December 14th, 2011 / 4:17 pm
Snippets

Richard Russo offered an opinion  on Amazon’s ill-advised price comparison promotion.  Farhard Manjoo thinks bookstores are difficult to use (?) and just hates having to get book recommendations from a human being instead of an algorithm. He simply cannot understand why everything is so much cheaper at Amazon. I am not anti-Amazon but this guy is being willfully ignorant. Amazon is pretty open about their willingness to operate at staggering losses to undercut competitors. By Manjoo’s thinking, booksellers should probably just give books away for free to compete, to benefit the greater good of affordability and convenience.

39 Comments

  1. Maxwell McCabe-Lokos

      Ugh, I really don’t like Farhard Manjoo. I think he is a moron.

  2. Drew Lerman

      lol “the greater good of affordability and convenience”

  3. Michael Filippone

      Manjoo’s article is the most insanely idiotic current-state-of-books article I have ever read. Chad Post just posted a really good response to it at Three Percent: http://goo.gl/2X3VE

  4. Rob

      A lot of publications have a similar attitude toward their writers.

  5. alex crowley

      I’m sure other former (and current) bookstore clerks can back me up on this one, but you’d be absolutely fucking shocked at how many people have no clue what “alphabetized” means. The shelves were labeled (at least where I worked), yet I had good reason to want to put my face through plate glass at some point every day.

      Also, after reading that piece I must ask: Farhad Manjoo is functionally retarded, right?

  6. Nick Mamatas

      I was at an independent bookstore the other day and none of the hyperlinks worked. 

  7. William VanDenBerg

      When you begin a paragraph with “What rankles me,” you then sound like a bad Andy Rooney impression.  I’m sure you’re plenty rankled dude, but you’re also a dick. A rankled dick.

  8. alan

      “Amazon is pretty open about their willingness to operate at staggering losses to undercut competitors.”

      They also insist on big, exclusive discounts from publishers.

  9. Matthew Simmons

      Yup. Significant discounts. And they essentially bully publishers into giving them.

  10. barry

      i’ll never understand why so many people bitch about amazon and then continue to sell their books through amazon. if you are a writer, editor, publisher, book buyer, book seller… STOP SELLING YOUR BOOKS THROUGH AMAZON, and encourage your publishers to do so. stop submitting work to publishers and journals that sell through amazon, stop buying anything through amazon or supporting writers and publishers who do. otherwise, please everyone shut the fuck up. empty rhetoric is boring. 

  11. Roxane

      It’s not really that simple to be so idealistic, is it?

  12. barry

      it all depends how much you really believe in what you preach…

  13. Roxane

      Well, as I note, I’m not anti-Amazon so I’m actually not preaching anything other than that Manjoo’s argument is fucking ridiculous. That said, I don’t think it’s necessary to remove all your books from Amazon, etc. to find problems with how they operate. They have terrible business practices and what makes those practices particularly frustrating is that they are, essentially, the only game in town. If you don’t play ball with Amazon, at nearly every level of publishing, you don’t get to play ball which makes them a monopoly, and theoretically, that’s illegal. 

      Sure, you can make some kind of moral stand and then all you’ll be left with is that moral stand and your book, unsold, save for whatever distribution you can muster on your own. I find that it’s far more empty rhetoric to simply say, “Oh quit your bitching unless you sacrifice yourself for your beliefs.” That’s not even a little bit reasonable.

  14. ryan chang

      yes, i see. bookstores, hard to use, i mean, it took me forever to learn how to open the door.

  15. deadgod

      Patchett makes the salient practical recommendation – ‘if you like bookstores, pay them for what they do and not Amazon for what it does’.

      I think Perotta strikes the theoretical seam by putting the consumer’s dilemma in terms of short-term vs. long-term benefits:  is the place you can get books cheapest today the place you want mostly or only to get books from for a decade or five? 

      Manjoo makes the what-are-you-greedier-for? choice plain with his stupidly self-contradictory “economic efficien[cy]” distinction between “big-box electronics store[s] that hire hundreds of local residents [??]” and an expensive “brigade [?] of book-reading workers” at indie bookstores.  It’s a specific version of a general choice facing America (say) in many ways:  is accumulation-by-the-few really a generator of ‘opportunity’ and ‘prosperity’?

