amazonbooksAh, the good old-fashioned Appeal to Emotion. As fallacies go, it can be fairly blatant. The latest example of this I’ve noticed is in the Seattle Times, where Indigo Trigg-Hauger spends a whole column arguing that Amazon can’t ‘replicate’ independent bookstores, because Amazon sucks but independent bookstores rock. Well, all right, I’ve necessarily condensed the arguments a little, but that’s basically what it boils down to.

Lines like “The experience of an indie bookstore just can’t be bought” or “People are unique. We don’t want to feel like another data point, another sale in the machine that tells the company how many books to buy” give you a clue of the type of argument to expect. There’s not really anything there to argue against—it’s just a venti-sized shot of sentimentality designed to hit you right in the feels. It’s first cousin to the famous “smell of books” complaint against e-books, and makes about as little sense.

She’s mainly talking about that new outlet bookstore Amazon opened in a Seattle mall, inveigling against its dreadful practices such as facing all the books out or using data gathered from to make recommendations. (Why, those cads!) And her description of Amazon Books as some kind of cold, soulless wasteland doesn’t even make sense if you look at some of the photos of the place.

But again—how can you argue with her? If you want to be able to look over all the books quickly, and get more information about them than just what the cover will tell you, these are things you want. If you want the atmosphere and ambience of an independent bookstore, these are things you might not care so much about. But if you want the atmosphere and ambience of an independent bookstore, you probably went to one of those instead of Amazon’s outlet anyway.

She does get one thing right, though—in the last paragraph, where she suggests,

The draw of the Amazon bookstore is not the experience, it’s the price. And why would you go to their physical location when you could get that from the guilt-free comfort of your own home?

That’s exactly right! You can get those prices from “the guilt-free comfort of your own home.” That’s what is all about. (Though why you’d be “guilt-free” in her book if you’re ordering from Amazon rather than going out to one of her hallowed indie bookstores is beyond me.)

And I have rather dreadful news for Miss Trigg-Hauger—Amazon already has replaced independent bookstores for my parents, and undoubtedly many other people like them. Instead of having to travel miles and miles from their home in rural Missouri to reach the nearest independent bookstore, then browse through possibly-poorly-sorted shelves in the hope of finding something they want, they can now search for books they want on from the comfort of their own home, and get many of them second-hand as cheaply as a single penny plus shipping (because even with the shipping, they’re still much cheaper than buying new). Sure, they don’t get the experience of going to an indie bookstore, but they’d a lot rather be at home than out somewhere having an “experience.” This is why they do all their Christmas shopping via Amazon, too.

The question of whether they would visit an Amazon bookstore is academic, given that they live nowhere near Seattle, and Amazon probably isn’t coming anywhere near them any time soon. But then, that also renders Trigg-Hauger’s column largely irrelevant for the 99.99% or more of the American book-buying public who also don’t live anywhere near Seattle. Or at least premature—there’s no sign Amazon plans any sort of large-scale expansion into other malls across the country.

In the end, it’s just another hatchet job by an Amazon Derangement Syndrome case—and not a terribly coherent one, at that.

(Found via The Passive Voice.)


  1. Check out Amazon’s links to used books and you’ll find that Amazon hasn’t so much replaced independent bookstores as become an additional source of income for them.

    Unfortunately, as with anything Amazon, the suppliers (meaning bookstores) are getting screwed. Charities that make money selling used books through Amazon often make pennies per sale while doing almost all the work. Bezos and his bandits, last time I checked, pocket $1.35 off the top from each sale however small. That’s money that’s not going to homeless shelters, literacy programs and the like. Why? Because Amazon’s greedy and heartless. Nothing new there.

    Alas, I am a part of that. I rarely buy new books. My writer’s budget doesn’t allow that. Instead I put a watch for a used book I want on and set a price I can afford. I get a notice from Camel if that book (or whatever) drops below that price. All but rare books will dip down to very low prices from time to time. Patience has its rewards.


    Chris, what you consider the good that Amazon is doing I consider it’s greatest crime. People used to talk about the value of a book either as entertainment or for information. Since Bezos began to exert his baneful influence, conversation has turned to price. Listen for yourself if you doubt that. Teleread itself illustrates that.

