one, rather trivial, point about losing books because it's the one that's at least easiest to make a case for physical books on. How about the fact that I can take one slim device with me on holiday and have thousands of books at my fingertips to read while I'm away? Care to explain how you do that with physical books? How about the fact that when I buy an e-book, my wife and I can both read the same book at the same time without having to fight over it. If I had kids in the house, they could read it too. Care to explain how you do that with physical books without buying multiple copies? With an e-book, I can heavily annotate the book, and then another person can read it and not have to look at any of my annotations. Care to explain how to do that with a physical book? With an e-book I can search by search strings: care to explain how to do that with a physical book?

My point isn't that e-books are in every possible way superior to physical books. I can't flip through an e-book looking for a passage I vaguely recall but which I couldn't quote a direct search string from--that's a technological advantage to the physical book (although I'm sure it's one that won't last). It's simply that the notion that the e-book is some giant step backwards from the physical book--a horrible mistake that we'll all soon wake up and recognize--is just silly: it's as silly as the people in the 30s who thought that talkies were a fad that would quickly die, or the people who thought the horseless carriage would never replace horses. I'm sure there were lots of people in Gutenberg's day who said "this moveable type is an interesting gimmick, but no one who can afford handwritten books will ever make the switch. Handwritten books are just so much more human, so much more 'real' if you will than these cold, mechanically printed techno-head trifles."

Somewhere upthread someone tells the story of their wife getting a Kindle and being sure she'll hate it and then almost immediately coming to love it as soon as she actually starts to use it. I've heard that story dozens and dozens of times now: the confirmed book lover who railed against the "soulless" technology of ebooks until they actually got to use one They they find they are never without it and that it's actually encouraging them to read more and more widely than they ever read before.
posted by yoink at 10:35 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


So across a wide range of stuff, I'm finding better items or items I couldn't get locally with better advice than I would get locally, I'm paying 20-75% less, and I'm getting the item faster.

Yes! Exactly this. The last dozen things I've ordered from Amazon were a five-foot strip of pigeon spikes, an audio cable, a pair of studio monitors, half a dozen books, a USB keyboard, a webcam, and a set of 50 MR-16 light sockets. Amazon doesn't just replace bookstores - it replaces the entire shopping mall. That's a good thing, because malls basically suck.

It's likely that I would have bought these items from Amazon even if they charged the same price as a local store, just because it is less hassle. I can spend a couple of minutes shopping, at my desk at home, and then get on with life. If I had to go to an actual store there'd be a whole lot of driving around, looking for parking, dealing with traffic, crowds of people, etc. In December, particularly, shopping in actual stores is such an unpleasant experience I try to avoid it completely.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:32 AM on December 16, 2011


Every "independent" bookstore I've ever been in has been the same. Largely the same selection, the same upper middle class professionals drinking coffee, the same snobs behind the counter, the same cat. You could drop me into any one of them (including ones I've bought stuff in) and I would have no idea where I was. It's not local culture, it's upper class educated urbanite culture, which is pretty homogenous itself.

I beg to differ. This, IMHO, is the best bookstore in San Francisco. There are no comfy chairs, the customer base runs the socio-economic gamut, it's dusty (but well organized), rambling, and is stacked to the ceiling with new & used books. They do a pretty brisk business in deeply discounted overstocks of popular books. No cat, though. I'd be gutted if they went out of business.
posted by echolalia67 at 12:09 PM on December 16, 2011


I bought a lawnmower from Amazon. Absolutely nobody local stocks much in the way of electric lawnmowers, much less a cordless powered reel mower. From Amazon I had four choices.

As for lost books... I have a great fondness for James P. Hogan's early works. In the US they've been out of print for 20 years. I once lent two of my most cherished books, The Genesis Machine (his first) and Thrice Upon a Time, to my best friend from high school.

He left them behind when he evacuated for hurricane Katrina. From Gentilly.

I looked all over the place for replacements. Even Amazon didn't have them. Finally, on a vacation to San Francisco, I was amazed and delighted to find that Borderlands had not only both of my missing volumes, but also every other book by Hogan I'd ever heard of.

I was so surprised and delighted I didn't realize until I got home that my new copy of Kicking the Sacred Cow was actually signed by the author.

And, having signed about 50 copies of The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect for various fans over the years, that leads me to lament another practice that the ebook will kill.

So, tl;dr: Amazon good and Amazon bad, but mostly Amazon different. The next century and the next millennium will look different from the last of each.

