I found this article from yesterday’s New York Times regarding the prominence of Seattle in shaping what the country reads. The premise of the article is that there are three major players in the book selling world that are all Seattle-based – Amazon.com, Costco, and Starbucks – and they are seriously effecting what books America buys. The article states that sales by non-traditional book-sellers such as these are up $260 million in the last two years and that most Starbucks selections make it into the top 1% of all books sold that year counting ONLY the purchases made at Starbucks.
I have personally purchased books at all of these locations, excluding Starbucks (although I nearly purchased “Listening is an Act of Love” because of my love for NPR and their Story Corps). I used to purchase a large percentage of my books on Amazon, and usually on those rare times I am at Costco I will at least peruse the book section. However, I have somewhat moved away from these venues for book purchasing. Amazon is still fantastic for gifts, I will often find a book at a brick and mortar store and purchase it through Amazon, but that is primarily so I don’t have to pay for shipping. Also if there is a book I really, really want/need that isn’t at my local bookstores, I will occasionally order it – although then I have to add enough additional books that I get free shipping.
I greatly prefer to actually be able to flip through the books and feel them in my hand before purchasing. Yes, Amazon lets you “search inside,” but that isn’t always enough information to inform a purchase. Costco allows you to physically pick up the books, but the warehouse feel isn’t the coziest for reading, even though it lends itself to great prices. Starbucks most closely mimics the feel of a book store, but they only carry a single selection at a time.
I cannot decry the demise of the small, independent bookstore the way many do because I have never been lucky enough to live in a place where many existed: first southern California, now the Chicago suburbs. The closest I can come is Half Price Books which at least encourages ‘green’ behavior and is essentially a book recycler where I can get more books for my money. Even so, I worry a bit about a reading culture where books are just grabbed with your coffee, chosen out of only 250 titles while you’re already picking up groceries, or clicked at random from a list of recommendations based on previous purchases. This does not allow much room for people discovering a variety of authors, genres, and topics, or a grassroots, personal recommendation of “I loved this and so will you.” These non-traditional book-sellers show that reading is not going to disappear any time soon, but they somehow seem to lessen the experience.