    It’s easy to explain why Amazon would do that. It’s only advantages over a local bookstore are the size of its selection, which means little to people wanting a specific book, and price. What marketing people do and, to put it bluntly, what fools fall for, is to convince people that their company’s advantage in the market is What Really Matters.

    I saw that as a kid when Detroit changed how its cars looked from year to year, often radically so. Consumers were duped into believing that mattered, and—until Asian makers came along with quality cars—the Big Three automakers could get away with making unreliable, tacky-looking cars and selling them by the million each year. When that new model came out with even more ridiculous-looking bent sheet metal and tail fins, people began to look askew at their old model. Stupid, really stupid. I knew that as a kid.

    Ebooks have had the same marketing ploy. Except for large-print editions for the visually impaired, for the entire hundreds of years history of printing the public has paid no interest in choosing their own fonts and font size. Faced with display screens that made ebooks look dull and dreary, their promoters hit on “you can change your font and font size” as a marketing ploy. Did it matter? No. Did a lot of people fall for it? Yes. And their folly has distracted attention from what really mattered and what was true of the very first printed books—making them look attractive. Fifteen years or so in, ebooks still look dull and often ugly. “Ah, but look how I can change the font size,” people say.

    Apple is doing much the same with virtually all its product line. Thin, it tells consumers, is what really matters. This new iPhone/iPad is 0.0x inches thinner than its predecessor. Isn’t that great? No, it’s stupider and even stupider are all the improvements that have to be left out in that idiotic pursuit of thin. For anyone who’s not fallen for that ‘thin is great’ ploy, Apple’s offering are poor. Like the Detroit of long ago, a monomaniac styling (thin like the fins on cars) has replace value.

    Cheaper books, particularly bestsellers, is Amazon’s ploy. Is it really that big a deal to get some NYT bestseller for $2 less? No, you’d be better off asking yourself if you should even bother reading off someone else;s list rather than find books on your own. And as value goes, even the pricey hardbacks deliver more value for your money than movies or dining out.


    One of life’s great divisions is between a smart market and a stupid one. A smart market, and I am referring to more than buying and selling, is one dominated by shrewd, smart and sensible people. Even if you are new or naive, you’ll be protected by that smart market. Virtually all your choices are smart ones.

    A stupid market is one dominated by fools who make everyone’s life miserable by so distorting the market such that there are few, if any, good choices even for those with the good sense to make them. I’ve mentioned several already, but they’re hardly alone.

    For instance, I’d hate to be starting college now. College is one of the stupidest markets around. The cost has been rising far faster than inflation for decades. And if you stray outside the STEM subjects, many campuses are dominated by nasty, soul-crushing indoctrination. People I know avoid some of that cost burden by going to community colleges, but they do so at the expense of having less rigorous foundation courses. I’d hate to have gone on into engineering at my state university with nothing but community college math and science.

    There are a host of reason why college is a stupid market right now. Federal loans mean students, who have never borrowed before, aren’t forced to keep costs down. Credentialization and grade inflation mean that many students don’t have to demand a good education taught by demanding professors. They’re now seeing the consequences. Quite a few of those expensive degrees are worth little on the job market. Employers now know that a college degree means little.

    And I won’t go into detail just how stupid our nation’s national politics have become. In November of this year we are very likely to have as our ‘market’ for president one one side:

    Either a known crook and sexual harassment enabler or an elderly, mousy economic illiterate.

    And on the other side someone who’d is a funny, although pompous, stand-up comic but who is clueless about government other than perhaps how to bribe city officials to get permits for buildings.


    Small wonder more and more people think our country is headed in the wrong direction. Thinking all that matters about books is their price may be a small part of that problem but is is a part. A society increasingly devoid of careful thinking is one that’ll turn to fads, fashions, and of course price at the final arbitrator of value.

  2. “Charities that make money selling used books through Amazon often make pennies per sale while doing almost all the work. ”

    What a shame that Amazon is holding a gun to their heads and is forcing them to sell books in its marketplace. It’s also terrible that Amazon won’t let you sell a book for more than $3.99.

  3. The Seattle Times has a Space Needle-sized hard-on for Amazon and its founder. Whether it’s bitching about their impact on real estate prices, traffic patterns, and the local economy, or meaningless fluff about the innate superiority of any other bookstore, such as the article referenced above, they will take any opportunity to make Amazon look bad to the people of its hometown. As soon as I see Seattle Times as the source, I pretty much know what to expect.

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