A Future for Independent Bookstores?

About ten years ago, I walked into a small bookstore in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. I saw a beautiful book on motorcycles, and even though I am not particularly interested in motorbikes, I picked up the book. The photography in The Art of the Motorcycle was stunning. I liked it so much that I bought the book. My first thought was: “Wouldn’t it be great to do a similar book on bicycles?” Later I met one of the photographers who had worked on The Art of the Motorcycle and learned that he rode a René Herse. This meeting led to our books The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles and The Competition Bicycle.

Today, this story would be unlikely to happen. Even though Fremont is a vibrant neighborhood, the bookstore no longer exists, because most people buy their books online. Online, I never would have found the motorcycle book, because it is not within the standard profile of what I tend to buy.

A single company, Amazon, now controls almost 50% of the entire U.S. book business. A little while ago, Amazon introduced their new Kindle Fire tablet for digital readers. The new device is sold at a discount, but Amazon plans to make up for that because it “will corral users into a tightly walled garden around Amazon’s content and devices and may secure a new dominance for Amazon as an online retailer and technology company,” as the New York Times noted. The “dominance” enables Amazon to dictate their terms to publishers and others who generate “content.” They pay much less for books than the bookstore in Fremont. And as Amazon publishes more books themselves, there is little to prevent them from steering customers to their books instead of those from other publishers.

Amazon does not only control the book business, but the company is involved in all kinds of other retailing transactions. If you look for bicycle components online, you are likely to end up at Amazon’s web site. “Amazon Fresh” will bring groceries to your house. Even libraries, eager to offer e-books to their readers, have teamed up with Amazon. In the future, when I  borrow an e-book from our library, the final checkout will happen at Amazon. Not only does Amazon collect a fee from the library, but it also collects the personal data of library users.

As Amazon inserts itself into more and more of our purchasing and reading, my concern is not only that they are taking their cut every time. More than that, I fear that we are losing our diversity. I will miss the enchanting little bookstores, where I can browse books and discuss them with the owners, rather than obtain computer-generated “recommendations.” I will miss the quirky bike shops that have odd bikes gathering cobwebs under the ceiling and long-obsolete parts in back room drawers. I am glad that many of them still exist, and I hope they will continue to serve us forever, as long as we are willing to bring them our business.

When Bicycle Quarterly Press published our first book, we decided not deal with Amazon. Our books are available only from us directly or through independent bike shops and bookstores. And when you visit them, who knows what other treasures you will find?

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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39 Responses to A Future for Independent Bookstores?

  1. Jim says:

    There have been far too many locally owned bookstores that have disappeared in the last decade. I live in Tucson, and well remember “The Haunted Bookshop”, “The Book Mark”, etc. Now, even the big chain bookstores like Borders’s are closing: (http://azstarnet.com/business/local/article_c81b84cf-5b38-5c7c-b698-dced70b8eeba.html0.

    I do most of my book shopping now at used bookstores (like Bookman’s, and the Book Stop here in Tucson). That’s the only way to actually peruse books and, frequently, find something you never expected!

  2. Here in Canada I bought one of your books, The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, from Amazon.ca, the other from a bike store. I live on a small Gulf island so I do a lot of online buying. I buy e-books almost exclusively to use with the Kindle and the Kindle apps on the iPad & iPhone but sometimes nothing beats a real book like yours and The Art of the Motorcycle which I own.

    On our little island our only mostly used book store closed a couple of weeks ago with the comment from the owners that if you want to work for nothing it is a good business. In spite of my preference for e-books I did buy a number of books from them that I haven’t got around to reading yet. Maybe when I am to old for my almost daily 40 k lap around this very hilly island I’ll get around to them.

  3. Bob says:

    When I travel and have time to visit a bookstore, I find an independent (or in most places, THE independent) bookstore and buy a book, even if I don’t “need” one. Aside from doing my part to support a business model I value, this practice has led me to some unexpectedly meaningful titles. Here are a few favorite stores that cyclists are especially likely to find themselves near: Cottage Book Shop, Glen Arbor MI; Bookshelf, Tahoe City CA; Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca, NY; Country Bookshelf, Bozeman MT; Arches Book Company, Moab UT; Valley Book Store, Jackson WY; and of course my hometown favorite, Prairie Lights, Iowa City IA.

