I got really excited last weekend on reading Ann Patchett’s story of setting up her own bookshop in Nashville, Tennessee. Parnassus Books is bucking the trend world over of closing book stores, unable to make a profit in the world of ebooks, Amazon, and recession. They’re almost certainly being helped by the celebrity founder being able to take advantage of news coverage such as I stumbled on for promotion, but I still got suddenly enthusiastic at the thought of supporting independent bookshops. Some hours later, however, I felt somewhat conflicted.
I have fond memories of wandering around second hand bookshops that had taken over old premises and put shelving everywhere physically possible and books as diverse as cookbooks and the works of the Marquis De Sade jostled each other for floorspace and my attention. I loved visiting places like that. But since I left home and got a credit card in 2007, the convenience of using Amazon has far outweighed the array of irritating and dingy bookshops I have visited since. I have totally given up visiting any bookshop which stock sci-fi and fantasy because nearly everyone behind the counter seems to be resentful or busy or conversely, over-determined to sell me things. Amazon just sits there, waiting for my order, and instantly processes and posts it to my waiting, sweaty little hands.
And then there’s the price. Independent bookstores have to make money, I know, but there’s paying a quid extra for free-range eggs or fair trade orange juice, and there’s paying nearly double for a book from a physical bookstore what you’d pay online. And the availability! In 2012, I bought dozens of books from Amazon. Tell me which ones I would have found in a Waterstones, let alone a small independent bookstore:
(I should point out, by the way, before you consider me some sort religious fanatic with a slight obsession with epic fantasy, that the vast majority of my annual book-buying comes from browsing charity shops and book sales at random, so I only buy a small selection of books each year purposefully, and for the most part there are things that I know I won’t come across eventually or that I want to read immediately. These mostly being theology texts and newly released non-fiction.)
|Title/Author||Price on Amazon||RRP||Notes|
|One River, Many WellsMatthew Fox||£7.16||£9.10|
|The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom TraditionsHuston Smith||£3.13||£13.33|
|A Course in Miracles||£3.95||£11.54||eBook|
|The Psychopath TestJon Ronson||£2.69||£8.05||eBook|
|I’m Stalking Jake!Becky Heineke||£13.73||£13.73||…yeah, this memoir about being a Jake Gyllenhaal fan around 2005-6 is a very niche topic only someone who’d been there would buy. My review coming soon. :P|
|Marketing in the Round: How to Develop an Integrated Marketing Campaign in the Digital EraGini Dietrich||£11.89||£15.99|
|A Dance with DragonsGeorge R.R. Martin||£11.99||£11.99||eBook – 4,197 pages later, it was basically such a stupid idea to take up watching Game of Thrones while writing my dissertation.|
|A Feast of CrowsGeorge R.R. Martin||£6.99||£6.99||eBook|
|A Storm of SwordsGeorge R.R. Martin||£9.99||£9.99||eBook|
|A Clash of KingsGeorge R.R. Martin||£4.99||eBook|
|A Game of ThronesGeorge R.R. Martin||£3.86||£8.99||A physical copy to get my flatmate into it – it worked. :P|
|Lenin: A BiographyRobert Service||£0.99||£8.95||eBook|
|She-Wolves: The Women who Ruled England Before ElizabethHelen Castor||£0.99||£8.58||eBook|
|On WritingStephen King||£2.81||£9.99|
|Artemis Fowl and the Last GuardianEoin Colfer||£5.86||£12.99|
|A Game of ThronesGeorge R.R. Martin||£3.99||£3.99||eBook|
|Kosher SexShmuley Boteach||£2.81||£7.99|
|Celebrating LifeJonathan Sacks||£2.81||£11.99|
|The Jew in the LotusRodger Kamenetz||£2.95||£10.99|
|The Persistence of FaithJonathan Sacks||£2.81||£11.69|
|Beyond Reasonable DoubtLouis Jacobs||£15.83||£16.95|
|For Those Who Can’t BelieveHarold M. Schulweis||£2.28||£10.01|
|Faith Against Reason: Religious Reform and the British Chief RabbinateMeir Persoff||£18.95||£19.95|
To buy all of those books at the prices that an independent bookstore would have charged me would have cost me £110 more over the course of the year, not counting the fact that the Amazon prices above include shipping and the RRP doesn’t include the cost of me having to travel to town to buy the book in the first place. And that’s including my sudden and all-consuming obsession with full-price Westeros.
There’s no real conclusion to this post because I don’t have an answer. I like the idea of supporting independent bookshops and sticking it to The Man, but by most criteria compared to Amazon, they simply suck. Presumably most people agree with me, which is why they are all closing down. People condemn clone towns, but if we didn’t all choose Waterstones over that rubbish second hand bookshop-cum-cafe that is 500 yards away from it, then there wouldn’t be clone towns.
So, solutions, anyone? I am listening.