Richard Russo, the well-known author (Empire Falls), has a really good article on the OpEd page of the NY Times today (link here) about Amazon’s new pitch, encouraging customers to go into brick-and-mortar bookstores this Saturday and use Amazon’s price app (which shows the customer, of course, how much better of a ‘deal’ they get at Amazon) to earn a 5% credit on Amazon purchases (further fine print applies, naturally and can be found elsewhere).
Reading the article inevitably led to some further thoughts of my own.
I like almost everything about being an independent author. When I publish a story, it reads the way I think it should – no arguments with editors trying to make movie and theme-park ride deals (not that I’m averse to those, by the way, just in case you’re a movie mogul reading this over lunch at Mozza) or the VP of Marketing (Which genre do we shelve it with? There’s no shelf for that!). I decide to publish when the thing’s ready and, within days, it’s up, a year or more faster than a publisher. The books stay in print as long as the Internet stays up. I’m responsible for covers, typography and marketing strategy – if I fail outright, I have only my own stupidity to blame. In a commercial marketplace as frustrating and wrongheaded as today’s, that’s no small comfort.
The one thing I miss in all this is the bookstore. I’d give up a lot to have an army of really smart, caring people across the country who’ve read my book, think it’s a good read and can recommend it to their customers – whose taste they know and whose trust they’ve earned over the course of years. That’s what you get in a good local bookstore. Sometimes, you even get it in Barnes & Noble, if you look in there frequently enough.
I think one of the biggest mistakes we’ve made in our society is to hitch ourselves to the lowest price. Most of the time, it’s no bargain.
What the lowest price does is make everything a commodity. The message we send to manufacturers is that we don’t care about quality, service (both at time of purchase and thereafter) or where and how the product is made.
Inevitably, we end up with shoddy garbage with a thousand features that falls apart in half the time it should and doesn’t work all that well in the meantime, that’s made by child labor in Guatemala or China while poisoning the land and water at the same time. And when we call customer service – and wait two hours to get through to that nice young man from Mumbai – we get an indifferent laundry list of irrelevant questions and imbecilic non-solutions that only makes clear the company stopped caring the instant they had our money and we’d left the store.
And why would we expect any better? We’ve told them we don’t care – all we wanted was the lowest price.
By way of contrast: Apple. Bose. Tempur-Pedic. When you hear these names, they have a different ring to them. They aren’t necessarily the most expensive products in their category – but they don’t compete for the bottom rung either. They’re not universally loved by the people who buy or review them. But there is an assumption of quality, a sense that, even if you don’t think they’re the best, the product wasn’t shoddy or conceived simply to maximize profit. You could almost convince yourself that these companies actually consider their customers something more than a profit-making convenience.
That’s the bookstore thing, too. A good bookstore has a personality, a personality that grows from its owners, workers and customers – and their relationship.
So, with the holidays upon us, I urge you to your local bookstore. Buy a book or game or DVD or any of those other things they now sell in bookstores. Then go home, go on Amazon, Smashwords or BN.com and add one of my books. Or get a Createspace paperback and I buy you a beer (You can’t get more human than beer!).
That’s to make it a happy holiday for me.