  4. So many people I know lament the disappearance of independent shops, yet really we have only ourselves to blame. When it comes to both book lovers and vintage bicycle enthusiasts, people will say that oh yes they support local independent shops, but when it comes right down to it will always look for bargains online: used books from amazon, bicycles from ebay, parts from discount retailers. The truth is that it’s hard to focus on the big picture when someone is dangling a bargain right in front of you, and the system takes advantage of that.

  5. Julian says:

    Jan,

    Both of your books are available on Amazon directly from them — so FWIW your distributor, if you have one, is dealing with them — presumably they are not buying them at retail.

    • The second edition of The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles is published by Rizzoli New York, and they do sell through the normal distribution channels, which means that . In fact, that was one of the main disincentives of signing the deal, but in the end, we decided that making the book available to a wider audience was more important.

      The Competition Bicycle remains available only from us direct or from independent bookstores and bicycle shops who do not try to undercut one another. It would be nice if the book was available through the normal distribution channels – that is, any bookstore could order them with their normal book orders, rather than having to come to us – but that would mean selling to discounters as well. Germany has addressed this problem by not allowing the discounting of books, because they feel that a diverse publishing landscape is important to democracy.

  6. Kreg says:

    Hi Jan,

    As a librarian here in the Seattle area, I just wanted to clarify this statement you make:

    “Not only does Amazon collect a fee from the library, but it also collects the personal data of library users.”

    Amazon.com does not take a fee directly from the library. The downloadable book service is provided through a third-party vendor called Overdrive. They are the sole vendor for libraries for eBooks at the moment, and so if a public library system wishes to provide downloadable eBooks to their patrons (and it is very popular) they must go through Overdrive. So the library pays Overdrive. As far as the business agreements that Amazon.com has with Overdrive, that’s anyone’s guess.

    The public library, as an institution, has been very vocal about protecting patron data. Many libraries have adopted policies to purge checkout histories after the passing of the PATRIOT Act, which allows law-enforcement agencies to retrieve checkout histories without notifying the patron. The information that is provided to Amazon.com from the library is only the eBook title they are checking out. The checkout process is handled through the Amazon account (which you must have to use a Kindle), and so Amazon will collect the information it wants on that one title (and any notes one makes on the book). Amazon gets no further data from Overdrive or the library.

    Yours,
    Kreg

  7. Garth says:

    Thank you Kreg for beating me to that clarification.

    I must confess that as a former bibliophile, I rarely go to my public library anymore. Why? Because most of my reading is non-fiction and highly specialized. Hence, the internet is my main reading grounds. Because of the low/no-cost of blogs, I am able to learn a lot from various independent sources.

    Another aspect is that my branch of the Chicago Public Library is depressing, the lines are long and the books yellowed. The section for children’s activities include Scooby Doo puzzles from 1971 with half the pieces missing.

    • I agree that the Internet is a great resource, but in the non-fiction arena, I am not sure any blog (including this one) can replace a carefully researched book or journal. Whether it’s Herlihy’s Bicycle or our The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, good books contain new and well-documented information that you are unlikely to find online.

      The lack of funding for libraries can be depressing. Fortunately, Seattle’s libraries continue to be wonderful resources.

  8. GuitarSlinger says:

    Thats where I found your book , as well as ” Cyclepedia “. A local Independent book seller , when we were on vacation .

    The wife and I have a standard ‘ rule’ when on vacation . Leave no Independent Book Store unexplored . Nine times out of ten we walk out with an arm full as well

    As to the Independents demise , me thinks the rumors of their death are somewhat premature

    There seems to be a burgeoning trend towards their revival , especially in light of Borders going belly up , but we’ll have to see how this one pans out

    In conclusion . Shop Local and/or Independent whenever possible . Thats your neighbor you’re taking a salary away from each and every time you click on Amazon etc for your purchases .

    Think about it . Would you rather pay a couple dollars extra for that book etc , or shell out a ton of your tax dollars for Unemployment , Welfare, Medicaid , Social Services etc for said neighbor , now without gainful employment because you bought online ?

    Penny wise / pound foolish comes to mind when I’m having that discussion

  9. Matthew J says:

    I like books. I like bookstores. I disagree that electronic books are anything but a huge plus for humanity.

    World population hit 7 billion this week. People are using finite resources as never before. Paper uses trees and other resources to make. Books require space and a protected environment for storage. It is far easier and more realistic for a village in centrol Democratic Republic of Congo to obtain a computer with satillite access to an electronic book source than it is to get them a library that even comes close to what one may find in any public elementary school here in the United States.

    Books are a luxury. They have their place in the world just as custom made bicycles have their place.

