Amazon is waging a war against “bookstores” and “book culture.” According to a new article from Salon, anyway.
Well, if Amazon is at war, I guess I’m a soldier. Of the last three books I’ve bought, two have been through Amazon, for my smartphone.
Why? Because they’re obscure business books that I was confident I wouldn’t find in a store. And it was easy.
The one thing I can’t stand in this debate about the future of books and publishing and authors is when people seem to think of Amazon or some other Corporation as a malevolent and unstoppable force.
So let’s stop with the overblown rhetoric and examine the truth about this situation:
If this is a war, most of us are soldiers
What has Amazon done to wage war against books, exactly?
The article from Salon argues that Amazon has cut prices across the board for books. Yes, making things cheap is now a war on books and book culture.
So what’s book culture – reading? Buying books? It can’t just be those two things, because Amazon has made reading easier than ever before.
The Kindle store and the Kindle app and the Kindle itself have granted people the ability to self-publish works that never would have seen the light of day. People in rural communities with little to no access to bookstores can read anything they want. I can buy a book from the 1980s in two seconds and read it while I’m waiting in line at the grocery store.
But “cheap books” is exactly what everyone hates, at least in the article:
“They’ve devalued the concept of what a book is, and turned it into a widget,” Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson told Salon.
“They” have devalued the concept of a book?? Who is this anonymous THEY? Amazon isn’t the only one buying cheap books. This is a team effort. Just look at what consumers have done – we’ve followed the technology.
We buy stuff from Amazon, because we don’t feel like going to a bookstore. Because we want the book now. The store isn’t close enough. They might not have it. The owner is cranky and the staff is unhelpful. Or because it’s cheap.
Whatever the reason, we click a button and get the book from Amazon instead.
A company is only as strong as its consumer base.
The technology argument
The rest of the article from Salon is not about a war on books at all, it’s about tax and labor practices. They sound pretty bad, albeit like cherry-picked examples.
In the comments section, there are a few people rolling their eyes at the author, saying that this is like saying car companies went to war on the horse and buggy.
How about iTunes, for a more contemporary example? Did the record labels declare that iTunes went to war on music? Did consumers care?
Technology companies make things easier for the consumer and succeed on that basis alone. Amazon is doing to books what Apple did to music.
I’m not saying this is good. At least as current business models go.
Adjusted for inflation, revenue in the music industry has halved since Apple launched the iTunes Store. Music and books are getting commoditized in the land of the free. But consumers are happily exploring the region and downloading stuff anyway.
Amazon isn’t waging a war against books any more than the avid readers who are buying books from Amazon. Making a product easier and cheaper and more accessible isn’t really waging a war on it.
What Amazon is really waging a war on is the idea of books and the idea of publishing and bookstores. That’s where the conversation should stay focused: the changing relationship between reader and “book” and reader and author, because that’s where we’re all going to learn something new.