The Eternal Battle Between Amazon and The Local Bookstore


Nashville used to have a lot of bookstores — the big chain bookstores like Barnes &Nobles and Borders, and a really nice smaller chain bookstore Davis-Kidd, as well as some interesting used bookstores. And then Amazon and the recession happened and we were left with a couple of used bookstores.

Since then, we’ve had some interesting things happen. Ann Patchett opened up Parnassus Books, which is a really lovely traditional bookstore that has really awesome author events (this summer, I saw Radley Balko and Alex Bledsoe there less than a week apart, to give you some idea of the frequency of events there and the breadth of authors they bring in). Grimey’s, which is one of the most awesome record shops ever, has a small bookstore now — Howlin’ Books, which offers books curated along the same lines as the record shop is and is full of new and used books they know will appeal to their customers. And then there’s East Side Story, run by my friend, Chuck Beard, which only carries books by local authors (thus making it a fun place to run into local authors).

They’re very different places, but what each of them offers is a reason to go into them. You know, if you go to Parnassus, that you’re going to see prominent authors and be able to pick up books that have gotten national buzz. At Howlin’ Books, if you like one or two books there, you know you’ll probably like a lot of the books there. And at East Side Story, you can see what Nashville’s literary community is up to. I hope they all thrive for years.

I still sometimes buy books from Amazon. Yes, I am ruining bookstore culture, and thus our culture in general, but I keep buying books from Amazon.

Here’s the deal. I grew up in small towns. How small? My graduating class in high school was 47 people. I never lived in a town with a bookstore. If I wanted to read a book, I either got it from the library, which, in some places we lived was a two-room building, or I hoped someone would drive me into a town with a mall where I might go to a B. Dalton’s or a Waldenbooks. If you remember those places, you know. Oh, you know.

I was a voracious reader, but there wasn’t a lot for me to read.

Amazon seemed like a miracle. Any book I had ever heard of I could get, even in a tiny town without a bookstore. I didn’t have to hope some buyer at B. Dalton thought the book I wanted was worthwhile. Amazon just had it.

I work in book publishing (not the glamourous side, but the smaller, more unglamourous university press side) and I know, intimately, all the issues with Amazon. I know why bookstores hate them. I know why publishers hate them.

I still love them, though. I can’t get enough of the miracle that is every book I know I want is right there, waiting for me to buy it, and those books will just come to me, wherever I am.

I feel torn about this, though. The thing I love about Nashville’s bookstores is that they’re curated — someone has picked those books out for a reason and put them on those shelves so that you can easily find something to read, even if you’re not sure what you might like to read. And the thing I love about Amazon is that there’s no one standing between me and what I want to read.

I have made this compromise with myself. If I am in a local bookstore and see something that interests me, I buy it from that bookstore. They have made browsing easy and interesting and I’m not going to do that terrible thing where people open up their Kindle app or pull up Amazon on their phones and see if they can’t get it for cheaper. I won’t use my local bookstores as showrooms for Amazon.

But I’m also not going to not shop at Amazon. If I hear of a book and I’m not in a bookstore and I decide I want to buy it, I’ll go ahead and buy it from Amazon. Because I am still, at heart, that girl who didn’t have a bookstore until Amazon put one in my home.

But it feels like a worst of both worlds compromise.