    • I haven’t been to the Congo, but in most places in Africa and South American that I have visited, computer access is not even part of the landscape. A paper book – in theory at least – can be read anywhere, provided you are not illiterate. You don’t need power, you don’t need a computer, you don’t need a connection, and once you have it, you can re-read it as often as you like, or pass it on to your neighbor without incurring additional fees or hurdles. I agree that all books, paper or electronic, unfortunately continue to be a luxury, as long as other, more pressing, needs aren’t met.

      For the environmental impact of reading, a friend is on his third Kindle, the first two broke and ended up in a landfill… Most of the paper used in this country is used for mail-order catalogues and other junk mail, not paper books.

      • GuitarSlinger says:

        So here’s my favorite Book vs EBook comparison ;

        1) Throw your paper book across the room or drop in water
        2) Do the same with your EBook

        Which one do you think still works ? ( the paper book if you couldn’t guess )

        Test Two

        1) Take a look at how much of the content of your paper book is recyclable ( 100%)

        2)Now do the same with your EBook ( less than 20% easily / 30% with some difficulty with the remaining 50% being in fact Toxic to recycle )

        Test Three

        1) Take a look at what your total loss would be if your paper book were to become lost or stolen ( cost of the book maximum)

        2) Do the same with your EBook ( cost of the EReader , all its contents , e.g the books etc you’ve purchases as well as … if the finder/thief is tech savvy enough .. all your personal information/accounts etc in the Ebooks memory

        Now please . Tell me which is in fact the Greener of the two ?

        ( correct answer is the paper book)

  10. Tina says:

    I got rid of all my books (including Golden Age, sorry Jan). Replaced with a Kindle. Best thing I ever did. As a Minimalist who moves constantly, I love having every book I own with me at all times. All my photos and paperwork are on my laptop (yes all backed up elsewhere). All fits in a small backpack anywhere I am, even when on bike tour. I’m not interested in owning physical books anymore unless I borrowed them from the library (and will take the Kindle version first if possible).

    I also don’t like the environmental impact of all that paper. Yes, the Kindle can be broken, but that is a design issue that could be addressed. Sending bits around on a wire will always beat cutting down trees and having to ship all of those duplicate copies all over the place. Consumers should push for less disposible e-readers, that will solve that problem.

    As for the disappearance of indie book stores, I like browsing amazon as much as I did browsing book stores (and I can do it anywhere in the world!) I’ve found many titles I wasn’t specifically looking for, just as I would browsing a book store. And some indie book stores (like MOST bike shops) don’t really offer very good service anyway.

  11. Jim says:

    The Kindle Fire user interface also runs between the native Android software and you, preventing Google from capturing any analytics on its users while keeping your info all to its greedy selves.

    In this day and age with the war on over your privacy, expect more of this.

    • GuitarSlinger says:

      @ Jim – Hate to have to be the one to tell you this , but my wife’s co-worker has in the last three months had her Kindle hacked into , with the thief walking away with her Amazon account , all her books and magazines purchased as well as her Credit card number and personal information . Twice ! In three months . Changed her passwords , everything , no matter . Twice !

      Fact is there is no such thing as secure online anything . Any code created by man/woman can and will be broken by a man/woman with the motivation and skill to do so

      • Jim says:

        GS, I was making a point about privacy issues and who the end user wants to have it. For me I don’t want anyone to have it.
        Hackers can get into anything they want.

  12. Jim says:

    Here’s a great story about a bookstore save by a tweet: http://stories.twitter.com/en/1/aaron_durand.html

  13. marmotte says:

    If we’re really talking environmental impact of fabrication and distribution, I’m afarid Jan is right in saying that things like e- and paper books (and let me add, nice bicycles) are luxuries, as long as other, more pressing, needs aren’t met.
    Unfortunately, I think even we in the western world will find that increasingly we’ll have to think about meeting those other, more pressing needs, first.

    • Unfortunately, I think even we in the western world will find that increasingly we’ll have to think about meeting those other, more pressing needs, first.

      Our culture has been based on books for centuries. Losing that would be a huge loss. In the western world, the resources to meet pressing needs exist, it’s a question of how they are allocated. A country that has money for fighter jets, but not libraries, may not have a great future, but it’s not because that country lacks resources.

