On Showrooming Amazon Books

This blog has been intentionally quiet for the past few months, as I work on finishing my novel and my book on myth and creativity. However, I had a little adventure last week, and I’d like to share it with all of you.

As I’m sure many of you know, behemoth internet bookseller Amazon recently opened their first physical store in my home city of Seattle. On Friday I was doing some shopping nearby, when I saw a challenge on Twitter by Paul Constant. He promised a gift certificate to Elliott Bay Book Company to the first person to go into Amazon Books, shop for a book there, then go buy it from their favorite indie bookseller.

For some context, for years Amazon has actively encouraged their customers to browse for books in physical bookstores, then buy the book from Amazon instead, a practice called “showrooming.” See Paul Constant’s write up about it here. Paul thought it’d be cool if someone did the same thing to them. I was only about 100 yards away when I saw his tweet, so I went over to Amazon Books.

I found it a strange experience. It definitely doesn’t feel like other bookstores to me. I saw multiple copies of MM Kaye’s The Far Pavilions, which was a huge bestseller in the eighties. I read and loved it then, but is there really that big a demand for it in Seattle thirty years later? I suppose if the algorithims say so, it must be true.

I found a copy of a book I’d been wanting to read, Alice Hoffman’s The Marriage of Opposites. I took a picture of the book, then went to the website of Queen Anne Book Company and bought it.

I was excited about this challenge because I love shopping in local indie bookstores. To me they feel like temples to the life of the mind, and I love being in a shared space with other book lovers, even if I don’t talk to any of them. I can afford to pay full list price for books, and I feel a responsibility to help keep these communities alive. Full disclosure, I do still shop at Amazon. With four voracious readers in our family, we buy a lot of books. Buying from Amazon is certainly convenient, but I love the experience of being in a bookstore and finding a book that I love that I never would have thought to look for. I’ve found some of my favorite authors that way, and read books that have changed my life.

I was the first person to “reverse-showroom” at Amazon, as such I won a $75 gift certificate at Elliott Bay Book Company, here in Seattle. We went in on Saturday, and each member of our family found something new to read. I thought that it was a fun adventure, and that would be the end of it.

However, today the UK newspaper The Guardian did a story about my little adventure. Very exciting stuff!

It’s been interesting to see how this little stunt is being discussed on the internet. Some people think it’s elitist to pay more for a book than you absolutely have to. Others think it’s great to stick it to Amazon, even in a small way. Most seem to love the support for indie bookstores.

I don’t know if this story will have any more “legs” than this, but it’s been fun to have 15 seconds of internet “fame,” if it can even be called that. The last time I caught the attention of strangers from the internet it was a very discouraging experience, and this time it was nice to have strangers thinking I’m awesome, instead of hating me.

Go buy a book from your favorite indie bookseller today!

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