I’m-a do the whole Andrew Sullivan Daily Dish thing and just trot out some articles about publishing and bookselling and the like. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, who is known mostly for his irreverent takes on restaurant Web sites and the abhorrence of two spaces after a period, wrote a long piece defending Amazon for its convenience, both for readers and writers. I guess that’s a decent stance to take–more people are reading and writing now as a result of Amazon. The Kindle has made people more voracious in their reading; sales are up; the industry might not totally be dead. But Manjoo is quite aggressive in his attacks on local bookstores. ZB:
Compared with online retailers, bookstores present a frustrating consumer experience. A physical store—whether it’s your favorite indie or the humongous Barnes & Noble at the mall—offers a relatively paltry selection, no customer reviews, no reliable way to find what you’re looking for, and a dubious recommendations engine. Amazon suggests books based on others you’ve read; your local store recommends what the employees like. If you don’t choose your movies based on what the guy at the box office recommends, why would you choose your books that way?
I’m quite amused that a technology writer would be so flummoxed by the consumer experience at bookstores. I didn’t even know people still went blindly charging into bookstores, unsure what to buy, relying upon “customer reviews” and “recommendations” to guide them. I usually look around online for what I want and head over to my local bookstore and see if it’s there. It’s hard to imagine someone as technologically literate as Manjoo failing to do some research at home–or on his Android or iPhone at the store–utilizing Amazon’s “recommendations engine” or reading reviews on Goodreads.
And his closing salvo is impotent and hollow:
So, sure, Amazon doesn’t host readings and it doesn’t give you a poofy couch to sit on while you peruse the latest best-sellers. But what it does do—allow people to buy books anytime they want—is hardly killing literary culture. In fact, it’s probably the only thing saving it.
If anyone is saving literary culture, it’s young, talented writers like Teju Cole and Chad Harbach and Téa Obreht–important writers whose works are hard to ignore and impossible to forget. Amazon, who for all its supposedly great contributions to our culture, fosters the idea that the traditional publishing process (you know, copy and developmental editing, marketing done by professionals, etc.) should go the way of the dinosaur. As someone who quite likes the industry, and wants it to adapt to the winding road ahead (while still retaining these absolutely indispensable processes), I don’t really care for Amazon.
Anyway, he makes some good, thoughtful points amidst all the weird pettiness. (Seriously: did someone do him irreparable harm at a bookstore in Brooklyn?) I suggest you read the whole thing.