Two stories regarding booksellers, publishers, Amazon, and readers crossed my path in the last two days. The first went relatively unnoticed. The second, however, dominated the news feeds of both Twitter and Facebook.
I'll start with the first. An author posted a story on her Facebook page about Barnes & Noble cutting back on Simon & Schuster titles. She made a comment about fellow S&S authors: ""So many authors I know are being affected, and are scared for their careers." I was struck by this comment. Scared for their careers? B&N has refused to stock Amazon Publishing books from the get-go, and I'm doing fine. In fact, my career is thriving at the moment. I was naive to the fact that, as a fellow Amazon author pointed out, "Many. . .mid-list author(s). . . who sell primarily in print format do not have much of an ebook readership. In fact, they are having great difficulty cultivating ebook buyers. Their sales are frightening dependent on B & N placement and promotion."
The second story was about Amazon acquiring Goodreads. Everyone, it seemed, had something to say about it, and the reactions to the news were mixed. Some saw this as a savvy acquisition, while others worried that Goodreads would suffer the same fate as Shalfari (also owned by Amazon). Others went a step farther and shut down their Goodreads accounts. A high school friend who owns an independent bookstore, added this latest turn of events to her long list of reasons for her disdain of all things Amazon.
So what do these two stories have in common? Amazon.
Amazon continues to be a polarizing company--some say they're innovators, while others say they're corporate imperialists. Some say they're killing the book industry, while others say they're saving it.
Truth be told, I have misgivings about the Goodreads acquisition. My misgivings have more to do with how reviews-obsessed the author-reading community has become (this is tied in to my opinions against grading, and would warrant a separate blog post), and whether Amazon's acquisition (who pioneered the reviews-ratings algorithm) is going to exacerbate that. But in terms of piling on Amazon as hellbent on taking over the world, I can't help but get a little defensive. Because, as Hugh Howey said:
The reality is that everyone I know at Amazon, from top to bottom, loves books. They love readers. They love authors. I think this permeates the company because of the passion Jeff Bezos holds for all things book. He has made it a goal to get more people reading and more people writing than at any time in human history. Because of Amazon (largely Amazon), more people are making a living at writing than ever before.
This has been my experience as an Amazon author from day one. And, given the situation with Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster (as well as with AP authors and other problems), I can't help but think that a company that blames Amazon for its demise seems to be doing an excellent job of driving its customers there.
But here's what it really comes down to for me:
I love books.
I love bookstores. And libraries.
I love Amazon (and Amazon Publishing) for making it possible to do what I love and make a living from it.
I love my Kindle.
I love to read.
I love to write.
I love readers.
I love writers/authors.
I love interacting with both.
We still need bookstores. What neither Goodreads nor Amazon can give us is human interaction, face to face contact between readers and readers, writers and writers, and readers and writers. As an author, I need that personal interaction not as much from a business perspective as much as a creative and psychological one. Community is vital to almost any profession. Social networking has broadened what community means, but it still can't match human contact.
The reality is that book commerce has changed. It's time to stop complaining about and resisting it. If bookstores are to remain in business (and I want them to), then they've got to INNOVATE. They've got to find ways to maintain that human touch, that community and service readers and writers crave, while still making a profit. They've got to be more than booksellers now, without abandoning their love of and commitment to books. They've got to find new and better ways to do that, ways that don't rival Amazon but complement and supplement it. It's not about rooting for one over the other. It's not about taking sides.
I want that for them, and for me, more than anything. And believe me, I've been racking my brains trying to figure out how to do it. I haven't come up with the solution yet. But I'll keep trying.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.