I still remember when I first heard of Amazon. It was getting on in my years at Nashotah House and one of my students, a former university faculty member that I’d know prior to his decision to attend seminary, mentioned that’s where he ordered books. I used the internet with caution in those days and I still ordered books by mail directly from publishers. My library grew slowly back then, in part because faculty pay wasn’t exactly competitive. Amazon quickly grew to the point that it became a household word, and, like Google, became an internet giant. Publishers have felt the pressure from Amazon’s bargaining power and, arguably, its market dominance led to the downfall of Borders. Despite my love of independent bookshops, I do miss Borders still.
I don’t have a similar, singular memory about Bookshop.org. It may very well be because I found out about it online and studies have shown that online learning is less effective than the old fashioned way. We put up with it because it’s convenient and we can cram more stuff in that way. It’s all about getting more. In any case, I do recall that I was impressed with what Bookshop was doing. At a recent seminar I learned it was even better than I’d previously heard. The organization supports independent bookstores so that when things become more normal again they’ll still be there. The book industry is a rather strange one, and it operates a little differently than many others. Places like Bookshop really do help when one vendor becomes too dominant.
Reading widely is a form of education, and the key, it seems to me, is to get books people find interesting to them. I stopped by a local independent on a recent Saturday to find it quite full. The weather was good, of course, and lots of people were out and about. Still, nothing is quite as encouraging as finding a bookstore doing good business. When that happens it’s clear society is improving itself. I’m trying to make a habit of stopping by Bookshop before the default of ordering on Amazon. Amazon clearly has the logistics of delivery down to a science, but the world is a less rich place for not having physical bookstores in it. Making one’s name synonymous with the product on offer is a sign of success, at least on the business side. Balance, however, is important too. And that’s where the Bookshop story has to fit.