      Regarding the environmental impact, lasting things like custom bicycles and books aren’t the problem, but the things that are consumed daily, weekly or annually. Unfortunately, most electronics and appliances fall into that category. During the last 20 years, I have bought two new custom bicycles. During the same time, I have purchased three computers, two laptops, two fax machines, two or three landline telephones, a refrigerator, a dishwasher, a clothes washer, a clothes dryer and a few other things. The average American probably bought 2-3 cars, half a dozen cell phones and now a couple of e-book readers during that time. I also have recycled hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of junk mail, even though I am on the “Do no send junk mail” lists.

      One easy way to reduce our environmental impact is to buy things that last, and if they break, fix them instead of replacing them. Just like we don’t get fat from eating chocolate cake once a year on our birthdays, the once-in-a-lifetime purchases don’t impact the environment as much as the things we consume all the time.

  14. Erik says:

    A couple of points. Individual ownership of books does not fit the same profile as that of a bicycle or electronic device. Bicycles (for us, at least) and electronics are used on a daily basis, over a period of years. While there are some books that we might keep going back to, time and time again, the majority of books are read once or twice and put on a shelf. Putting a book on a shelf and buying another to read is demanding constant resource usage, while essentially just providing a purgatory before the book ends up in a landfill. Even if one lends the book to a few friends, or donates it, it is still hard to justify individual ownership of hundreds (or thousands) of books, versus accessing the information electronically. The exception to this, of course, is the library, where a single copy of a book might be read hundreds of times. I’m certainly neither a technocrat or a minimalist, and I love the tactile quality and benefits that some books provide, but I also recognize that a book is just a means of disseminating information–one that happens to have been the most technologically feasible means for a small segment of human history.

    Electronics don’t have to fall into the short life-cycle, consumable category–that’s just where our cultural expectation of more, and less expensive products has lead us. I believe that Germany has strict laws regarding the return and reuse of appliances, computers, etc., that ensure both a longer life of the product and the reintroduction of ALL materials back into the production stream.

    As a final comment, I will point out that purchasing high-quality, repairable products is not, by itself, a sustainable act. It needs to be accompanied by a drastic decrease in the quantity of products purchased. Owning six or more (no matter how we justify away our riding needs…go fast bike, randonneur bike, loaded touring bike, mountain bike, dirt road/light trail bike, tandem, town bike, commuter bike…) bicycles, unless most have been rescued from the scrap heap, is not a sustainable behavior. I guess what I’m saying, is that we tend to focus more on whether certain physical products are better or worse, rather than whether the behavior of usage is appropriate.

    • Owning six or more bicycles, unless most have been rescued from the scrap heap, is not a sustainable behavior.

      Two comments on that one:

      1. Most people have finite resources, and if you allocate them to buy expensive custom bicycles, you will buy fewer than if you buy inexpensive frames and parts. For the price of the two new bikes I bought over the last 20 years, I could have bought maybe a dozen inexpensive ones. By choosing to buy an expensive custom bike, I had less money to buy other things, take airplane trips, etc.

      2. Expensive, durable products are unlikely to end up in a landfill. For example, Cycles Alex Singer has made about 3500 bikes since 1938. I bet that at least 1/3 of those, and more than half of the ones made in the last 35 years, are still around. Many are still being ridden. Compare that to the inexpensive 10-speeds that were churned out by the factories during the 1970s bike boom. I’d be surprised if even 10% were still around, and many fewer are still being ridden. From a resource utilization point of view, even if a guy bought a new Singer every other year, at some point, all those bikes are sold and find new users, whereas the inexpensive ten-speed probably ends up in the garbage.

    • GuitarSlinger says:

      I’d add to Jan’s comment here ; the lasting value of books purchased depends a lot on the quality of books you buy . If you’re buying the latest greatest Fad book or quick read Mass Consumption Fiction , well yes , you’ll read it once and then send it on its way . Whereas if you’re buying Quality books ( e.g. being a discerning reader ) they’ll come down off the shelf several times over a lifetime

      And here’s a hint of what to do with those books you won’t be keeping .

      DONATE them !

      You’d be shocked how many schools , shelters , half way houses etc that are desperate for books

      I’ll also add a Plus One to Jan’s comment about buying a quality bike . For what I paid for my Moulton , I could of bought three carbon mass produced racer replica bikes . Well except the Moulton is the only bike I own , it gets ridden for everything and has stayed in my garage going on ten years now .

      Quality . That is the key to intelligent uses of rapidly diminishing resources . Buy better . Keep it longer . Buy less .

