Despite the fear and loathing reported in TeleRead at the prospect of Amazon bookstores, not everyone feels the same way. At the opposite extreme, we have Hugh Howey, self-publishing success story and joint creator of AuthorEarnings. He proclaims simply: “I Want Amazon Bookstores.” Some may dismiss this as self-interested propaganda by one of Amazon’s most loyal beneficiaries, but Howey makes a few points that any book lover ought to consider.
Yes, Howey does devote more than a little space to applauding Amazon’s strengths. But his arguments for bookselling per se are what really matter. For one thing, there’s the rather unanswerable point that bookstores are better than no bookstores:
I’ve already seen anti-Amazon rhetoric about how these expansion plans would be awful, because Amazon already sells too many books, and when will someone stop Amazon from selling so many books! Because selling books to readers is … a bad thing? What the hell? Borders is gone. Barnes & Noble is being run by people who love board games and hate comfy chairs (remember those?). There are no more Waldenbooks in our malls. We need 300-400 Amazon bookstores, and we need them open yesterday.
Is there a counter-argument that Amazon has had a scorched-earth effect on competing book outlets, and is now moving in to colonize the ruins? No one actually forced Borders or B&N to shut up shop or retrench, and both had/have online presences. If they’re less competent at their own business, it’s not Amazon’s fault.
Howey also points out the advantage of bookstores that don’t … uh … censor their customers’ choices. “Almost all bookstores blacklist Amazon-published titles,” he notes. “And very few carry many self-pubbed titles.” If the latest AuthorEarnings report is to be trusted, that means that typical bookstores could now be missing out on up to 75 percent of what shifts daily on Amazon, which remains the sales outlet for “at least a quarter of all new trade print books purchased in the US each year.” Not exactly pro-choice. Then there’s Amazon’s current real-world retail innovations, like the Seattle Treasure Truck, and the prospect of in-store Amazon delivery drop points and hardware promotions. (Even steeper discounts on the $50 Fire, anyone?)
But above all – and most persuasive for authors – there’s the possibility of Amazon levering its strong customer traction to turbocharge local promotional events, author signings, workshops, etc. In the book world, no one knows better than Amazon who buys what where, and what better place for a self- or indie-published author to do a reading or other promotional event than a store that uses the network which secured his or her recognition in the first place? Amazon usually is well ahead of the game in seeing the potential of its infrastructure, but Howey seems to have jumped ahead with a brilliant idea that could be a huge win for authors, no matter how small or self-run their publisher.
As I wrote elsewhere, indies like the Strand Book Store can survive and thrive even in a digitally-enabled Amazon era. I don’t expect the Strand to go down even if an Amazon store opens up in the East Village. But bookstores have to be ready to use the tech and turn it to account, not preach King Canute-like at the tide, while expecting the customers whose choices they ignore, and the authors they disregard, to keep on walking in just because, as a bookstore, they’re entitled. If you have a network, use it. That’s only what Amazon did, and you should be closer to your own people.
Last, but certainly not least, Howey hails “bookstores from people who love books, treat customers well, and respect the artists who create them. There’s no other company better in all three regards than Amazon.” That’s probably the last argument that the Big Five wants to hear, never mind the bookstores. Unfortunately, he isn’t far wrong.