Just to be clear before I start — I’m not against Amazon. I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars with the company. I own a Kindle Fire (and had the previous iteration before that), am a Prime member, and merrily download book after book onto the device. I’ve tracked down reasonably-priced copies of out of print books via them. When I needed a keyboard for my kid, stat, and the local music store (having promised a delivery the week before) punked out, I was straight over to Amazon and they had something with me in 24 hours. Amazon is a great way of getting hold of books and other gear quickly and conveniently, especially stuff that’s hard to get hold of where you live. Amazon, we like and value you. You’re our pal.

So don’t blow it. Don’t act like a bunch of total assholes.

Offering to sell people books at a discount if they take a picture of them in their local independent bookstore *** [please see caveat below]*** is an act so crass that it takes your breath away. It’s precisely Apple’s serene tendency to not do this kind of thing that makes me such an fanboy. Many yards have already been written about Amazon’s shark-like recent sales tactic, but for me it comes down to one basic question: do you want to still have bookstores, or not?

Farhad Manjoo’s infantile article/apologia for Slate magazine missed so many points that I don’t even know where to start. This, for example: “It’s not just that bookstores are difficult to use. They’re economically inefficient, too”… Is the statement of an utter moron. If you believe economic efficiency (whatever that may be) is the most important thing the world, then you scare me. If you find bookstores difficult to use, you’re a simpleton. You either understand that the world is a better place for the existence of bookstores on the streets, or you don’t. You either get how they contribute to an environment of respect and enthusiasm for the printed word and everything that goes with it, or you don’t.

Amazon is actually essential to my career, especially since the demise of Borders. The kind of novels I write don’t appeal much to the folks who run the independents — I can guarantee that if I like a bookstore, they won’t stock a single copy of my books (whereas Amazon, of course, do, and thank god for that). That’s not the point. The point is that Amazon, effective and useful and much-valued retailer though it is, has the power to destroy the independent bookselling market, and if you don’t want to live in a world where that’s happened, you can neither defend nor excuse this venal little tactic — and certainly not by arguments as facile as claiming that bookbuyers will spend the money they save in local farmers’ markets. For a start, they won’t. Secondly, independent booksellers are the local famers’ markets, you buffoon. No, the authors and publishers aren’t local, but the people who sell the books, and offer advice, and provide an environment of affection and respect for the printed word, most assuredly are. I want books to be local, too, not just another thing that arrives in the mail.

This afternoon I made a note of two books I saw on Amazon. Next time I’m downtown I’m going to buy them from either Bookstore Santa Cruz or Logos, two of the great independents that Santa Cruz is lucky enough to have. I like Amazon very much, but I don’t love it — certainly not to the degree that I love being able to wander into some quirky local bookstore and walk amongst the stacks, allowing serendipity and the smell of paper and the owner’s haphazard acts of curation to help me select something new. I like taking my child into these places, too. It bores the hell out of him, but I choose to believe that amidst the tedium he’s absorbing the message that books are a good thing, and deserve to take up space in our society and our towns; that his dad values them in a special way, and that they’re not just another thing that you click a button to possess, like baked beans or a power tool.

If you love bookstores, support them, because you’ll miss them when they’re gone. And Amazon, support the love and purchase of books wherever they may be found. Otherwise not only will you come across as a bunch of rapacious dickheads, you’ll be cutting off the roots of the market you so want to own.


[*** Correspondents suggest that in fact, the one-day offer was not targeted at bookstores, in which case, I done rant wrong, and I apologise. I’m leaving the above in place because I said it, and if I was wrong, I was wrong, and it would be sneaky to just whip it out of sight. However: the Slate article was still fatuous, and illustrates a widespread suspicion of Amazon’s motives; there’s little doubt that the company is trying to dominate the marketplace in negative ways; and my point about the importance of independent bookstores still holds — use them, or you’ll lose them.]


15 Thoughts on “Amazon – Don’t Be A Dickhead, eh?

  1. Wow. Amazon. Does this mean if I take a photo of myself in some undeveloped wasteland they’ll give me a discount? There are no independent bookshops in my town.

