Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Writer demands to be unlisted from Amazon

I'm a little late commenting on this piece of news from The Guardian:

A children's author has drawn attention to the plight of independent bookshops by demanding that his book be removed from sale on Amazon's UK website.

George Walker, author of Tales from an Airfield, was horrified to find that his new title was featured on the site without his permission, following good sales in bookshops. "What they are actually doing is getting the independents to do their market research," said Mr Walker, a passionate advocate of independents. "When a book gets a certain amount of attention, they will attempt to stock it and cut the independents out. Not with my book!"

Full story.

I wouldn't be so quick to say that Amazon is always the Big Bad. and its various international mirror sites do make competition harder for the independents -- but Amazon is a competitive alternative to local bookstores. In certain countries where censorship is oppressive, and books are banned from local bookstores under threats of persecution, Amazon offers a means of subverting these unfair laws.

Mr Walker may also have neglected the fact that having his books available on Amazon allows his books to be made available to a wider readership. Local and international. If I am interested in Mr Walker's books, and they are only available in UK independent bookstores - it actually penalises me, the potential reader, for not living in the UK. Amazon has allowed me access to a lot of foreign materials that local bookstores do not carry.

Then there is the fact that some readers use Amazon as a research base, and go out to the brick-and-mortar bookstores for the books they find interested. For customers like these, the bookstores can benefit from the Amazon listing.

From the writer's perspective I agree he has a right to do what he did. And it's great that he's trying to support the independent booksellers that supported his books. It takes conviction, for Mr Walker to demand to be unlisted. And this deserves some applause.


Carl V. Anderson said...

There is definitely some good and bad to what he is doing. While possibly making some small statement for independent bookstores he is shooting himself in the foot...potentially. If he has a message to get out, limiting the places where that message can be picked up kind of defeats the purpose. As you mentioned, I frequently use Amazon as a research base to then go and make purchases at local bookstores. I also use them when the sale price is just too good to pass up. I don't see a day when the average independent store will be able to compete with chain stores. It is said and yet I do believe a certain amount of their troubles can be overcome with creatively looking at ways to get people into their stores.

Anonymous said...

Like you, Carl, I do a lot of research on Amazon (what's in print, what different editions there are etc) -- but I still do most of my buying from bookstores.

The author don't seem to see the larger picture here. Still, it's his book.

Imani said...

Yes, for me as well Amazon is a prime source for research on books even if I never purchase any for myself from it. I certainly do for friends who are often scattered across the globe.

From an international standpoint he has totally shot himself in the foot. I remember when I was in Jamaica and only able to get Tolkien books like Unfinished Tales or The Silmarillion from Amazon before the Peter Jackson films. If I were still there I would be facing similar issues with lots of other books because the stores back home cater primarily to students with class assigned texts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Imani, I understand what you say about bookstores in Jamaica. I live in Southeast Asia and I remember a time when I can't find the books I want from local bookstores.

Thankfully the local book scene have grown a little more cosmopolitan over the years, but we still have people from neighbouring countries who would take the trouble to fly in just to buy books. They usually come into the bookstores with Amazon print-outs for the titles they want.

There's something irreplaceable about a brick-and-mortar bookstore.