Home » Bookstores » Indie bookstores can’t be replicated by Amazon

Indie bookstores can’t be replicated by Amazon

20 January 2016

From The Seattle Times:

For years, Amazon.com has been the place to find the cheapest books and in the most convenient way. Now, Amazon is trying to emulate the neighborhood bookstores we adore with its new brick-and-mortar location in University Village.

But places like Third Place Books, The Elliott Bay Book Company and my own place of work, A Book For All Seasons, can never be replaced. The experience of an indie bookstore just can’t be bought.

People won’t go to Amazon’s bookstore for enjoyment. The model is utilitarian, impersonal and cold. And with the rise of Amazon’s Kindle, customers risk losing contact with the heart of the book industry.

. . . .

At your local independent bookstore, we want people to browse on their own time, on their own terms. We have recommendations scattered throughout the store — but that’s not why you come. You come because you want to make a discovery, one that will be your own.Why would I go to a bookstore where all the work has been done for me? People are unique. We don’t want to feel like another data point, another sale in the machine that tells the company how many books to buy. Indie bookstores also use sales data, but we leave ample room for experimentation and improvisation. If I remember an amazing book from my childhood that I think we should carry, I can tell my boss. We have the freedom to experiment, which means our customers do, too.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times

PG says that, for some people, bookstores are a lifestyle, maybe with a little virtue-signalling thrown in.

PG just wants to find a good book that he will enjoy. He trusts the collective judgment of the Amazon customer reviews and also-boughts more than he does the recommendation of a random bookstore employee, no matter how unique and virtuous that employee may be.

Click to Tweet/Email/Share This Post

Bookstores

46 Comments to “Indie bookstores can’t be replicated by Amazon”

  1. Where was all this independent bookstore promotion when B&N was busy killing them off?

    • Now be fair—most people and most news sources weren’t on the Internet at that point, so the complaints didn’t have the power to reach as many as they do now. But they did exist, and made their way into pop culture. I mean, just look at movies like You’ve Got Mail where the heroine is an indie bookstore owner, struggling against encroachment by a serial-numbers-filed-off B&N outlet.

  2. PG just wants to find a good book that he will enjoy. He trusts the collective judgment of the Amazon customer reviews and also-boughts more than he does the recommendation of a random bookstore employee, no matter how unique and virtuous that employee may be.

    Myself, I believe so also.

    • Moi aussi. The thing I loved 2nd most about Amazon when it arrived was not ever having to listen to a clerk tell me what he/she thought I should read. The 1st thing was the searchable catalog that let me find everything.

  3. I used to read paper books, back before a better alternative came along. I used to frequent bookstores, Indie and otherwise. Before the need vanished and most of the World’s books became available from my notebook. And yes, of course I was looking for that great read, that treasure amongst the dusty, allergen-ridden shelves. Before the much more effective alternative that Amazon offers came along. I am far more likely to discover that treasure, one that may be a treasure only to me, on Amazon.

    As I replied to a similar piece on Mobileread, if you value the whole experience, the tactile and olfactory and refractory and that ill-defined ambiance, you can still have it, and will continue to do so as long as a sufficient number of people feel the way you do. I don’t begrudge this to you. And whilst Amazon would no doubt like your money, I doubt it does either. Personally I place no value on the experience that to you is priceless, and can now avoid it. Great! Vive la difference!

    • Once upon a time, bookstores were either located where they had parking in front or in an enclosed mall where I might stumble across them while looking for some other store.

      Now, the only bookstore near me is located in one of those “New Town Centers” where all the parking is behind the store entrance and the main avenue is open to the sky. This means a long walk: In the winter when it is cold and possibly snowing, or the summer when it is hot, or the spring when it is raining or the fall when it is windy. /but it’s great the other times of the year. The long walk discourages senior citizens (and their disposable incomes). But the New Town Center is very “charming” and pretty, so it has that going for it.

  4. At your local independent bookstore, we want people to browse on their own time, on their own terms.

    Wasn’t aware that Amazon had a countdown timer or anything like that on their product pages…

    Indie bookstores also use sales data, but we leave ample room for experimentation and improvisation.

    Are they trying to say they can provide more choice than Amazon or are they referring to the young couple that decided to settle down and start a family in the ‘Politics’ section at the back of the store?

  5. Well, at least he didn’t wax rhapsodic about the smell of trad-pub books. Book-smelling is usually one of the irreplaceable joys mentioned in nostalgia pieces like this. It’s practically a fetish among brick-and-mortar boosters. So we can be grateful he left that out. 😉

    And actually, doesn’t the ABA claim that independent bookstores are making a comeback now that Amazon is killing off all the big-box stores?

