Books

Amazon & Goodreads

My preference, in the best of all possible worlds.

My preference, in the best of all possible worlds.

There’s a lot of murmuring and quite a bit of SHOUTING regarding the news that Amazon has purchased Goodreads.

I have a page on Goodreads. It makes no sense for an independent author not to. I probably ought to make more use of it than I do. But there’s the time it takes … .

When I do look at Goodreads, I often take note of reviews offered by “friends.” Although my principal source for reviews that interest me enough to seek out a book is NYRB and the New Yorker.

The shouting is mostly about Amazon. The love-hate place. I have mixed feelings about Amazon, and I do wonder what the world of books and readers will be like if/when there is only Amazon. Which is not  unlikely.

Most of the time I live outside the United States, and more often than not, in places where the language spoken is not English. (Currently I am living in México City.) When I can find a bookstore that stocks English language books, they were likely to be popular fiction and out-of-copyright “classics.” Rarely do I find something I would actually want to read —  or that I have not already read or do not already own.

Thus, Amazon. I suppose 90% of my book purchases are made through Amazon — they always have what I want, and they ship it to my home. (I have bought things other than books through Amazon because I could not find these things in the local marketplace.)

Having said that, I would rather purchase books, and magazines for that matter, in a brick & mortar bookstore — an actual place; especially from independent (non-chain) bookstores. If I lived in the States, and if there was a real bookstore in that town or city, that is where I would shop for what I read. I cannot imagine any reason I would need to use the book-buying services of Amazon. If …

That is the source of my mixed feelings about Amazon. I would not use Amazon to purchase books if I lived in the US, but since I don’t, I use Amazon all the time. And I admit that it does sometimes feel that I am in league with the devil, or that I am committing slow-motion book-lover suicide.

Amazon survived, and now thrives extraordinarily, because it services a need in the marketplace. That’s how Capitalism works. It would not be successful if it did not serve a need its customers have. In other words, we are Amazon.

There is another issue with Amazon, one that effects writers particularly. Amazon has single-handedly made it possible for writers to find readers, in ways that conventional, or traditional, publishers would not do. I have had published seven novels by traditional publishing companies. But that business has changed so extensively in the past decade or two that it is nothing at all like the publishers I knew in my heyday. Mainstream publishers got out of the literature/book business as the 20th century wound down, and, largely as a result of corporate buyouts, began treating (and selling and marketing) books as if they were simply a commodity, hardly different from selling soap, cars, or tampons.

The only book publishers — the real thing — remaining at this point in the 21st century are the “small presses.” But being small, not having the Bertelsmann billions behind them, they are drastically limited in what they can do as publishers. That leaves hundreds, maybe thousands, of writers-of-quality with no place to go. If they aren’t writing blood-laden, vampire-fantasy, popular blockbuster fiction, the conglomerate publishers are not interested. And there aren’t enough small presses to publish these writers, regardless of their merit, the literary quality of their work.

Thus, Amazon. Utilizing Amazon’s “CreateSpace” publishing method, these writers have at least that outlet for finding readers. The out-of-pocket expense of self-publishing with Amazon (who lists and distributes these writers at no cost) is trivial; in fact, it is zero unless you buy your own ISBN. Such writers may even set up their own publishing imprint, again, at no cost. (My books are now published by B&b Books, Boulder, CO, but CreateSpace makes them, and Amazon sells them.)

Again, Amazon comes in and fills a need expressed in the marketplace. This time, offering an avenue for writers to find readers. Regardless of literary quality or lack of it, there is at least this last hope for writers who are shunned by conglomerate publishers, and who are unable to find a place on the tiny lists of small presses.

Would the book world be a better place if the gate-keepers at traditional publishers, conglomerate and independent, did their jobs and opened their doors as widely as they once were? Yes. There is no doubt about it. But they don’t, and they aren’t. Thus, Amazon.

I wish we lived in a world where Amazon could not have succeeded. But we don’t, and we won’t ever again.

Love Amazon, hate Amazon … that’s like loving or hating the universe. Do whatever  you like, the universe is there and it isn’t going away.

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6 replies »

  1. that’s reasonable to say, especially the last paragraph. On the other hand I live in Poland and as I often need english books I can get them cheaper from ebay or abe books,

    • My situation is not typical for expats. I am able to maintain and use a US-based mailing address, although the mail comes to me here in Mexico City, so I either don’t pay shipping charges, or they are very low. Amazon offers essentially every book on the planet, so it’s a one-stop-shop. (I enjoyed your choice of quotes on your site.)

  2. While I wish the chain book stores didn’t devour the independents, they did. And now that Borders is gone, that leaves Barnes and Noble. Which is only interested in selling hits. Yesterday, I asked a bookseller at Barnes and Noble, why the poetry section was in such disarray. He said no one buys the poetry books. I reminded him of the days of independents, and when booksellers carried books that they loved because they also cultivated a cliental that loved literature and poetry, and not necessarily the best sellers. So for all it is worth, at least Amazon is doing something for independent writers. Much more than Barnes and Noble is. That is why, in towns with no independents and only big box book stores, I will always support Amazon first.

    • Barnes and Noble committed suicide, it’s their own fault. Borders should have been able to survive, but in most places they existed more or less side by side with B and N. B and N had deeper pockets.

      I frequent an independent bookstore (and fine café) near where I live in Mexico City, and that is the same pattern I have when in the States. When in the States, we are most often in Boulder, and my bookstore there is the independent Boulder Bookstore, on Pearl St. I do not use chain bookstores, regardless.

      Otherwise, I use Amazon — as both writer and reader.

      Thank you for commenting.