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Salon Thinks Indie Bookstores Are Only Surviving on the Goodwill of Celebrity Authors was once the chef proponent of the "Amazon kills indie bookstores" meme, but once it was clear that indies were thriving in spite of everything the retailer can throw at them Salon had to look for a new way to proclaim that indies are still doomed.

And on Friday they found it: celebrity authors.

In the minds of Salon’s editors, indie bookstores aren’t thriving because they serve the community but because celebrity authors are supporting an otherwise doomed cause:

It’s always good news when a bookstore opens, and when it’s an indie backed with significant amounts of cash, and run by someone who really cares, it’s even better. So like everyone else, we smiled when we saw the New York Times story about “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” author Jeff Kinney — whose series “has spawned three feature films that have earned more than $225 million worldwide” — opening a bookstore in Plainville, Mass. Like Parnassus, the shop novelist Ann Patchett co-owns in Nashville, this will allow people to stumble upon books they’d never thought of looking at, it will employ booklovers behind the counter, and will hold events that allow authors to reach readers. All good things.

But it also makes us wonder: In the Age of Amazon, are the only people who can open bookstores celebrity authors? And aren’t these cheery stories about these mostly anomalous events kind of distracting us from the big picture?

Yes, folks, indie bookstores depend on the kindness of strangers and the charity of celebrity authors.

Thanks to those celebrity authors, 59 indie bookstores opened last year in the US. Another 44 opened in 2013, and 77 new bookstores opened in 2012, all thanks to celebrity authors.

Wow. I didn’t know that we even had that many celebrity authors in the US, but to be fair I don’t really follow celebrity news much (not even of the book type).

And here I thought indies were thriving due to their efforts to provide services which Amazon could not: face to face customer service, author events, personal (and not personalized) recommendations, and as I reported in 2013:

Indeed, many bookstore owners are trying to create a sort of community center amid their shelves. They’ve filled their store calendars with events like author lectures, writing workshops, and children’s camps. Adding cafes also helps to create a scene while also diversifying revenue beyond just selling the latest bestsellers.

But now we know that none of that is correct. Thanks, Salon!

In all seriousness, folks, Salon is so focused on blaming Amazon that they try to minimize the growing trend. They describe the 400 plus bookstores opened in the US since 2009 as "up a bit from ’09".

Four hundred new niche retailers opening in the midst of a recession is awesome news, in my opinion.

But never mind that; Salon would remind you that Amazon is evil:

So what’s the larger context? For years, Amazon paid no sales tax while it competed against brick-and-mortar stores that did; it still gets huge amounts of support from the federal government (that $600 million from the CIA is more than four times the entire National Endowment for the Arts budget) and Wall Street serves as an endless financial teat. Amazon is like the dumb rich kid in your high school who runs for class president and wipes everyone else off the map because Mom bakes the whole school cookies and Dad hires someone to wash their cars.

Nothing else matters, does it?

images by kamshotsMartin Cathrae

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fjtorres May 25, 2015 um 10:01 am

It’s cute how they think the only way readers "stumble" across good reads is by driving miles and miles to troll the passages of musty B&M stores in the hope that a spine-out title below knee level will catch their eye and touch their soul.

That is one zombie meme that’s just begging for burial.

fjtorres May 25, 2015 um 10:07 am

Btw, that $600M Amazon gets from the CIA is for setting up a private Agency-wide Cloud.

Aside from it being actual, you know, *work* they are performing, it would be interesting to see how many booksellers, publishers, or media types would even understand the RFP, much less be capable of doing the work.

Nate Hoffelder May 25, 2015 um 10:26 am

Yeah, that one was so ridiculous that I didn’t think it needed debunking.

fjtorres May 25, 2015 um 10:32 am

Oh, you can be sure there’s hordes of tinfoil hat ADS types the world over who take it seriously. After all, what could be more natural than the CIA teaming up with Amazon to destroy literature?

Mackay Bell May 26, 2015 um 10:49 pm

Oddly, the CIA is responsible for the over emphasis on "literary" fiction in universities, which they did help promote back in the cold war to prove we could write better than the Commies.

Nate Hoffelder May 27, 2015 um 5:06 am

Aha! So all those litfic publishers actually part of a massive CIA conspiracy?

The plot thickens!

Elaine May 25, 2015 um 10:29 am

"dumb rich kid"? Amazon does something that is very difficult very well: dependably provide goods within three days of being ordered. I am old enough to remember when anything that came by mail had the caveat "Allow four to six weeks for delivery." The fact that Amazon delivers a huge variety of items within three days of ordering is a logistical miracle.

Rob Siders May 25, 2015 um 2:44 pm

For years, Amazon paid no sales tax while it competed against brick-and-mortar stores that did

Why does no one understand how sales tax works? No local brick-and-mortar store pays sales tax, either.

Chris Meadows May 25, 2015 um 5:16 pm

Wait, how do you figure that local brick and mortar stores don’t pay sales tax?

Or are you picking the semantical nit that they collect sales tax rather than just pay it?

Nate Hoffelder May 25, 2015 um 5:22 pm

It’s a nit worth picking.

What’s more, as physical stores move to sell more online they too get to take advantage of that loophole.

fjtorres May 25, 2015 um 6:02 pm

Plus, Amazon does pay sales tax…
…when they *buy* stuff and are the customer. 🙂

Rob Siders May 25, 2015 um 7:07 pm

I don’t consider it a nit. It’s a completely invalid critique. It’d be like calling a homeowner a tax cheat because they deducted mortgage interest.

Nate Hoffelder May 26, 2015 um 7:45 am

And it is especially important given yesterday’s news about Amazon paying corporate taxes in the EU. There’s a huge difference between collecting and paying, and we need to keep it straight.

Kate May 27, 2015 um 7:06 pm

The demise of Borders was the best thing that ever happened to the indie bookstore. Amazon provides a different 'type' of service, so the competition is not on the same level. It was the 'big box' bookstores that nearly killed the indies, and now that they are dead and dying, we’re seeing a resurgence.

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