Today’s Guardian reports that Amazon Marketplace is hiking its fees up for third-party traders. In a piece published in the same paper this time last year, Tim Waterstone vented some serious spleen, charging Amazon with ‘build[ing their] brand on a reputation for absolutely rock-bottom pricing’ and that customers ‘Go and browse through all the books there, in Waterstones […] then put them back on the tables (fingered and soiled) and order those [they] want from [Amazon]. Why pay more? Why worry about the consequences?’
What about the incomparable experience of buying from an actual bookshop? Hell, my two-year old loves our local branch of Waterstones so much that we’ve had a couple of the staff over for tea. Looking for some crime fiction for your mum when you never touch the stuff yourself? Why not try asking a human being? In a bookshop. Then there’s the serious stuff. I’ll never forget ordering a copy of Ezra Pound’s Guide to Kulchur from Blackwell’s in Oxford and watching, slack-jawed as the sales assistant typed K-U-L-C-H-U-R unprompted into his database. Now, my teenage self had regarded this as a pretty exotic request and I left the bookshop humbled and impressed. These staff aren’t just retail sales assistants, they’re booksellers. There’s a difference. I still shop at the Oxford branch of Blackwell’s and their poetry section is like no other. Pamphlets by the likes of Nine Arches Press rub shoulders with Carcanet and Faber. If you’re seeking some inspiration, a new direction, then this is a one stop shop.
Then there’s the online experience. Publishers like HappenStance, Penned in the Margins and Salt would rather sell directly. If you take them up on their offer, you’ll find your books at your doorstep just as quickly as Amazon would have managed to deliver them (if not more so). Besides this, you’ll rest easy in the knowledge that your sale has actually helped to sustain a publishing industry that you value.
These publishers, and the many like them, represent the new face of publishing. They write blogs and seek to engage with their readers through the social media. This is tremendously important, as a community of readers isn’t necessarily found on Goodreads. The kind words and encouragement from indie publishers has been important to me when writing this blog.
A high street without the likes of Waterstones would be the poorer for it. I know a two-year old who regards the bookshop as the highlight of a trip into town, and I hope that bookshops last long enough for her to be able to remember them.