I used to be passionate about books. If they were edible, I would have used them as a substitute for food. If they could be sown together, I would have worn them. But then, something happened. The way books are marketed has changed drastically, and it may not be for the best.
Earlier this year, I visited a famous bookstore in Paris called Shakespeare and Co, and I could have lived there (actually, you can.) They had an awesome selection of books, the best I had ever seen. I would have spent my life savings on them, however, I wouldn’t have had any money left over for escargot. I came home with seven books jammed into my suitcase, and I have started reading all of them and haven’t finished any of them (yet). I don’t know why the best English bookstore in the world is in France. Go figure.
Then, I come back home. I go to a Books-a-Million. There is a YA (young adult fiction) section that takes up half the store, a graphic novel section larger than that in most comic books stores, and there is a section called “Classic Literature” which consists of half a shelf that is made up of three copies of Moby Dick. I go to Barnes and Noble (whatever store is left). I buy a book of crossword puzzles and a board game. Finally, I go to my favorite bookstore in Royal Oak- which only sells used books- which is the only place that I shop for books, because it is the only store that has anything I want. Bookstores in America are determined to sell anything but books, unless they are YA. Barnes and Noble’s new CEO went on record saying that he wanted to focus on selling games and other miscellaneous merchandise. No one wants to go near real literature. Obviously it doesn’t sell.
I used to order books from Amazon, however, Amazon primarily markets eBooks now. I hate eBooks. My device bothers my eyes when I read for long periods of time, and it would probably make me go blind if I developed a habit. I don’t like having to charge a book, or worry about my book running out of batteries. I like to be able to take a book to the beach without worrying about breaking it. Of course, you can’t even take an eBook to the beach because the glare is impossible, and who ever heard of not being able to read at the beach? I even have problems reading underneath lamps. Then there are proprietary issues I won’t even go into here, like do you actually own any of your eBooks, or can you share an eBook or load it onto a different device. Let’s face it. eBooks suck.
Worse than the technology is how they are marketed. When I used to go to Borders, I didn’t always know exactly what I wanted, or what my search terms were. I liked to look around, browse the horror section, perhaps pick up an author I never heard of before and take a chance, not knowing that the powers that be were guiding me to make a certain purchasing decision. That’s what was fun about going to a bookstore. It felt like I was in control, but really, some merchandiser with a plan-o-gram generated from company headquarters was helping me all along, making my decision easy. Nothing is more anxiety-provoking than having to make a choice.
Then, you go on Amazon, and no one is helping you. You have to read reviews, written mostly by narcissistic morons, and that only makes you more anxious about your decisions. You can go by ratings, although the titles are rated by the same idiots who write the reviews. And of course, you have to plug in a search term, even if you’re not sure what you are looking for, and you can’t just type in “horror,” because that will generate a list of irrelevant titles. Browsing by genre on Amazon is absolutely appalling, if not impossible. Unless I know exactly what book I’m looking for, or a specific author, the site is useless, browsing is annoying and frustrating, and I’d rather not do it.
Another problem is Amazon’s credibility. I know Amazon makes suggestions based on their predictive algorithms, but can I trust them? When I went to Borders, I had instant trust in the books I was selecting. I knew that they had lived up to a certain standard, or Borders wouldn’t risk selling them; shelf space was too valuable there. Borders and other bookstores may have peddled crap like Dean Koontz and Stephen King, but even authors like those still met publishing standards, even if they were very low. Amazon however, has no regard for “shelf space.” Shelf space is utterly meaningless. They can sell as many bad books as they want. And they do; they have no standards. This is different when it comes to the other products Amazon sells, like iPhone cases for example, because those are self-explanatory. But when it comes to books, I can’t trust the recommendations Amazon makes. I spent sixty dollars on a book about the life of Epicurus that I ordered from Amazon. Turns out, the whole book was about Jesus. A book like that, for that price, would have never made it to the shelf at a Borders. This is why I stopped buying books.
I’m a lazy consumer and I like to be told what to do, and right now, no one is telling me to buy books. I’m actually getting the opposite message. Stay away from books. They are obsolete. They’re weird. The novel is dead. Harry Potter and the Wizard’s Testicle is the greatest book ever written. This YA bubble is going to burst eventually, and that will probably be the end of it. Whether the eBook market could survive without publishing is doubtful, because like I have demonstrated, online sellers like Amazon do a poor job of marketing books. It’s publishing houses that actually do the marketing and make the public enthusiastic about buying books from Amazon; Amazon couldn’t market books on its own, even if they are eBooks. The end of publishing could very well be the end of literature, but we still have some time. Flash fiction might become a thing. If we could reduce literature to 1,000 words or less that would solve everyone’s problems…