Amazon’s Jungle Logic

There’s a story making its rounds about Amazon’s new app that lets you scan bar codes in stores. Amazon had a promotion that let users take a percentage off their purchase if they went to a store and scanned an item. Apparently, because this happened on the Internet it’s evil in comparison to my going into two brick-and-mortar stores and purchasing the cheaper product using a coupon.

The problem, which this story alludes to, is books as a product and books as culture. I frame this debate on the Internet vs. brick-and-mortar as two people fighting over the right to sell something with one person trying to piggy back on the idea that they’re a cultural guard and that if they should fail, we’ll lose a part of who we are. Any guesses about who is on which side?

I’m supposed to divorce myself from the reality of book stores and think of them on a higher level.


Books are packaged, promoted and sold as a mass-market item. Book signings and book tours are press and marketing. We’re kidding ourselves if we think John Q. Local isn’t tracking traffic and conversion in his book store at signing events. He wants you in the door so he can sell something else. If not, the signing would have been someplace that fit more than 10 people.

Industrial design is art, but no one (well, there are probably a few) is complaining that Jony Ive isn’t signing iPads at Grand Central. Fashion is art, but I’m not upset that Simon Kneen isn’t signing my Banana Republic sweater.

I completely agree that books are works of art to celebrate. I just think cramped, musty book stores are an insulting place to celebrate them. Don’t get on your high horse and chastise me as a “scorched-earth capitalist” over your lack of a business model.

If you want to support literacy and books in your community, volunteer in schools or attend a book festival.

Author: Travis


2 thoughts on “Amazon’s Jungle Logic”

  1. You need to go to Books and Books in Miami or Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. These two stores speak volumes about the importance of place and connection. I, for one, can say with great authority that Books and Books changed my life. Amazon only saved me money. I don’t think either side is wrong – both have a dog in this fight (to stay in business by making some money) – it’s just that one is driven by corporate profit margins, another by community. As consumers, we have a choice to make – and having choices is a good thing.

    1. Let’s keep this as literary as possible.

      Too many people believe that neither can live while the other survives. Except in this case, Voldemort (Amazon) is absolutely going to win.

      We need to reframe the debate entirely from one of economics and giant corporations squashing the little guy to one of consumer culture versus artistic culture.

      All too often these battles (and why is everything an attack, battle, war) are framed as corporations killing jobs. As sad as it is, I don’t think enough people really care. We want stuff cheap.

      And the bigger problem which these skirmishes needlessly distract from, I think, is that people just generally read less these days. Don’t you think? If we keep fighting an Internet vs. brick-and-mortar argument we’re not going to perfect the reading experience on digital devices, which is exactly where the next generation is going to be. It won’t even occur to them to go to a special store that sells books. What an abstract idea that’ll be. And we’ll lose an entire generation to Glee successors.

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