  15. Michael says:

    Here here! I have been an ardent book and independent bookstore lover for a long, long time. I remember bemoaning the rise of Barnes and Noble in the late 80’s and early 90’s. And, feeling about them exactly as you have written about the current dominance of Amazon. I am heartened at least a little bit that some independent bookstores (and bike shops) are continuing to make it, albeit they must exercise a great deal of creativity and savvy to do so.

    Even though I live in Powells book mecca Portland, I make pilgrimages up to Seattle to go to a little specialty bookstore on 45th (I think), called “Open Books – A Poetry Emporium.” It is like no other bookstore I have ever seen. I set aside a couple hours to be unbothered with the books and the knowledgeable owners. Never would one be so enriched by the virtual ” aisles at Amazon.

    Cheers for your work!
    Michael

  16. Erik says:

    Jan,
    Regarding comment #1, I would argue that spending based on the availability of personal resources is what has caused so many of our problems. The question shouldn’t be, “how can I best, or even most responsibly, spend X number of dollars,” but rather, “what is the minimum impact I can have and still accomplish (and enjoy) this activity.” Also, although your Singer stats are likely true, they are of benefit only if owning one of the used Singers has replaced the purchase of a new bike. This is difficult to measure directly, but I would guess that many are owned by collectors (and seldom ridden), and that a large number of those still on the road are being ridden as an “extra bicycle” for special occasions, but not as a daily rider. As such, it is wonderful that they still exist, but they haven’t necessarily prevented the production of another new bicycle. You’ve spent far more time in Europe than me, but I would venture to guess that the average European cycling enthusiast (not collector…just avid rider) doesn’t own as many bicycles as his counterpart in this country.

    While I appreciate your view in comment #2, I fear that we’ve reached a point at which we need to, not just worry about how long something will be functioning, but more importantly what the ramifications of its production are in the first place. Availability of any product, new or used, tends to encourage additional consumption. If one studies the field of life-cycle analysis (environmental impact of an item over it’s lifespan), in almost all cases, limiting the number of items originally produced yields optimum results. If I were to buy a new pair of high-quality, handmade shoes every week, and donate the other pair to Goodwill, those used shoes would indeed still have a long life, but they would also enable the purchaser to buy more pairs than they might otherwise, due to their reduced cost and ready availability. I’ll admit the analogy is a little weak. However, the assumption that the impact of buying more shoes, bikes, cars, watches, than we actually need, can be justified by the high quality of the item is a flawed one as well. Sorry to have sidetracked this discussion, and I am also not personally immune to purchasing more bicycles in the future!

  17. James Wilson says:

    Really great everything about this post. Small bookstores are some of the nicest places to find hidden treasures.

  18. Mark Williams says:

    Hopefully, there will always be at least a niche for independent bookstores, but the direction of the market is inexorably away from print. That isn’t likely to change, given all the cost advantages–no printing costs, no major distribution costs–and the flattening of the distribution hierarchy that more directly connects writers and readers. It may sound odd, but perhaps there needs to be new ways to monetize the independent bookstore experience–entrance fees or something–since it’s going to be ever more difficult for independents to otherwise survive in a digital world.

    Whatever else one thinks about Amazon and its effect on the publishing business, the value proposition they’ve created both for readers and writers is arguably superior. The royalty structure for writers is at least double the traditional norm, and writers are offered the flexibility of publishing digitally, AND via print on demand. For readers, all sorts of out of print books have been brought back to life–in many cases, books of merit that wouldn’t make the cut economically if factoring in printing and distribution costs, but are viable in digital form. When someone buys a Kindle (or other e-reader, or downloads the Kindle app to a computer or PDA), there are literally tens of thousands of out of copyright books that become available for free, expanding access to a part of our culture that’s worth expanding. The other thing to mention is that once one gets used to it, the ergonomic experience of reading on a Kindle can be more appealing than reading a printed book.

    Any lover of books and reading who has ever spent a rainy afternoon in Paris, browsing the asles of the bookstores in Le Marais (or wherever) would lament the demise of print; but in a couple more years outside of major cultural hubs, independent bookstores will be only a memory.

    • GuitarSlinger says:

      Its interesting that this same argument was given in regards to vinyl records at the dawning of the CD/Digital age . Same again when downloading , MP3’s and iPods came into play . The joke being that now Vinyl is the only aspect of Music Retail that is growing , while MP3’s etc are on the wane . The ephemeral holds its own as long as the Trend is active and alive , but the Permanent and Quality will continue on regardless . As well as ” Everything that goes around comes around ” being more true than most so called ” Futurists ” would be willing to admit to .

