From The Stranger, May 1, 2020
by by Christopher Frizzelle
But these stores are so deeply embedded into the character of their neighborhoods, and so deeply associated with in-store events and in-person relationships with booksellers, that many customers don’t think of them as online bookstores.
Jenn Risko, publisher and co-founder of Shelf Awareness, the hugely popular indie bookstore newsletter, says local bookstores “have this tiny moment when Amazon has deprioritized books. We have a tiny moment to take over market share. And I hope to god they do.”
Risko says that COVID-19 has been “devastating” to bookstores industry-wide, because stay-at-home orders “hit indies in the places where they best distinguish themselves: offering a place to browse books, a third place to talk about books with people, get recommendations from real live booksellers, and hold events featuring authors—all what their biggest competitor can’t do.”
But now that that biggest competitor, Amazon, has announced that it is deprioritizing book orders so that they can focus on “household staples, medical supplies,” etc., indie bookstores have a chance to reassert themselves as the best and most efficient places to shop for books.
After all, if you have placed an order for a book with Amazon lately, it’s probably taking forever to show up. That has never been the case before.
Peter Aaron, owner of Elliott Bay Book Company, says, “We are subsisting on online orders. Thank goodness there is a steady enough flow of them coming in because we have a core of extraordinarily supportive customers.”
But he says the world of being a bookseller has changed dramatically. “Seven days a week, morning or night, we are data technicians glued to keyboard and mouse and computer, processing orders. I have gained great empathy for people who do this day in and day out. It’s grueling and tedious. But I’m grateful that we have it to do.”
He adds, “Customers have become an abstraction, other than through the messages they send us, some of which are literally tear-inducing in terms of their level of commitment to supporting us. But we’re so oriented to the face-to-face encounter in the store that this mode of operating is very strange. And likewise since most of our orders are being fulfilled directly through our distributors, in most cases we’re not even touching the book. So the books themselves have also become abstractions. Which as you can imagine is really bizarre for us.”
One way you can get a book that has been sent to you straight from the store is to sign up for one of their subscription programs—through which you get curated selections of books by debut authors or books of poetry or even puzzles. Need a Mother’s Day idea? They have a gift box for that too.
“I think it’s important to remind people that there’s a world outside of Amazon,” says Semple, when reached by The Stranger for comment. “I want to support a local business and I want to support writers and I want to support publishers and I want to support booksellers. And I want to take a public stand on the importance of small businesses as an alternative to Amazon.”
She adds, about the so-called world’s largest bookstore: “They never cared about books. Books was just part of the long con. It was a small piece of the long con. That’s well documented—they picked the first thing that was easy. Jeff Bezos didn’t go into starting Amazon out of a love of books. It was just practical. That seemed to be the way in to selling everything to everybody,” because books never expire on a warehouse shelf. “It was just a way to get a toehold into being the everything store.”
Aaron of Elliott Bay, when asked about Semple’s gesture of giving away gift certificates, says, “Oh, it’s amazing. Bless her. That’s all I can say. People are amazing. Book people are just amazing.”
To read more about amazing book people– with quotations from folks at University Book Store, Third Place Books, and Queen Anne Book Company– click here for the full article. Did you know the author of the piece, Christopher Frizzelle, is the inventor of the Silent Reading Party? The Silent Reading Party, which used to be held in Seattle, has gone global now that it is online. Wednesdays at 6:00 Pacific time, there’s a livestream of “resident musician” playing soft piano music that’s perfect for reading.