    The other thing I like about bookshops is that they are a place where sometimes authors show up, do a bit of a reading and answer questions. I don’t think Amazon can provide that by post and as fascinating as some celebrity autobiographies must be, I don’t quite fancy popping down to the nearest giant supermarket to wait in line just to get it signed.

    The DVD & CD aisle doesn’t quite have the same ambience as a few dozen well-stacked bookshelves.

  2. Tim Pratt on December 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm said:

    Well, the discount offer actually didn’t apply to books — the promotion specifically excluded them. (It was mostly meant to recruit a horde of unpaid market researchers to go into big box retailers and scan the prices of flat-screen TVs so Amazon could get data to negotiate steeper discounts from their suppliers.) But the promotion is indicative of Amazon’s desire for people to use brick-and-mortar stores as something like Amazon showrooms, where they can browse before going home to spend money at Amazon. And that kind of thing is no good for bookstores.

    I miss Logos and Bookshop Santa Cruz. I spent a lot of time in both when I lived there.

    • ememess on December 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm said:

      Ah – well, if that’s the case, then I done shout out too loud, and on the basis of not-knowing-enough-about-which-I-rant. My bad.

      My points about the Slate article still hold, though :-)

  3. Hi Mike

    True on all counts. I also love my local bookshop which has combined two of my greatest pleasures; reading and drinking coffee.

    I have to say (and sorry about the royalties here) that I’ve only ever paid full price for one of your books. This brings me on to another of my passions; rummaging around second hand bookshops/stalls. You’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that your books are still worth well over £1 on the second hand market!

    I’m getting a Kindle from my lovely wife for Christmas. I’m wondering how I’ll miss the feel of a book in my hand and the pleasure actually turning the pages. We’ll see. I can’t imagine I’ll be giving up the bookshop any time soon.

    As an aside, I must commend you on using the word “buffoon” in your piece. It’s one of my favourites :0)

    Cheers, Matt

    • ememess on December 16, 2011 at 9:03 am said:

      It’s an excellent word, isn’t it. One gets to use it all too seldom. I’m always happy to be bought second hand… the fact that someone’s looking means more to me than the money. I think you’ll find that the Kindle makes you read *more*, but – if you’re anything like me – it certainly won’t chip away at the every specific joys of bookstores, especially second-hand :-)

  4. It was a one-day Amazon discount for using their price-check app, and didn’t apply to books (but to toys and other items bookstores may carry) – from the Wall Street Journal: “On Dec. 10, Amazon promoted a new ‘Price Check”‘mobile phone app by offering shoppers a 5% discount—valid only for that one day—on items they found in brick-and-mortar stores, but purchased online through Amazon instead. ” Here’s the Publishers Weekly article about it – http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/49815-amazon-backlash-continues-to-build.html

    • ememess on December 16, 2011 at 9:04 am said:

      Aha – many thanks for the clarification. Well, my words were somewhat misplaced, then, though I feel that the general points about independent brick-and-mortar stores hold.

  5. I first encountered your work when a hipster from a local independent bookstore running a table at a Tasmanian SF convention offered me Ian McDonald’s ‘River of Gods’ and your ‘Spares’ in response to my vague “I kinda like stuff like… ” statement. He was not wrong.

