Barnstorming Bookstores

July 21, 2014

In my last post, I talked about the frustration that comes with virtual monopoly retailers like Amazon, and how, despite the convenience factor, there are inherent dangers to allowing any organization blanket control over an industry, especially one like Amazon which has a history of using that reach to undermine its partners – to paraphrase an NPR Marketplace business analyst, Amazon likes to maintain control. Now I don’t expect anyone to give Amazon up. Like Facebook, its probably not really practical to do so. But, you do have some choices and would be wiser to spread your money around so far as you find it feasible. In fact, in honor of this, I will start, wherever possible to make sales links on my site go directly to the authors’ pages rather than defaulting to Amazon.

Now Amazon does a lot of stuff. Alternative shopping points for electronics are pretty common, as is the availability of whatever other miscellaneous stuff that Amazon likes to push. The only thing you really lose by moving off of Amazon for books is an advisory engine that likes to recommend refrigerators in addition to another copy of Subterranean or whatever. Besides that, I’m in the books business, so I’ll leave that other stuff to people who know better than I.

So let’s talk about books. There actually are quite a few alternatives out there. Barnes and Noble still runs an impressively comprehensive bookstore online. Alibris offers an interface that feels familiar to Amazon’s, as well as a highly functional website. They aren’t as big as Amazon, but they focus on books and have a very impressive selection. In the same vein, you could also check out Books-A-Million (BAM!). They struck me as the most Amazon-like of all these companies, as their website offers a good number of other products for sale. There is also Powell’s Books, which has an impressive online service despite being a brick-and-mortar store first. And, after some poking around and test searches, I can also say that your local bookstore probably has some good options as well (A shout-out to The Tattered Cover is required; their website is pretty good too!). In most cases, local places allow you to pick up in-store, which is always a good way to wind up with a few extra titles that you might not have noticed were missing from your shelf.

The other company to watch these days is Zola Books. Zola is focusing on the eBook market, but with a twist. Zola enters into partnerships with local and independent bookstores, and treats them like showrooms. In other words, browse your favorite bookstore, order the electronic version through Zola, and the bookstore gets a cut of the sale. It’s probably about as close to possessing and ingesting cake as your likely to get in the current environment, assuming you care about supporting your local retailers.

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