The New York Times has a piece today by author Richard Russo about the recent Amazon stunt of encouraging people to go into bookstores, using their cell phones to read the prices of items for sale and then for their efforts receive up to $5 off things they buy at Amazon. Russo and the authors he talked to in his piece (which included Stephen King, Scott Turow and Ann Patchett) were generally not pleased with this antic, as you’ll see when you read the piece.
Nor am I, since it seems like an entirely unnecessary dick move. Yes, Amazon, you have lower prices. Point taken. But even in recessionary times such as these, not everything is about the absolute lowest price. I pay slightly higher prices for books at my local bookstore, but then I also help a local business, keep people in my community employed and make the place I live a nicer place to be. These are warm, fuzzy, altruistic things that are mockable if one lives by the creed that in business it’s not enough to win, everyone else must lose. But, you know, the hell with that. I can afford an extra couple of bucks on each book, and the return I get is worth it. Mind you, it’s not just a soft-hearted choice; it’s also a practical investment in the local economy and in a store where people can find my work.
This isn’t a reflexive hate-on for Amazon, incidentally. Amazon sells a lot of my books for me, including through their Kindle program, from which I’ve bought more than a few books myself (generally books I own but am too lazy to fish out of basement storage. Yeah, I know). I am appropriately grateful. Likewise, Amazon is, among other things, one of my publishers through its Audible Books division, and they have done an excellent job with the books I’ve done with them. I have an Amazon Prime account and I get lots of use from it, because where I live often the alternative to buying from Amazon is buying from Wal-Mart, and on that strata of retailing, I’m happy to let them go after each other, with knives and bludgeons. If there’s a locally-owned alternative, however, then I generally go there. I pay extra for what amount to intangibles for me, but what’s intangible to me means a job and a business to someone else. That matters, especially these days.
Jeff Bezos is doing fine, and lord knows he gets enough of my money. I like giving my book money to my local guys. I think they probably appreciate it more, right about now.