  16. barry

      i wasnt referring to you or this article. you were discussing a different article that i didnt even read. 

      i think i just threw up in my mouth a little reading your explanation… justifying why people dont make a stand doesnt excuse it or make it right. if you use this justification now, why not use it for everything. you are basically saying… its ok to do business with the devil and continue rewarding them for practices you despise, practices that destroy the country and local business owners and our friends and families as long as they make it easier for you or help you out more than anyone else. amazon is the only game in town because everybody keeps playing… 

      telling people to stop bitching isnt empty rhetoric, its making a request.

      i think peta members are assholes but at least you’ll never catch em eating at a kentucky fried chicken and then justifying it by saying its the only way they can get fed…

      im still in shock that i even read your response…

      p.s. amazon has only been around since 1994. omg, like how did people ever become successful writers before 1994… 

  17. Guestagain

      disappointingly one dimensional, wish I wouldn’t have read this Manjoo thingy, the situation is larger than economics, there is nowhere unique and distinct to go anymore and just meander around, doss about, hang out/loiter, pick up objects manually and turn them, watch people and chat or seriously converse verbally, everywhere is becoming a mind numbing hellhole chain, we’re losing this skill of real encounter and interest in the nuances of physical experience, people walk around dazed or frenzied like they just got out of bed in the natural world, internet shut ins, after monopolies destroy their competition, watch where prices go, in two or three generations nobody will remember the world, brains rewired to a representation of it

  18. Roxane

      Please. The publishing scene has changed drastically since 1994. People used to write books with pens, too, but most writers are pretty thrilled to enjoy the modern convenience of word processing. So sure, a successful life as a writer is possible without Amazon, but it would take a whole hell of a lot including effort from the writer (always a given anyway) and effort from readers (which seems infinitely harder to come by). Are we all wusses now? Maybe. I also don’t think not putting your books on Amazon is making a stand simply because most of the writers who would make this stand don’t sell enough books for that stand to ever be noticed. It would take someone like Stephen King saying, “I will no longer sell my books via Amazon,” for anyone to take any kind of quantifiable notice.  That doesn’t mean the small stand is irrelevant, but I think there are more effective ways to try and create change. It’s never as simple as we want it to be.

  19. William VanDenBerg

      “stop … supporting writers and publishers who do.”

      And that’s the tough one.  Yes, Amazon is anti-physical bookstore, yes they have unethical business practices.  But I like Gary Lutz and Lorrie Moore and Ben Marcus, and I’m not going to criticize them for their publisher’s practices. It’s a lonely world you’re describing.

  20. barry

      im not suggesting “making a stand” or starting a revolution, only that, if people hate something so bad and they believe that it is evil and it is destroying their country and hurting its citizens, then why continue to use the service. because it makes it easier? because nothing will change even if one person stops…

      i am 100 percent NOT comparing the severity of these two situations, ONLY your logic. it reminds me of the justification used for slavery in the south. america, for better or worse, being a nation built on capitalism, decided that the cheapest possible way to make money and make premium gains is to eliminate labor costs from the equation. free labor equals maximum profit. so by your logic, since its easier and it yielded the best possible financial result for the business man, that it is ok for people to continue doing business with slave owners because it was “the only game” going in the south at the time. who cares if it destroyed real human beings, if it made my career more successful, if it made it “easier” for the consumer because costs were lower on raw products, who is one individual to take a stand. lets all wait two hundred and fifty years for lincoln (stephen king) to do something about it. its nonsense than and its nonsense now…

      i agree with your point 100 percent. it is a small silly stand and it would take someone large, but that doesnt make it right in the meantime. i personally have no problem with amazon. i do have a problem with other businesses and you will never catch me doing business with them, career or success or profit be damned. 
      “So sure, a successful life as a writer is possible without Amazon, but it would take a whole hell of a lot including effort from the writer” hahahahaha. thats laughy.

  21. Roxane

      As I note, the effort must always be there for writers. You’re missing the point if you want to find that laughy. But Barry, slavery? Really? I’m just being realistic here. It is not reasonable to suggest that one boycott Amazon and all writers who use Amazon because that basically means, we’d have to sit around… reading nothing.

  22. barry

      hahahaha. fair nuff.

      but really, if you think people would stop reading books because they actually have to visit a real life bookstore instead of just typing a few buttons on their keyboard, i think you’ve underestimated human beings… because if its true then… then…. fuck me.

  23. Roxane

      I don’t think that, actually. I live in a town without a bookstore.

