Novelist Richard Russo is not an Amazon fan, as he exhaustively laid out this week in a NYT oped. But Farhad Manjoo nicely refutes Russo's pomposity, pointing out the sad but obvious truth: Neighborhood bookstores are inefficient, overpriced relics of a non-digital era. Indies tend to be the worst - owned and operated by literary snobs who disregard most anything that has mass appeal. No wonder so many are out of business. I suppose there is still a place for them, if you enjoy hearing some self-centered author drone on about creative ids and such. But it's not exactly the best way of finding and purchasing a book. From Manjoo's piece in Slate:
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? In the past, bookstores did have one clear advantage over online retailers--you could read any book before you purchased it. But in the e-book age that advantage has slipped away. Amazon and Barnes & Noble let you sample the first chapter of every digital title they carry, and you can do so without leaving your couch.
It's not just that bookstores are difficult to use. They're economically inefficient, too. Rent, utilities, and a brigade of book-reading workers aren't cheap, so the only way for bookstores to stay afloat is to sell items at a huge markup. A few times a year, my wife--an unreformed local-bookstore cultist--drags me into one of our supposedly sacrosanct neighborhood booksellers, and I'm always astonished by how much they want me to pay for books. At many local stores, most titles--even new releases--usually go for list price, which means $35 for hardcovers and $9 to $15 for paperbacks. That's not slightly more than Amazon charges--at Amazon, you can usually save a staggering 30 to 50 percent. In other words, for the price you'd pay for one book at your indie, you could buy two.