by Morgan on February 25, 2012
If you didn’t see Ann Patchett on The Colbert Report this week, go watch it now. I’ve been following Patchett’s trajectory from author to author/gangster bookstore owner for a few years now, and it looks like she’s now starting to take on another role: a public voice for physical bookstores. She and her new bookstore been featured in the New York Times, etc. but being on The Colbert Report tells me that she (and her efforts) are registering on a larger, more important scale.
Colbert seems to be an Amazon supporter. He asks her why she would open a bookstore to begin with, and she tells him that both of the bookstores in Nashville (one indie and one chain) closed down, and suddenly she found herself living in a town with no bookstores.
Colbert: “Why open a bookstore then when the market had spoken? There was no market in your town for a bookstore. You can go to Amazon. You can go to Amazon, you can get whatever you want.”
Patchett: “No, there was. Both of those stores were profitable every month they were open. They closed at corporate levels, so they had larger issues, but Nashvillians, we’re a good, book-buying, smart town.”
She goes on to explain the cycle that happened in bookselling over the past 30 years (something that Andrew Laties describes in detail in Rebel Bookseller): a local bookstore opens, they do well, they get bigger, they get shut down or taken over by the big corporate chains (BN and Borders) who rip off their ideas and offer discounts, then those chains in turn get crushed by Amazon, and suddenly, Patchett: “people are waking up and going ‘but, I want to have some place to take my kids for story hour on Saturday, I want to have some place to go to book club, and see an author read,’ so the bookstore is gone but they miss it. This is a tale of redemption.”
Colbert is still pretty unconvinced. He asks: “What are the things that I can get from a local bookstore that I’m not getting by shopping online?”
Patchett: “Smart people.”
Colbert: “But you understand, I have a couple books coming out this year, and I can’t agree with you…”
A minute later, he tries to prove his point (that Jeff Bezos is the be all and end all of bookselling) by “bumping” Patchett’s novel. He holds up a copy of State of Wonder, and says, “Here is it. I want this to register on Amazon tomorrow.”
Patchett: “No. No. I want it to register…”
Colbert: “No. I just won.”
Patchett: “No. I want it to register at parnassusbooks.net, where if you buy State of Wonder, you can get it signed.”
Now, here’s the throwdown, and the piece that I’ve been neglecting to consider in this whole debate: bookstores are better for authors, not just readers. Here’s where Ann Patchett becomes my hero.
Patchett: “Yes. Now listen, this is what I want from you. Your book comes out, I want you to come to Nashville. You can see your friends – Jack White, Al Gore – we’ll have a party for you, we’ll have a signing, we’ll have Edgar Myer, we’ll get the Goat Rodeo guys to come over and play at the store as your warm-up, you’ll sign, you’ll have such a great time. Then the next week, you’ll take your Sharpie, you’ll go to the warehouse at Amazon, they’ll cut the boxes open for you, you can sign all day. You see which one you like better.”
Colbert: “Thank you for coming.”
I’m happy to report that Patchett and Parnassus Books have indeed been feeling the Colbert bump . Look at this! Look at these people, gathered in a bookstore, watching their local bookseller shut down Stephen Colbert on late-night television, talking to each other, discussing the issue, supporting their community. GAH. It almost makes me cry (I cried a little when I saw this).
I wrote an article for Book Riot a few weeks ago, about my desire and plan to open a bookstore. In it, I talked about how I wanted to be an alternative to Amazon, not anti-Amazon. I still feel like it’s important to be “for” something, rather than against something else, but the more research I do on Amazon’s business practices, the queasier I feel about that stance. And now that Amazon is branching out into publishing, and by that I mean trying to take over publishing and consolidate the entire publishing industry into their business model, not to mention opening physical stores to, “determine if a physical retail presence can accelerate sales of Kindle devices and follow-on consumption of digital content at an attractive return on invested capital,”…shit. Ima have to get political.
Here’s what I propose:
I think that Patchett’s challenge to Colbert – to compare his experience at her store to his experience with Amazon – is one that indie bookstores should start issuing to all authors with new books coming out. I think that they should do it vocally, and that authors should respond publicly. I’m starting to think (right this very second) about how I can help initiate this.
In the meantime, I will continue to do my research. I will attempt to stay open and fair-minded, with an understanding that things are changing, and that digital culture is ubiquitous and valuable, online shopping a convenience, etc. etc. But as it stands, until something changes, I’m officially coming out as anti-Amazon.
Damn it feels good to be out.
Addendum: a third of the way through writing this post, I had my laptop stolen. Like, I got jumped, and the guy ran off with my laptop. I mention this only because I want you, my dearest, cherished readers, to know that when I came back inside, distraught, computerless, the first thing I thought was, “Oh no. I hope my blog draft saved!”