I love everything about books. I love reading them. I love writing them. I love the look and smell and sound and feel of books. I might even love the taste, let me check…yeah, I love the taste of books, too.
I also love the culture of books. I love places filled with books. I love talking about books. I love the power of books. And I really love people who love books, which is why I love booksellers.
Booksellers are curious and intelligent and interesting people and they’re always finding new things to be excited about, thanks in part to all the books in their lives. They love matching the right book with the right reader. They bring authors and artists into our neighborhoods. They do story times for children. They provide a setting to learn and grow and interact with our communities. There would be no book culture without booksellers.
(Nor would there be book culture without libraries, librarians, publishers, and readers. They are all required. But back to booksellers…)
So I’ve been confused by the bizarre negotiations between Amazon (a different kind of bookseller, but a bookseller nonetheless) and my publisher, Hachette. Things have gotten messy, and as a pressure tactic Amazon has made it difficult or impossible to buy Hachette’s books, including my books.
It actually makes me sad that Amazon, a bookseller, would be willing to hold my books hostage. I thought Amazon loved books? I thought it loved MY books? How could it hold books hostage if it loves them?
The answer, of course, is that Amazon does not love books. To Amazon, books are just a Loss Leader. Amazon loses money on books, but uses them to lure customers toward more profitable things. “Check out our mysteriously cheap books,” whispers Amazon. “And since you’re here, why not reorder some regularly priced batteries and soap?”
To sell things like batteries and soap Amazon has driven down the price of books, which is convincing people that books aren’t worth much. But that’s not true. Books change lives, and they’re beautiful objects, and they have a special place in our history and culture. Books are worth a lot.
Bookstores that can’t compete with Amazon’s artificially low prices die off. When bookstores disappear, so do booksellers and book culture.
Now Amazon is taking aim at publishers. Now Amazon is holding my books hostage.
Amazon is destroying my favorite things!
Honestly, the book industry probably needed a kick in the pants. Amazon has forced publishers and booksellers to improve efficiency, and that’s a good thing. But now Amazon is threatening the entire culture of books so it can sell more batteries and soap.
What do you think will happen if Amazon succeeds and destroys its competition? Do you think it will continue slashing prices when it’s the only bookseller left? Do you think it will continue giving us great bargains out of the kindness of its heart? Am I the only one who wants to live in a world with bookstores and book culture and a healthy publishing industry?
I love bargains as much as the next guy, but I have limits. I could not support a company that used, say, slave labor, no matter how great their bargains. (And Amazon’s working conditions aren’t much better than slave labor). Likewise, I cannot support a company that is destroying so many of my favorite things.
The truth is, our addiction to Amazon is what has empowered it to destabilize the book world. I can’t blame anyone who wants to buy inexpensive books, and when cost and convenience are of paramount importance to you, then click away…or better yet, check out free books from your local library. But before you get your next Amazon fix, take a moment to think about what else is important to you. If you care about books, if you care about culture, if you want to live in a world with bookstores, then I encourage you to wean yourself from Amazon. There are other ways to buy books online.
And to those who say this is all just part of our inevitable march toward a new culture of convenience, well, that’s not a culture I’m willing to support at the expense of all else. Instead, I choose to support the people and places and things that I love.
I’m sure Amazon will resume selling my books, eventually. But even when they do, I hope you’ll consider supporting your community and the culture of books. If you want to live in a world with bookstores, then you need to buy books from bookstores.
This post was originally published in 2014, but is probably still as relevant as ever, today.