The real trouble with Amazon, it seems, is that nobody truly believes we were better off without it. This is where the often-made comparison of Amazon with other monoliths such as Wal-Mart falters. Wal-Mart is not known for its catalog of obscurities; the merchandise it sells is all available elsewhere. It put the mom-and-pop drugstores and hardware stores and grocery stores out of business by offering the same items that they sold, just at lower prices.I think the problem of distribution is pretty serious in the U.S.; outside of university towns and cosmopolitan centers, it seems much more difficult to accomplish the sort of critical mass of a reading public that would be necessary for the sort of decentralized, independent book trade that Franklin rightly points out as something of a nostalgic ideal. The point about Amazon.fr and .de also repeats a point that has been expressed by theology bloggers before- that Amazon provides access to books published elsewhere that might otherwise be inordinately expensive. Speaking from the perspective of library acquisitions, even the large book distributors like Baker & Taylor don't offer great access to continental European titles... we receive these titles through Harrassowitz rather than Yankee Book Peddler, our normal distributor. Mention of Amazon's non-U.S. branches also made me wonder how the publishing and book trade situation is faring overseas. Are there any readers who could share their perspective on this? Is the same sort of battle going on outside of the U.S.?
This isn’t the case with Amazon. Before it appeared on the scene, if you lived in a part of the country that happened not to be served by a great independent bookstore, you were out of luck when it came to getting books other than bestsellers. As a child growing up in suburban Baltimore—not exactly a backwater!—I felt keenly the lack of ready access to the books that I wanted. (Remember the joke of a selection at your local mall’s Waldenbooks?) And with the quirkier independents—such as the great Louie’s to which I paid tribute above—you were at the mercy of the owner’s idiosyncrasies, which meant that you might find shelves stocked with contemporary poetry but nothing by, say, Tolstoy. Let’s not even get started on how difficult it used to be to get foreign-language books, which normally required going to a specialized store with stratospheric prices. It’s hard to complain too much about the shipping rates on sites like Amazon.fr and Amazon.de when they offer access to so many of the books of Europe.
These qualifications about the threat of Amazon to the book trade also shouldn't be taken as a critique of those who are calling for support of Indie sellers or reform of the system. As Franklin herself points out, "if Amazon is truly endangering [publishers'] ability to bring out their books, it is their responsibility to take a stand against it." Folks are free to make of the market what they will, and a decision to work with Amazon for financial reasons by either publishers or book consumers isn't much different than Amazon's own business decisions. No one is coercing the current state of affairs, and nothing but the inertia of certain incentives is stopping anyone from doing things differently.