    • While this discussion have moved to the benefits of e-readers over paper, one question that remains is whether one should give one company a near-monopoly over all our reading? A book that isn’t available from Amazon, it might as well not exist. More than once have I heard: “Too bad your book is not available any longer,” when in fact, the book in question was still available and still listed on the ISBN web site. Just a recent example, Kent Petersen posted a list of the 50 good cycling books. All came with links to Amazon. Our The Competition Bicycle wasn’t on the list, since it isn’t available from Amazon. (The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles did make the list.)

      If one company controls all our reading, what happens if that company suddenly decides that certain books should not be read? If an independent bookstore chooses not to carry a book, the impact of that decision will be small. At this time, Amazon doesn’t appear to be interested in anything except expanding its bottom line, but that can change in the future.

      • Mark Williams says:

        Definitely. The Europeans have done a better job than we have in restricting any one firm from scaling to the point of total domination of its market. We should be doing the same–maybe especially for media.

  19. Mark Williams says:

    Also, Jan I agree with you 100 percent that it’s better to purchase only a few nice things, repair rather than replace, and use them as long as possible. This seems not only better as a foil against hyper-consumption, but, can also be more satisfying.

  20. marmotte says:

    Sorry to continue sidetracking this discussion, but it’s nice to read that there are a few people out there questioning our impact on the planet. In an article I read a few days ago (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/31/consumption-of-goods-falling) I found the staggering number of 30 tonnes of raw materials per person used each year for producing the goods consumed in the UK. In the face of this, it truly doesn’t matter that consumption seems to be going down in that country (especially as it’s going up worldwide)

    I’m with Erik since I am also not personally immune to purchasing more bicycles (and books!) in the future, and reading BQ doesn’t help against these afflictions at all :-), but I’m asking myself some serious questions.

  21. Ben says:

    Another aspect of the book v e-reader debate is the server farms required to store all the data that we accumulate have a definite, physical footprint. I think this is a fact some Lifestyle Minimalists seem to forget, thinking that the internet is just zeros and ones with no physical mass. http://www.theage.com.au/it-pro/business-it/businesses-told-find-alternative-energy-sources-20111104-1mzd7.html b

  22. Amazon opens up more doors than it closes. I live in Detroit and don’t have the opportunity to drift into a independent bookstore in Seattle without generating a ton of CO2 via flight there. And yes I bought books like the Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles and the Dancing Derailleur on Amazon at a lower cost than I can find them on your site.

    As a consumer, Amazon provides me with two things: 1. Lower prices, so I can purchase more books and 2. a mechanism to find books I would never see much quicker than perusing through dusty old bookstore.

    Welcome to the internet age and don’t be a luddite. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

    • And yes I bought books like the Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles and the Dancing Derailleur on Amazon at a lower cost than I can find them on your site.

      I am glad you bought those books at a price you can afford. You may also consider that if all our books sold through Amazon (who pay much less for books than other bookstores), these books simply would not exist. The price Amazon pays barely covers paper and printing, but not the cost of photography and a (very small) compensation for the year of full-time work it took to put each of those books together. The alternative would be to increase the price to $ 95, and then Amazon (and everybody else) could discount the price to $ 50. In fact, without direct sales from our web site, none of our books would exist.

      • Mark Williams says:

        “You may also consider that if all our books sold through Amazon (who pay much less for books than other bookstores), these books simply would not exist.”

        Or if you were INTENDING to distribute through Amazon, you would have had the option of setting a wholesale price in alignment with your development costs. The problem seems more an issue of price–which is discretionary by the copyright owner–rather than a defect in Amazon’s distribution model, whatever the other questions about Amazon.

      • When Amazon demands a huge discount off the standard wholesale price, we can of course raise the wholesale price to account for that, but it seems like a strange way of doing business. Why should a small bookstore who showcases our book in the shop window, who introduces it to new customers, and who carries actual inventory, pay less than an e-store that does little except fill orders for people who already know our book exists? (Amazon takes books from small publishers on consignment, and they pay a month or two after the book has sold.)

        Our wholesale price is fair – we make little money on these sales, but they help introduce the book to a wider audience – and inflating it to “beat Amazon” is not something I want to do. We offer the books at a very fair price, considering the costs, because we know that we will sell a good number directly to our customers, without having to pay intermediaries.

        In the end, having fair wholesale prices for everybody is a matter of principle, and if we lose some sales that way, so be it. If we were trying to maximize earnings, we would not publish books at all!

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