Cheap books are great, but someone has to pay for the difference. Manjoo’s taking the side of the robots on this one: sure, you could pay a couple extra bucks so a bookstore clerk with interesting suggestions for your next purchase can feed her family, or you could let an algorithm find you more like what you’ve already read, and let that clerk break her back in a warehouse for a barely-living wage.
Pace Manjoo, Amazon has probably done more than any other company (with the exception of maybe Wal-Mart) to instill this passion for cheapness into the American public. And well, that’s really, really bad. Because if you want nice things, you have to pay for them. This is a truism in all sorts of things, books included. You can’t just cut costs and sell 12 books for the price of 1, dictate incredibly harsh discount schedules to publishers, and expect the book industry to absorb the losses and continue to be able to support authors that barely break even, if that.
“Mr. Manjoo admits that he’s a fan of both Amazon and comparison shopping because, he says, he hates “paying more than he should.” That’s an interesting choice of words. Does he mean, for instance, that he hates paying more than he “has to”? This is the crux of the matter. What should we pay?…The Steve Jobs biography is the same book wherever we buy it. It’s the effect of buying it locally that differs. If you buy the book locally, the sales tax you pay will fund local schools and fill local potholes. You aren’t paying more than you should. You’re just paying, up front, what it’s going to cost in the end, after your taxes go up. If you imagine that potholes get filled for free or that they’re paid for by somebody else, you’re deluding yourself. Or, suppose your taxes don’t go up and the pothole doesn’t get repaired. You drive over it and damage the bottom of your car. Won’t the cost of repair eat into your Amazon savings? And if you think local schools shouldn’t be funded adequately, then shame on you.”
“Not only do we believe in contributing to our local economies (Manjoo makes a bizarre aside about using the money we save on Amazon to go to museums and concerts, as though we don’t already do that), but we would also prefer to see our cash go to small business owners (and their employees) whose values are more in line with our own. We realize that big corporations are hurting America. We don’t like that Amazon censored gay books and donates to conservative causes. We don’t like that their low-overhead business model cuts into the book-sector job market. And we don’t like giving our money to a company that thinks incentivizing the demise of independent bookstores is good business.”
“Manjoo, in a myopic fashion that is stunningly boneheaded, equates the “buy local” movement with bookstores supporting local authors. That is foolish and beside the point. One of the primary purposes of bookstores is building a literary community. Sure, you can point to readings (which, unless it’s Richard Russo are generally attended by 10 readers and a few homeless) as a physical representation of this, but it’s actually something much larger. A good independent bookstores is a place where you know you can interact with people who read as much as you do. It’s a safe haven for the literati in a world that’s increasingly rationalized and scary. It’s one of the few physical spaces where you can talk about literature and art after college”