    • I think you’re correct, Shelly. I will say that the only bad thing about tradpub/bookstores declining is the loss of jobs. You have paper mills, ink makers, printers, cloth makers (hardcovers), agents, retail employees, etc who are all dependent on the publishing industry. So, I do feel for anyone tied to their decline. (I’m in Oil & Gas, and people don’t realize how many other industries we affect as well; manufacturing, commodities, retailers, construction, etc. When we go down, we often take other businesses with us.) So, if indie bookstores are truly thriving, that’s a silver lining.

      All of that being said, however, Amazon also shouldn’t be blamed for creating a superior business model. Businesses must evolve and adapt, or die.

  6. “The experience of an indie bookstore just can’t be bought.”

    No. It’s free. Unless you decide to buy a book. 🙂

  7. I’m not sure that Amazon is trying to be an indie bookstore…It looked more like they were testing a superior chain store from all the descriptions I saw.

  8. Every time I see something about bookstores, indie or otherwise, I shake my head. My bookstore experiences have been nothing like what all these articles rhapsodize about.

    I prefer book shopping online, but I seldom bother checking customer reviews. “Look Inside” and the description are enough for me to decide if a book is my cup o’ tea. But I do love the Also Boughts.

    • My bookstore experiences have been nothing like what all these articles rhapsodize about.

      Mine either. My local indie started to lose my business when the clerk mocked my purchases as he was ringing them up. Those trashy science fiction books were so beneath him, and he wanted to make sure I knew it.

      But the deal was sealed when another clerk yelled at me for asking why they had a sign in their window saying “Amazon is a bully.” This was during the Amazon/Hachette business negotiations, and the indie store was trying to capitalize on anti-Amazon sentiment. I was not rude. I just asked why they had that sign in the window. The clerk yelled at me until I left the store.

      I haven’t been back since.

      I’m always mystified when people sing the praises of small bookstores. Where are these wonderful emporiums located?

      • You can see the same kind of judgement going on in the comments. One commenter insists that bookstores are for adventurers and Amazon is for sheep.

        Seems to me, the sheep are the ones standing around the co-op tables, buying what the big European conglomerates want them to buy.

      • Yesh. My experiences have never been like that.

        Used bookstore: the single clerk on duty always sat behind the cash register.

        All other bookstores: You were lucky if any employee so much as said “Hello” while you wandered around. Finding one when you actually needed help? Heh. Often, the only thing I’d hear from an employee was “next” when I went to pay for my purchases.

      • You have my sympathy, Alex. I’ve had similar experiences at certain bookstores. Amazon doesn’t get judgmental on me when I’m browsing through their website.

      • This.

        I am friends with a bookstore owner, and we get along fine. He is even gently introducing fantasy and science fiction to his customers. His store is nice, he organizes lots of readings, and he has a great web presence. (I still haven’t bought more than a postcare there. Just not my kind of books.)

        And he can’t understand why I don’t hate Amazon. He does. He hates Amazon with a passion. And I love it because it lets me publish my books…

  9. Now, Amazon is trying to emulate the neighborhood bookstores we adore with its new brick-and-mortar location in University Village.

    Is there any reason to think Amazon wants to emulate this guy’s store?

  10. [quote]… customers risk losing contact with the heart of the book industry.[/quote]

    This may just be the way that I feel but for me, AUTHORS, not book stores are the heart and soul of the book industry.

    I like book stores, but why are authors continually pushed aside? You’d think that bookstores (and publishers and quite possibly agents) don’t feel that they’re important.

    • +1

    • Let me get this straight – customers – readers – aka, real live humans – are losing contact with the “heart” of the book industry? The book industry has a heart that we hard-hearted readers are “losing contact” with? What successful “industry” gets the relationship between itself and its customers so backass?

  11. Oh, PG, you hit on something I hadn’t connected.

    Although it was nice to go to the local indie store and see what staff had written/recommended about a book (they had little cards stating the staff member’s first name and why recommended), it really isn’t the same as “kindred spirit” recommends. I don’t know anyone whose taste totally aligns with my reading taste, and when I find folks who are close to it, they’re my FB pals. So I can get recommendations from them. There are half a dozen folks who, when they say THIS ONE IS A MUST-MUST, I go and check it out at once.

    Plus, Amazon knows what I buy, and I don’t doubt they know what I have rated 5 and 4 stars to throw into that algorithmic mix. So, yeah, those recommendations count.

