Last night, I learned that Amazon has a particularly underhanded sales drive at the moment from Michael Marshall / (Smith)’s blog. This morning, I read an interesting article on the New York Times by Richard Russo that went into more detail.
I would heartily recommend that you read each piece, but the bottom line is that Amazon is offering its customers a discount on its (non-book) products if they scan the barcode in a bricks-and-mortar shop and compare the price. I must stress that this is not the case with books (at the moment), but nonetheless it does shepherd a bad day for meatspace* shops. By driving people to see the prices in shops and then compare them with online retailers**, and then giving them a further discount on the already lower price, people will stop shopping in these stores. The process reinforces that the most important difference between items is their final price. As quoted in Russo’ article, Ann Patchett states “I do think it’s worthwhile explaining to customers that the lowest price point does not always represent the best deal. If you like going to a bookstore then it’s up to you to support it.”
I agree with her.
Whilst I’ve generally been a fan of Amazon, I have never been a major user. Mostly because it breaks Rule One of my budgeting system, but mostly because I don’t often browse it. I have used it to much success in the past in tracking down a fantastic film called Was Geschach Mit Harold Smith (at least, the German copy I was able to find through its affiliate sales) for milady.
I much prefer book shops, and always have done. I have always been a fan of browsing book shops, from the larger chains to the smaller independents. Each has their benefits, but both attract a certain calibre of staff that can recommend books to their customers – not because they think that it might be like a certain book that they’re currently looking at, but because they are readers. I would much rather a personal recommendation that brings me out of my normal thoughts than a recommended add-on based on statistics and analytics.
I worry that if Amazon continues to steamroll sales, a generation of readers will not know how a book shop smells.
* Yes, I slipped in some cyberpunk jargon. Note, this does not mean meat shops.
** Who do not have to pay for shop-front space, heating, public liability insurance, et cetera.