December 14, 2011

FARHAD MANJOO SAYS INDIE BOOKSTORES ARE OVERRATED: Buying books on Amazon is better for authors, better for the economy, and better for you. “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. Amazon suggests books based on others you’ve read; your local store recommends what the employees like. 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? . . . So, sure, Amazon doesn’t host readings and it doesn’t give you a poofy couch to sit on while you peruse the latest best-sellers. But what it does do—allow people to buy books anytime they want—is hardly killing literary culture. In fact, it’s probably the only thing saving it.”

There are political issues, too, as many bookstore employees let their politics affect their work.

Plus, from the comments:

Actually I love bookstores. I was very sorry to see the Borders in the Time-Warner Center (NYC) close. I love the big, WELCOMING Barnes & Noble. But the local independent. They can all go under. Rizzoli on 57th is the most oft putting, unwelcoming, eltist feeling, hostile bookstore one could imagine. Strand is a joke. Setting aide the obnoxious, unhelpful, hipster losers that work there, you can’t actually find anything. Or it would take you an hour as opposed to 1 minute at Amazon. I bought a lot of books in bookstores. I buy far more at Amazon. I hope Amazon crushes the independents. And yes, I’m talking to you a certain bookstore on Lexington Ave bet 70 and 72nd on the East side, who’s continued existence defies any explanation relying on economics. I’ve never seen anyone in there. And they sure don’t act like they want customers.

And another:

I get irritated by the peans to independent bookstores that have popped up a lot recently. Independent bookstores may be nice if you like the kinds of books they like, but they are not so “friendly” if you ask for something they consider inferior. I like bookstores and wanted to support my local independent, but when I went in and asked for genre fiction, I was met with a sniff, a condescending look and a sarcastic comment, “we only cater to intelligent readers, not the kind of people who read THOSE books”. I’ve been met with the same attitude at independent bookstores in several cities. I realize bookstores can’t cater to everyone, but there’s a difference between politely saying, “sorry, we don’t have that” and “you’re stupid for reading those books”. I took my money elsewhere (and I suspect I spend way more money on books than most of their customers). I’ll gladly shop at Amazon, who is eager to recommend any type of books I want to read, and happy to sell them to me.

Indie bookstores are like indie record stores — they’re either great, or lousy, without much in-between. When the staff is composed of hipsters who look down on customers, they’re lousy. Kind of a print version of the record store in High Fidelity.

UPDATE: Reader Eric Neill writes that it’s not as simple between big and small:

My wife runs a small used bookstore in our rural town, the first bookstore this town has ever had. She lists tons of books on Amazon and there is no way she could keep the doors open without that income stream (which far surpasses in-store book sales). If people want to support smaller independent booksellers while still taking advantage of the convenience and competitive pricing offered by Amazon, they should consider clicking on the “used “ selection of the book they are looking at. Almost all of those sales are small book shops, and most of them qualify for free shipping under your Prime account!

I love the Amazon Prime. And that’s a good point. As I pointed out back in 2005, some big outfits make it easier to be small.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Gregory Hill writes:

I was in Seattle a couple of years ago visiting family. We went to an indie bookstore down by the water to browse. As bad as most of the chain bookstores are with respect to the leftist politics determining what books are displayed front-and-center, this was ten times worse. Not only was the selection ridiculously one dimensional, the posters were a rogues gallery of Leftist Heroes. There was a prominent poster of Che by one of the stairs, and my son asked who he was. My rather loud response was “a murderer.” The looks from the other customers were priceless.

Needless to say, we didn’t waste a lot of time there.

To think–I used to love working in stores like that when I was young and stupid….

I guess now that all those jobs have gone away, there’s nothing left but the Occupy movement. . . .