But there may still be a market for paper books. One of the early emails I got, before I paper published my own novel via Lulu, was from a woman who complained that she couldn't read it in the bathtub.
posted by localroger at 2:21 PM on December 16, 2011


ABEbooks.com is where it's at for 2nd hand. They have multiple copies of the Hogan books you mention (and others) for cheap.
posted by yoink at 3:02 PM on December 16, 2011


Holy used books, Yoink! Bookmarked all to heck.
posted by localroger at 3:18 PM on December 16, 2011


And you're supporting real bricks-and-mortar used bookstores with all the convenience of internet shopping!
posted by yoink at 3:59 PM on December 16, 2011


I've heard that some of these stores even sell online via Amazon.
posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Nothing interesting could possibly ever take place there

The Center for Wooden Boats is pretty dang cool. So is MOHAI, which is moving there. I believe there are parrots in Denny Park. Many interesting things have happened at Re-Bar...
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:18 PM on December 17, 2011


On the other hand, localroger, just to make a vague point about e-books, the first torrent result for "james p hogan" at one private tracker contains:

Anguished Dawn
Bug Park
Catastrophes, Chaos and Convolutions
Code Of The Lifemaker - 01 - Code Of The Lifemaker
Code Of The Lifemaker - 02 - The Immortality Option
Cradle Of Saturn - 01 - Cradle Of Saturn
Cradle Of Saturn - 02 - The Anguished Dawn
Echoes of an Alien Sky
Endgame Enigma
Every Child Is Born A Scientist
Genesis Machine
Giant Series 01 - Inherit The Stars
Giant Series 02 - The Gentle Giants Of Ganymede
Giant Series 03 - Giant's Star
Giant Series 04 - Entoverse
Giant Series 05 - Mission to Minerva
Hammer of Darkness
Kicking the Sacred Cow
Leapfrog
Martian Knightlife
Mind, Machines And Evolution
Paths to Otherwhere
Realtime Interrupt
The Genesis Machine
The Legend That Was Earth
The Multiplex Man
The Proteus Operation
The Two Faces of Tomorrow
Thrice Upon A Time
Voyage from Yesteryear

posted by Now I'm Prune Tracy! at 3:19 PM on December 18, 2011


What the fuck there's a fifth Giants' Trilogy book!?!?!
posted by localroger at 6:01 PM on December 18, 2011


Salon visits independent bookstores.
posted by aught at 1:13 PM on December 19, 2011


They drive the local literary culture - the what now?
posted by Artw at 1:23 PM on December 19, 2011


They drive the local literary culture - the what now?

Readings by authors visiting town, workshops for budding writers, book release parties for local authors with new books, reading discussion groups. At least that's what our local indy new bookstore does. Our local used bookstore meanwhile spends a lot of energy encouraging our OWS types with meetings in its cafe, which is also useful.
posted by aught at 1:33 PM on December 19, 2011


Meh. I think I'm going to go with the original article when it comes to bookstores as a venue for bookclubs and readings - I mean, it's nice, but calling it "local literary culture" is a bit overly precious.
posted by Artw at 2:46 PM on December 19, 2011


> Readings by authors visiting town, workshops for budding writers, book release parties for local authors with new books, reading discussion groups

That sounds like great stuff for a library to do -- and it'd be freeee! Some libraries even have coffee, I understand, which is weird but there seems to be a bookstore / cafe connection people want in their independent bookstore.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:05 PM on December 19, 2011


That sounds like great stuff for a library to do -- and it'd be freeee!

For the record, the events at the bookstore I linked to are all free and open to the public. You are not required to buy any books to enjoy the events. Oh, but you'd have to go around the block to Starbucks to get yer grande double mocha low fat decaf latte. I guess that ruins everything, dang!

Also, we have a great public library that hosts some events like this too, but mostly it's loaning big piles of books and films/documentaries on DVD to people, if you can believe that.

I mean, it's nice, but calling it "local literary culture" is a bit overly precious.

I better stay away then for fear the cool kids think I'm a wussy.
posted by aught at 6:20 AM on December 20, 2011


RIP, The Clerk, Scott Timberg at Salon investigates what we lose when we lose the knowledge and experience that inhabits indie shops.

“I think of bookstore jobs as my university,” says Jonathan Lethem. (His new nonfiction collection, “The Ecstasy of Influence,” emphasizes the catholic nature of his taste and his provocative way of discussing work he loves – both qualities embodied by the best store clerks.) “The physical trade of books was a hallowed way to become a writer in the pre-MFA era. It was the only work I wanted to do, and the only work I was qualified to do.”...Lethem, of course, is not alone: Writer Mary Gaitskill and Decemberists singer Colin Meloy – now an author himself — started out in bookstores; punk heroine Patti Smith worked at New York’s sprawling the Strand. My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck clerked at record stores in Louisville, Ky., and Athens, Ga., respectively. Quentin Tarantino – who could almost be a character from Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” – developed his distinctive blend of junk culture, Asian film and cinephile obsession while laboring at a video store in Manhattan Beach: Video Archives was his film school.

These places speak to people outside urban bohemians. Poet and critic Dana Gioia, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, grew up in the ’50s, in the rough Southern California town of Hawthorne, with parents who lacked college degrees. “When I was a little kid, there was a used bookstore every 10 blocks,” he recalls. “There would be some grumpy old man running it: If you came in a couple of times he’d comment on your books — not in a charming way that you’d put in a movie. But it showed you that other people read and had opinions; it was a socialization. So much of culture is chance encounters between human beings.”
posted by Toekneesan at 6:30 AM on December 21, 2011


« Older "There's only a few of us left to man the controls...   |   Back and There Again. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post