  24. barry

      i agree william, which is why i suck it up, step off my high horse, compromise my values, and go to amazon dot com… but you’ll never catch me bitching about how evil they are.

      if anyone ANYONE can tell me honestly that they do not believe in this as a human value then i will call you a fucking liar to your face… that if we look away from evil and continue to support it even though we know it is evil, then we are just as evil and guilty by default…

      is that not a core human value or am i out of my fucking mind? fuck, maybe i am…

  25. barry

      sorry, i misunderstood what you meant by this: “boycott Amazon and all writers who use Amazon because that basically means, we’d have to sit around… reading nothing.”

  26. Buy.Orange.Drink

      “(Disclosure: Slate is an Amazon affiliate; when you click on an Amazon link from Slate, the magazine gets a cut of the proceeds from whatever you buy.)”

      Farhad Manjoo = corporate shill

  27. M. Kitchell

      perhaps i’m just playing devil’s advocate, but when i lived in a town without a bookstore, there was still both a public library and a university library; seems like indicating that the only way to read a book is to buy it is… i don’t know, weird

  28. Roxane

      That’s not really what I indicated. We were talking about bookstores and bookbuying. Context.

      That said, the library here is not great. The university library is better, and of course, ILL is great. I also happen to enjoy owning books I like.

  29. dude

      What seems bad to me about Manjoo’s argument is that he’s turned one corporation’s predatory action into the victims making a defense of their position. It’s the same thing as the rape turn-around. Well, bookstores obviously deserve it because they made themselves available for this kind of assault.

  30. Michael

      I keep reading responses like this all over the Internet and they honestly baffle me because they’re not engaged with this most recent, nuanced issue. Let me say that I’ve avoided the Amazon-hate for a while and have sometimes rolled my eyes over indie bookstore sanctimony, but this latest move by Amazon is bush league because it’s unnecessary. It’s running up the score. It’s Alabama hanging 90 points on a DIII team.

      The point isn’t “Amazon vs. indie bookstores” because that battle was lost a long time ago, and it’s odd that so many Amazon apologists keep bringing it up. No indie bookstore owner thinks he or she can compete with Amazon.  So, who actually thinks this is even a fight to begin with? It’s not, which is why Amazon looks stupid blocking the shot of a two-year old kid. I don’t think anyone is interested in seeing Amazon disappear completely, and I must’ve missed the memo that all protest has be of the all-or-nothing variety. To me, your oversimplification of the matter seems like “empty rhetoric.”

  31. William Owen

      I bitch about how evil amazon is all the time, and I never shop there, but if I do buy anything from Amazon again barry, I am going to buy your soul.

  32. Bradley Sands

      I agree with “Buying books on Amazon is better for authors…and better for you.” I disagree with,  “…(is) better for the economy.” Although as far as being better for authors, it may only be better for small press authors rather than large press ones. (I didn’t bother to read the article. Only that sentence below the title of the article.)

  33. Cvan

      Maybe not functionally retarded (but maybe so), but at the very least he typifies the asshole hypercapitalism tech guy attitude that I also found so grating in Steve Jobs.

  34. Cvan

      William, if you take your iphone into your neighborhood shops, you can scan the barcodes for Barry’s soul, then report the prices to Amazon.  His soul is worth a 5% discount, is it not?

  35. Cvan

      You joke, but you don’t want to know how many people cannot (even with signage) figure out whether to push or pull.

  36. Cvan

      Kitchell, I get what you mean, but doesn’t it say something about the occupants  when a city/town doesn’t have bookstores?

  37. Cvan

      “Better” in what way?  Certainly not long term and for sustaining longevity as a writer.  Short term bucks, yes, of course.  Otherwise, it’s totally Faustian.

  38. Bradley Sands

      Better because bookstores rarely stock books published by small presses and the inventories of most independent bookstores are identical to the inventories of Barnes and Noble stores, although smaller. How is Amazon not better in the long term for small press authors if it’s the place where most of their books are sold and often the place where their books are discovered? Potential readers won’t find out about the books through browsing bookstore shelves if the books aren’t there. Instead, they often stumble across the books on Amazon. I know a lot of small press writers who write full-time, and Amazon is the company that makes that a possibility considering it’s where the vast majority of their sales come from.

      Also, Amazon is better for writers in general because they give the author/publisher a larger royalty rate per copy sold than bookstores.

      Although if an author’s books stocked in various stores as well as sold on Amazon, then it’s all for the better. I can see no reason why Amazon is a bad thing for authors in any way. It’s the best thing that has happened to the small press and the worst thing that has happened to bookstores.

  39. Mitchell S Jackson

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