    One store employee: not so much. Unless I get to know them and find we align really well. And neither they nor I usually have time to sit and chat about preferences. The only time I had that happen was with a used bookstore’s co-owners, sisters, both into romance big time. But the recommendations of one were almost never to my liking. It was the elder sister who matched my taste. I knew to pretty much igore the younger’s recommends.

    • I like to visit Goodreads. They have a place where people ask for recommendations and I can scroll through the list until I find a request that resonates with something I’ve read. Then I write up a recommendation for them.

      I hadn’t realized I was playing bookstore clerk. It’s fun.

      Goodreads makes it easy to see all these things – what people have read, how they rated it. It’s fun to look at a person’s profile try to guess where he or she might like to explore next.

  12. There is an alternative to the independent bookstore: your local library.

    Like bookstores, libraries are filled with fellow book lovers and the staffs are at least as capable of recommending books as book store staff. Many library staff members are trained in the questions to ask and how to match preferences to books. They are not compelled to recommend high-priced best sellers.

    Patrons can discuss tastes with the person making the recommendation, unlike an online review. If you want to browse content in your own way instead of Amazon’s choice, go ahead.

    Most libraries have a wider selection than local bookstores and the collection is tailored to what people want to read, not what can be sold at a profit.

    And, of course, it is all a gift from your community.

  13. Long years ago, my first bookstore job was lowest clerk on the totem pole in an independent bookshop I later came to manage. They offered fair wages, gave vacations, and paid generous year-end bonuses to get employees who cared about books and reading. We could borrow any book, so it was also our library. We were given ownership of store sections if we wanted them. No-one owned science fiction and fantasy when I arrived, so I worked my way up to buyer for that corner of the store. The whole vibe was about sending every customer out happy.

    This was another era, before the B&N takeover, but even the early B&Ns hired readers to clerk, and paid attention to customer service, and offered a relaxing atmosphere. People had to go some physical location to buy books, and bookstores profited from attracting them away from grocery and department stores. That’s right–department stores had book departments. I did say it was a long time ago.

    Once most of the indies were out-competed, the chain bookstores grew too cheap and lazy to keep good booksellers. There was probably a lot of independent bookstore whingeing even then, but no Internet to amplify the signal. Now that all physical bookstores have had to deal with a competitor who eats their lunch in every possible category except fireplaces and comfy chairs (while not requiring them to leave their own comfy chairs to buy books), the volume is downright deafening.

    When I took that first bookstore job, 40 years ago this summer, bookstores were necessary to people who wanted to buy books. Paper and ink were necessary to create them. Publishers were necessary to people who wrote and wanted to publish them. I can barely recognize that time when I look back on it. A buggy-whip world.

    • Grocery stores, drugstores, and even gas stations had a wire rack of books for sale.

      • Usually the same twenty or thirty books, though.
        Yeah, I too remember those days: I counted myself lucky when one of the racked books was SF.
        Then I discovered the SFBC…

        • The grocery store I worked in back in the days when checkout clerks had to enter prices, and then know how to make change, sold zillions of books.

          They had #1, #2…#20 over columns of books. Six shelves with the same book running down on each shelf. Thirty copies each of twenty titles. Some titles sold hundreds on a Saturday.

  14. I find this article schizophrenic. We have better discovery, via real people, but when Amazon uses big data for discovery, discovery is terrible! We handsell awesome books, and Amazon only knows what other people like you read… and even what YOU like to read… and that is… very bad!

    You want to be brave, bold, and make your own choices. But you should buy what we order because… because… we want to sell books.

  15. People won’t go to Amazon’s bookstore for enjoyment. The model is utilitarian, impersonal and cold.

    Gob Bless Amazon, for I have never gone to a store for enjoyment.

  16. Browsing through the Amazon physical bookstore is, in fact, a lot of fun. It’s well laid out, it has top quality books, there are plenty of chairs and benches to sit and peruse your finds, the salespeople are friendly as friendly can be but not intrusive, and the prices can’t be beat, as they are linked to the online store prices. In the short time it’s been around it’s already one of my favorite bookstore experiences.

    • Thanks for sharing this. It seems they are doing something right.

      (Not sure I’ll ever see it, sitting in Europe…)

      • I sympathize. I lived in Thessaloniki, Greece, for many years, where there are no English language bookstores and few English language libraries.

        • I heard that Thessaloniki is a beautiful town. 🙂

          Don’t get me wrong, I love being German and living in Germany. But Amazon is the best way to feed my addiction to English-language books.

          I have ever been grateful for that opportunity since they opened their store here, now even more so that I self-publish through them.

          And if I ever make it to Seattle, I’ll visit their book store. 🙂

          PS: I love that you use the same WordPress theme on your website that I use on mine. Instant happiness.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: