Amazon Books – and what makes a great bookish space?

Last week Amazon caused a bit of a kerfuffle by opening a bookshop. It caused a bit of a anger, a bit of worry, a bit of soul-searching and a lot of confusion. To many the very notion of an Amazon bookstore, a physical building stocked with physical books appeared to be a non-sequitur – in fact an “Amazon bookstore” sounds like an oxymoron. And yet, the Amazon bookstore is upon us, snug and safe on the streets of Seattle.

Now, Amazon has caused its fair share of controversies in the past – news about the cut-throat nature of the corporation, the dismal conditions of warehouse workers and shoddy payment to publishers and writers are nothing new. Amazon has been dealing with these issues for years, but this latest move to open a bookshop is rather (dare we say it?) unprecedented. It is a development made all the more strange by the fact that Amazon’s entire brand seemed to pride itself on eradicating, first, the independent bookshops, and then, the highstreet chainstores. So the question is … why?

Dennis Johnson did a brilliant job answering this question on the Melville House blog, and we highly recommend reading the piece (it’s fairly short and far more factual that this one!). There seems to be no logical reason as to why Amazon have opened a bookstore, so Johnson simply has to as “why are Amazon so nasty” ? (And, yes, we are slightly paraphrasing).

Essentially, Johnson concludes and we agree, Amazon want to be the only game in town – that is ultimately their goal. To be fair, Amazon is not unique in this regard, market domination is basically the end goal for many big businesses. But this means you have to ask the question – do you love books? And if you do love books, you’ve got to ask whether Amazon can nurture that love and instil it in others. And honestly, we don’t think Amazon can do that – which is mainly down to the fact that they don’t want to and don’t care to.

Amazon is here to stay, that much is undeniable. But it is now up to the community of booklovers, and that is a world-wide community, to prove that there is a public appetite for more than just low prices. There’s a demand for more than “I want my book here, and I want it now!” – rather, there’s a demand events, author-signings, live story-readings, book clubs and all sorts of bookish-related pastimes. These things exist, and they’re fantastic – it would be a shame to lose them just because we wanted to pay a little less and found it inconvenient to take a trip to our local bookshops. Because a book is more than the sum of its parts, as any bookworm knows – a good book contains more than paper and ink, within those pages exists entire worlds. So let’s try to preserve those worlds, by building a community which maintains the magic of literature. This can be done online, as seen by the success of projects such as Goodreads and Booktube (a whole branch of YouTube dedicated to reading, reviewing and sharing books), but it’s also important to keep this bookish spirit alive by supporting those bookshops that really just love books.

The bookworld is changing, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Rather, let’s embrace it and help mould it, because bookish spaces can basically offer something that Amazon cannot – they can offer passion, authenticity and heart. Sure, Amazon is cheap – but really, where’s the fun in that?

More on this topic:

Denis Johnson’s post for Melville House (in case you missed it!)

The Guardian article on the Amazon bookstore from last week

Some theories by Rob Salkowitz at Forbes 

Read Sarah Kliff’s experience at the Amazon store from Vox

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