  6. Dear Mike,
    i first came across “Straw Men’ a few years ago on a cold winter evening, displayed proudly in the front shelf of a local bookstore in my hometown. I live in India in a small city called Jamshedpur and we are still relatively untouched by the online shopping blitz that’s become a rage in recent years. Book buying here is still old fashioned, walking among tall wooden shelves made awkward by the weight of books upon them, both old and new.
    Yours was new and very expensive, the grand old man who ran the store told me it was imported and among the most expensive books he had, others being encyclopedias, biographies and a few coffee table juggernauts. i wasn’t intimidated though having received my first paycheck a few weeks back and only raised my eyebrows appreciatively at the price, it was in excess of 600 bucks or a little over $12. What cinched it for me and probably had since the time i first laid eyes on it was the cover, a group of people standing close, silhouettes rather with a sense of foreboding and a windswept tree in the background. ‘Straw Men’ was and remains one of my favorite books and a big fat Thank You for writing it!
    The old bookstore is still here although its owner has since passed on, but we have a thing for tradition and his son now runs the place, Not much has changed and seeing how bookstores are rapidly becoming a thing of the past I’m just happy its there. Now that i think of it the dim yellow light falling on the cover of your book with the dust motes swirling around was a contributing factor :-) so yes I’m sure online houses like amazon provide customer satisfaction and value addition across price points….but every once in a while we should walk among books, if only to feel the potential of so many thoughts and ideas all waiting for one to reach out and turn the page.

    And lest i forget A Very Happy New Year!

    P.S Came across ‘This is Now’ on the internet and am still reeling in amazement! WoW!


    • ememess on January 4, 2012 at 6:48 am said:

      Hey there – thank you for the comment, and apologies for the delay in it appearing… it actually fell foul of the spam filter for some reason, and got sved at the last moment… :-) A lovely evocation of the kind of bookstore I’m sure I’d love…

  7. When I order a second hand book on amazon–isn’t it usually a small, local store that makes the sell? If that’s the case, amazon helps small stores. Any local book store that doesn’t use an “Amazon Like” distro is kind of crazy and won’t be around very long anyhow no matter how trendy they are.

    I know amazon always asks me to sell back my textbooks that they just helped me save HUNDREDS of dollars on.

    I still don’t get your “apple fanboy” status: Yuck. But you’re a good author and whatever you need to feel creative is cool w/ me : ) Says the linux fanboy (yes, there is one more rung on the one-uppery)

  8. treehugginpaul on January 10, 2012 at 2:11 am said:

    Dear Mike
    Is there room here for debate on the ‘real book vs. eBook’ issue? For many years i have been a devoted collector of real books and have shunned technology in this one area by refusing to accept eBook readers as gifts from loved ones. There are many reasons I can give for this – probably most the important of these is the existence of book stores and book sharing.
    However, I am now forced to re-think my stance on real books. This is mainly due to my step father’s collection of sci-fi books and magazines (dating back to early Thirties). This collection is his life’s work but at around 4000 publications is threatening to place him into the new, dubious category of ‘hoarder’. Basically, there is little room left in my parents four bedroom house for any more book shelves.
    While my modest book collection is dwarfed by my step father’s, a clear lesson can be learnt here – for those who compulsively collect books (like myself), either buy a warehouse or embrace eBooks.
    Kind regards.

    • ememess on January 10, 2012 at 8:50 am said:

      Yes- it’s a tricky area :-) For years I too shunned the e-book, largely because my love of the ‘real’ thing. Recently I’ve come to make a distinction, however. I still buy (real) books that I know I want to possess as things, or if they’re not available in other formats (ephemera and small run things from years ago, for example). But if it’s a novel or non-fiction book that I know I’m probably only ever going to read once, then I’m increasingly going the e-route… not least to leave more room for the physical books I know I’ll keep wanting to own…

      • I’ve been toying with getting an e-reader for some time now. But the main thing that puts me off is not being able to flick randomly back through the pages to a previous plot point or character introduction that I may have forgotten.

        I used to be a terrible hoarder of books, including trashy ones I’d start and put down after the first few pages. I had shelves stacked with both beloved books I’d read again and again and the aforementioned junk that I couldn’t bear to throw away. What if no one else loved them either? At least I could offer them a warm home to retire in.

        I have since launched a war on my collection of books with the mantra that if a book can’t be placed vertically on the shelf, then it doesn’t go on. There’s no place for horizontal stacking in my house.

        I think the key thing to remember is that by going digital, you don’t have to renounce the printed word. Your fingers can still enjoy the warm, buttery pages of a real book. But having the digital option makes you choose the 3D version more wisely. Digital is intangible and throwaway. Paper is not.

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