So, corporate giant Amazon has opened a bookshop. A real, live bookshop. You know, a physical place that you can actually visit, and where it will probably be frowned upon to fill a basket with many wonderful things and leave it sitting there for weeks on end until you finally pluck up the courage to admit to yourslf that actually, you can’t afford all those things and eventually empty your basket, only to repeat the process again a few days later. I’m not the only one who does that, right? Well anyway, I’m guessing I wouldn’t get away with it in this brand spanking new store, which opened on the second of November in Seattle. Seattle, America, all the way across a massive ocean, so yep – a bit far for me to go, just to buy some books (‘just’? ‘just’? ‘Just’ is blasphemy!) but hey, at least I now know a grand total of two things about Seattle (the other being Frasier).
The store is aptly named ‘Amazon Books’ (imaginative, that one), and sells, well, books of course, with a small section for book-related technology such as Amazon’s Kindle range, along with the ability to pick-up online orders in person and even select and buy an ebook for your Kindle. To be fair to Amazon, it looks pretty amazing. They select the books they stock based on their popularity, customer feedback, and sales. What’s even cooler is that they merchandise their stock facing outwards, so that intrepid browsers can see the book’s cover rather than the spine, and beneath each book is a genuine review lifted from the Amazon website, along with the book’s overall rating. You can test-drive the Kindles too, and even add products to your online ‘wishlist’. And whilst it’s only one shop for the moment, if it is successful, they will no doubt roll out the scheme throughout the country – or more likely, the world.
Awesome, right? Or is it?
Amazon has spent the last twenty years crushing and crumpling the book market under its big, ugly, online boots. Founded in July 1994, the online bookstore has long been in the firing line for killing bricks-and-mortar bookshops and now it seems that since they’ve murdered the competition, they can step up and be the real-life store they always wanted to be; standing tall and proud amongst the scattered remains of their predecessors. Like a rave in a cemetery. Or a madman laughing amidst a bloodbath, rubbing his hands together with delight as he peers at the surrounding corpses.
Do we really want our streets lined with faceless corporate giants? Do you want to visit another city only to find the same string of shops, laid out in the same way, offering the same products? Do you want these corporations picking and choosing how we shop, what we buy, where we go? Or would you rather go back to the days of the independent shops? The quaint little village shops with people you can grow to know and love? I know what I’d pick.
But still, this new shop of Amazon’s is a bookshop – a real, physical shop with real, physical books and that will always give my heart a little jolt of joy – and therein lies my confliction. I mean, bookshops are always worthy of a bit of excitement and this one, with all its features and its sleek, modern, aesthetically pleasing design (oh, and all those books), is no exception. I mean – bookshop: eek! (Or ‘squee’, as I’m told is the new word of excitement…hmmm…) What’s true too is that Amazon did not rise from nothing but instead, its success comes from the millions and millions of people who shop there every single day – customers have made Amazon what it is in the same way that customers decide on the success and failure of all capitalist ventures. So if people really didn’t want Amazon to exist, they would never have given them their custom. It may not be the ideal world but that’s how capitalism works.
Amazon as a whole company, too, have been a main player in helping to build a viable indie author community, allowing writers to publish and promote their work (their lives) in a way that perhaps they wouldn’t have been able to before (unless they were lucky enough to get a publishing contract or rich enough to go down the old-school self-publishing route). Whilst most would agree that the system is far from perfect and is often unfair, I for one know that my manuscript would be languishing in the back of a dusty old cupboard right now if it weren’t for Amazon (instead, it’s rather languishing in a dusty old corner of Amazon but that in part is due to my own lack of marketing knowledge and energy, and hey, at least it’s out there).
So as much as people like to moan about Amazon (myself included), they aren’t all bad. Yes, they are a corporate giant that sucks the life out of the little people. Yes, I have absolutely no doubt that there are some pretty creepy skeletons in their closet, but do you know what? They aren’t going away any time soon and let’s be honest here, they know how to get bookshops right! Amazon Books, with its unimaginative but ‘does-what-it-says-on-the-tin’ name, is pretty awesome and there is absolutely no denying that.