The Last Nail

Blogging has been very slow (okay, non-existent) for the past couple of years while I slogged away at India Currents (no, not really). But I’ve recently come into some time and the approaching New Year nudges me to a resolution that I will get WNI up and running again.

The biggest challenge for a blogger is to get inspired to write, especially when there are just so many distractions. (At this moment I count 7, no, 8 portals to the time sink that is the world wide web in my house, who knows how many more the Christmas season will bring). But sometimes you come across a piece of information that motivates you, or infuriates you to get off that lazy, spreading butt and vent.

Today’s prod is this article in the NYT:

Amazon was encouraging customers to go into brick-and-mortar bookstores on Saturday, and use its price-check app (which allows shoppers in physical stores to see, by scanning a bar code, if they can get a better price online) to earn a 5 percent credit on Amazon purchases (up to $5 per item, and up to three items).

I would be more appalled, but all I can think of saying to the company is – “Suckers! We’ve been doing this for years for free.” How do you think Fremont, CA lost every single bookstore in the neighborhood?

After the Citizen’s United decision by the US Supreme Court, there were howls of outrage by progressives about terming corporations as people. I used to protest too, but lately I’ve been wondering if the war could be better fought by exposing exactly what kind of people corporations are – greedy, self-serving, and soulless.

Amazon That kind of personality that would not be tolerated in a human being. We value qualities like compassion, tolerance, and altruism in other human beings, so why shouldn’t we demand it of a corporation too? After all, if the corporation has a right to free speech, a right to spend money without restrictions, (and life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness too, it seems) then why shouldn’t it be bound by the same kind of civilized behavior that we expect of our more sentient peers?

However, social behavior is a product of conditioning; the boor and the bully are usually stopped not by the law but by ostracism, by the collective agreement that their behavior is not acceptable. An analogical strategy would be send Amazon the message that their heavy-handed tactics are abhorrent by boycotting them. But is that even possible anymore? As I write this, a few packages are on their way to my doorstep; a few weeks ago, when I saw a copy of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder in an airport bookstore, my hand hovered over it only for the seconds it took my brain to resolve to look it up online. (I eventually found it in my local library, but with Amazon’s lending service on the Kindle, and enormous pressure to cut funding for government services, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next assault is on that esteemed institution.) I was one of those handful of people in my city who shopped at my local stores regularly, but Fremont has now become a junkyard of dollar stores, buffet restaurants, and discount clothiers, apparently the only kind of retail that can weather a recession.

Ms. Patchett is one of the authors quoted in the NYT article. To her credit, and my fervent admiration, she has opened up an independent store in Nashville, TN, precisely to counter this mind-numbing creep of commerce into literature. Even her response to Amazon’s latest shenanigans is resigned rather than militant –

“There is no point in fighting them or explaining to them that we should be able to coexist civilly in the marketplace,” [she writes]. “I don’t think they care. I do think it’s worthwhile explaining to customers that the lowest price point does not always represent the best deal. If you like going to a bookstore then it’s up to you to support it. If you like seeing the people in your community employed, if you think your city needs a tax base, if you want to buy books from a person who reads, don’t use Amazon.”

Is someone in my neighborhood listening? Please open a bookstore – I promise you at least one loyal customer.

2 thoughts on “The Last Nail

  1. Moitreyee Chowdhury

    Ah! It was a sad demise for our bookstores. They died from being a bookstore to a toy and crappy gizmo store to nothing. I got my first job in Fremont because I was standing at the right place in Borders, and shared a laugh over a certain celebrity tattoo magazine. Do not see something like that in future.



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