Tuesday, October 14

Happy Birthday Amazon

Amazon is 10 years old - but is anyone celebrating?
Publishers are feeding the gifting market as never before – apparently 800 titles were launched last week alone – and this cannot be good for readers or for writers. The pressure on editors and sales people to publish books that will crack into Amazon's top 10 is unbearable, which means that we'll be served up the same, predictable fare until we stop buying the stuff in protest. Our apparent love of the mundane, however, suggests that this isn't going to happen any time soon.
I will not stand for this elitism! No, I'm not joking. The notion that Amazon is somehow at fault for folks in the UK and America having less-than-adventurous literary tastes is preposterous. Are we to believe that before the advent of the Internet folks were lining up at the mom and pop bookstores across England to buy the latest from Zadie Smith and Ian McEwan and now they're all buying television celebrity cookbooks? Because that's what this would seem to imply:
Comparing the list from 1998 with any of those from the 2000s makes for sober reading. Ian McEwan and Tom Wolfe had the bestselling books that freshman year, alongside staples such as Delia Smith and Terry Pratchett. It seems a good-ish list, a varied bunch of titles that seem to aspire to be the best of their particular genre. As such it is an anomaly - almost every other year is a depressing mixture of cookbooks, humour titles and celebrity cash ins; titles that seem, at least to me, that they would much prefer to be DVDs.
I'd argue that we're not seeing changing tastes but rather a larger, more varied user base. Amazon hasn't changed us, we've changed Amazon. The Internet has exploded since 1998. Far more people have access and are making far more of their purchases online. Naturally this leads to more buying of the "depressing mixture" on Amazon, books that appeal to the lowest common denominator. Seems pretty basic to me. Blaming Amazon for that is foolish.

And anyone who is going to buy a book solely because it happens to be on some Amazon Top 10 list is a boob anyway and isn't likely to buy the kind of serious novels this Evers chap approves of. There are certainly good reasons to be critical of Amazon, but this is not one of them.

1 comment:

MJA said...

You have the essence of it. It makes little to no sense lamenting that Amazon's top-sellers are rubbish. The trouble is in the premise of treating Amazon like a bookstore in the first place. Sure, it's a bookstore, and it once was solely that. But you know what else you can buy there? Barbecue sauce. And sweat socks. Amazon has become Wal-Mart 2.0, and the crowd that goes along with that will surely taint the site zeitgeist. I buy books on Amazon sometimes, but they are mostly impulse purchases or best-seller list fare. For actual books, excuse me please, I would prefer the stumble-upon, the mysterious coincidence that puts you in front of just the right spine in a second-hand shop. Or for new works, the local bookseller, when one can be found.