Indie Booksellers: This is What We’re Up Against

want to buy this author's books?

Purchase the title on the left using one of the booksellers on the right.  One buying option leads to kittens and puppies frolicking in a sun-drenched field of hearty marijuana plants as Disney music swells from the very earth, while the other causes anal leakage and hair loss. Choose wisely.

Steven Rosenbaum’s bedside lamp broke so he bought a cheap replacement on Amazon.  The lamp wasn’t quite right so he returned it, became overwhelmed with the number of online choices, and decided to visit a store nearby for help.  The salesman at Lighting by Gregory finds the exact lamp Rosenbaum needs but alas, it’s out of stock and will take weeks to arrive.  Rosenbaum goes home and purchases the lamp on Amazon.

Why, he wonders, was the lamp so hard to find on Amazon in the first place?  Why couldn’t the salesman point him to “Amazon or another online retailer and get paid for the referral,” or at least give Rosenbaum an affiliate number?  He’s upset that “the salesman and overhead of Lighting By Gregory… wasn’t recouped.”  It’s this last that’s the meat of the matter, so I’ll repeat it: Rosenbaum is upset that Lighting By Gregory failed to recoup the expenses involved in finding him the perfect lamp… because he chose to spend his money elsewhere.

george clooney doesn't want fop

“Two weeks?  Well ain’t this place forcing me to shop at Amazon.”

If you’d like a first-hand account, his woes are detailed here for Forbes and here for Huffington Post.

When I finished reading “Amazon and Local. Almost Friends” my blood boiled.  Then I realized that Rosenbaum isn’t actually suggesting we all become Amazon affiliates (and by “we” I mean independent businesses like the one I work for), he’s just being provocative.  He wants advocates of shopping local to get riled up so we’ll read part two, where he details eBay’s affiliation with local storefronts.  That’s forgivable practice in the pursuit of page views.  What’s not forgivable is how Rosenbaum conducts himself in life.

I went in with no intention to be one of those “showrooming” customers who visit a store and then slyly buy online. But there I was, snapping a picture of the light’s model number — so I could go online and complete the purchase.

He tosses this tidbit off like it’s nothing.  I don’t know Rosenbaum or his work.  In part two of this essay he says “Amazon is out to kill local” so that’s promising (if you’re someone who only knows Amazon as a place of bargains and convenience, let me show you another perspective).  Maybe he has other pieces where he hates on showrooming.  No?  Oh.

Since Rosenbaum likes relationship metaphors so much (“Almost Friends” followed by “eBay and Local Retail Go Steady”) I’ll respond in kind.  Lighting by Gregory cured Rosenbaum’s impotence, and he took his newly found hard-on to the younger, sexier, slut up the street.  Gregory wanted him to wait a little while, to prove they had a meaningful interaction, but Amazon was putting out immediately.  That’s messed up.  You know what else is messed up?  He payed full retail.  He can’t even use saving money as an excuse; he paid exactly what Lighting by Gregory was charging for the same lamp.

I wonder how he’ll shop when he doesn’t have a store to tell him exactly what to buy online.  I wonder if he had an overhead light in his bedroom that could have seen him through his dark times.  I wonder why a person so invested in retail doesn’t see that what he’s done is wrong.

I’ll quote Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media on this one:

Think about it for a minute: the retailer pays rent, orders and stocks the product, pays salespeople. You take advantage of all those services, and then give your money to someone else who can give you a better price because they don’t incur the cost of those services you just used. Not only is this unfair; it’s short-sighted, because it will only be so long before that retailer closes his or her doors, and you can no longer make use of those services you enjoy.

Showrooming is the scourge of my existence.  As a bookseller with 14 years of experience and 10 years as a buyer for the largest independent bookseller in Florida, I pride myself on digging through the thousands of books published each year to put the right books on the shelves, on displays, on the tables at our offsite events.  When I see someone take pictures of books with their smart phones and leave the bookstore or book fair empty-handed, it’s like a sucker punch.  I want to grab them and shake them until they feel as dizzy as I do watching them wipe their ass with my best efforts to give them something special.

For most people it’s a matter of ignorance.  They bought a book, therefore they’re supporting the book business.  It doesn’t matter where or how, Costco or Green Apple, Amazon or Books & Books, Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, online or in the flesh, there’s no way to purchase a book that isn’t good for books because books are good.

i buy book

Pictured: how the average person sees the book industry.

As a media expert, Rosenbaum doesn’t have that excuse.  He knows the difference between a publisher, a wholesaler, and a retailer.  He didn’t need to “go online and complete his purchase” he could easily have bought it from the guy standing right in front him.  He decided not to.  Worse, he writes about it like he had no choice because he couldn’t get it immediately.

I call shenanigans on that shit.


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