Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
I would like to thank Farhad Manjoo.
And that probably makes most of you want to punch me in the face.
So now, whether you read it a minute ago or read it a few days ago, you know what I’m talking about. And I’ll restate: I would like to thank Mr. Manjoo. I’m not saying I agree with his argument that local bookstores are the devil. I’m not saying I think that Amazon is the best thing that happened to literary culture. What I am saying is that this post has generated more genuine and earnest discussion about the relationship between Amazon and other booksellers than I’ve heard in a long time. (I mean that not only in terms of blog posts, but also in terms of people shouting across a room at each other. It’s been a magical few weeks.)
I’m heartened by that. It means that the lines are not as clear as we might think they are. If we all loved bookstores hands down, there would be no controversy. It would be another unread blog post languishing in the vastness of the Internet. Instead, people are fightin’ mad. That means they’re scared. That means that, no matter how firmly they cling to their beliefs, they know in their heart of hearts that they, too, have purchased something from Amazon. And they’re a little bit ashamed.
So is it a bad thing to purchase from Amazon? No. An Amazon purchase, in and of itself, is not evil. (Step back from the ledge! You’re still a good person!) But we have to acknowledge that every time we opt for the convenience of online retail, a little less money is being reinvested in the community. The Internet is changing business as we’ve known it—especially retail. Does that make things difficult? Yes. But does that mean we should boycott dot-coms, shop exclusively at local stores, and live in yurts? No. (Definitely not the yurts.) For a while now we’ve been living under the illusion that life as we know it can continue undisturbed. But, as Manjoo’s article so clearly illustrates, it’s time to take a look at how our shopping habits are affecting the financial ecosystem that brings us Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, and the Brookline Booksmith. It’s time to reevaluate where they fit in a Web-linked world.
As a side note, and a nod to the torch I bear for small businesses, my favorite parts of the Manjoo discussion are the debates on sales tax and on the feasibility of small businesses in the Internet age—conversations you can follow through the comments on Manjoo’s original article. I also want to give a nod to Manjoo’s follow-up, which talks about some of the ways he thinks brick-and-mortar bookstores could use Amazon and online shopping to their advantage.