Saturday, March 10, 2007

Amazon Links: The Devil's Handiwork or A Boon to Readers? Discuss.

Once again a post at Fuse #8 has springboarded me to a post of my own. Actually it's the comments that have me in a tizzy.

As a lone librarian at an independent school, in charge of 12+ classes a week, reference, school-wide events, collection development, the works, I frankly rely on Amazon.com for quick reviews. Gone are the days of paging leisurely through SLJ: if I hear about a book, I look it up on Amazon and see what the consensus is. Some years ago I bit the bullet and started an Amazon Wish List for the school library, so parents can donate books in honor of kids' birthdays and the like.

But when I order a book for myself or for a gift, I go independent. I've worked at two different independent bookstores (one sadly defunct, one still cheerfully hand-selling away right in my neighborhood) and can't stomach handing my own money over to the behemoth that helped kill the Red and Black Books Collective. I've occasionally stepped into a Bunns & Noodle to spend a gift certificate (all hail Alison Bechdel for inventing that nickname) but always feel guilty and furtive when I do.

A couple months ago, Jody at Raising Weg wrote a cogent, convincing post about the value of the big chains, especially in areas that hadn't had any bookstores before. It almost convinced me that objection to chains was an elitist stance. Then I read posts like this, and I rebel: no one person should have that much power over what gets published (Clamouring Hour, anyone?*). I realize that brick-and-mortar chains and Amazon aren't really the same thing, but from my independent-bookstore-loyalist perspective they're two of a kind.

As this is a book blog, I expect to be discussing many (wait for it) books. And I expect that the odd reader or two might want to buy a title they see here. A link to Amazon will hook up those readers with a passel of editorial and reader reviews, plus referrals to other similar titles. If I link to Powell's, they get none of that, but they might buy from an independent. Lots of people I admire in the kidlitosphere link to Amazon and even have Amazon stores on their pages, so I guess I could, too. But I haven't been able to bring myself to.

Truth is, I feel a little silly twisting myself up over this moral dilemma when the readership of this blog numbers in the low two digits, and when I use Amazon all the time as a book-information source. But if you think this is tortuous, you should've been there for some of those bookstore collective meetings.

In any case, advice and opinions are welcome. So far I've been begging the question by not linking anywhere, but that seems like cheating, no?

*Gratuitous Fly By Night reference

9 comments:

Andy Laties said...

Well I'd say that you should link to Powells or to a local indie bookstore that is connected to Booksense.com. You have to figure that your readers are sophisticated enough web-wise to go to Amazon on their own if they want to read the ancillary stuff. People will really appreciate being directed to a less-obvious online bookselling source: it will set you apart.

My 2 cents.

Susan said...

I haven't read Fuse's post yet but will head there pronto. I link to Amazon, Powell's, and occasionally B & N, but haven't signed up on any of them as a vendor. I'm conflicted, too. Amazon has such a thorough database of books that it's very helpful, more helpful than Powell's, as much as I like Powell's. For the consumer, Amazon's prices are often better than the independts'. AND YET. I did take all my reviews down from the Amazon site because I felt like I was selling books for them for free.

My favorite independent bookstore is Lemuria, in my hometown of Jackson, Miss., but its web site is not nearly as thorough as Powell's, much less the other two biggies.

Which is all a long way of saying that I will follow your discussion with interest.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Hello, neighbor! I remember the Red and Black Book Collective from the first time I lived in Seattle. These days, the two independent bookstores I love most are All For Kids Books in Seattle and Island Books on Mercer Island.
--Alkelda the Gleeful (Farida Dowler)

Phantom Scribbler said...

Well, you saw my comments on Jody's post, so you know what I think about the chains=bad, amazon=bad, independents=good equations. But I will say, as a blog reader and book consumer, that, far from really appreciating a link to Powell's or an independent, I don't give a rat's ass where the blog link takes me -- I just want to know more about the book. I think Andy Laties' argument works just as well stood on its head: your readers are sophisticated enough to make their own choices about where they prefer to purchase their books. Give them the link to information about it (which, as you point out, is usually best on Amazon), and let them decide where to spend their dollars.

(Of course, that said, you can now stone me as a hypocrite, since you know I only link to LibraryThing. Such a cop-out!)

Andy Laties said...

I like standing on my head! My argument likes standing on its head too.

I think however that what I said wasn't that you should link to Powells or Booksense because it would have any impact of the customers, but RATHER because it will make you stand out as a blogger.

That is: yes, customers have opinions about where they'll spend their money. Linking to any one vendor and any other may have little impact on their behavior.

However, by linking to Powell's or an indie/Booksense vendor you make a statement about YOURSELF.

Kathy said...

I love your idea about a wish list on Amazon for the school library - we don't have a really good independent bookstore near our school, but that would be a great idea also!

Vardibidian said...

Myself, I link to the publisher's page. I dislike Amazon, and I figure nobody reading my blog will have the slightest difficulty finding it if they want it. The problem with linking to publishers is that it takes an extra two or three steps for me, but not that many, actually. Come to think of it, I dislike most publishers, too, but there it is. If OCLC would make its Total Global Catalogue available and linkable and good stuff like that, I would link to that.

Thanks,
-V.

cloudscome said...

I often get links for pictures of the book covers from Amazon, and I link there because of the reviews. I like linking to the authors' page or the publishers' page better though, and I try to do that first. There is a library site that allows you to find the book in your public library but I can't think of it right now. I am sure someone else here can name it...?

cloudscome said...

It's WorldCat. I posted about it today here