After decades representing them, I am not particularly sentimental about giant corporations. They do not exist to care about their employees, their officials, or their customers. They exist to organize economic activity and produce a return on capital. If that requires that they undertake an action that would seem caring if performed by an individual, that’s generally an accident.
But the story about Barnes & Noble in this morning’s New York Times coincides with some of my recent thinking, so I want to get a few points off my chest.
- The survival of B&N stores is really important to those the book industry — people working in it and people who enjoy reading books. Don’t get me wrong — I love independent bookstores. I’m a devotee of Politics & Prose in this region. But B&N has over 700 stores and is the remaining premium retail outlet for books in this country. It is an unrivaled showroom for new books, which is REALLY important to those of us who write them. Even with all the space devoted to selling its Nook e-reader, its stores are still a good place to browse.
- I’m not opposed to Amazon. If I can get something on Amazon that I can’t get anywhere else, that’s fine. But I am trying to change my habits to make Amazon a last resort when I’m book-shopping. I can get e-books for my Ipad from B&N. I can get used books from B&N, also, or from www.vialibri.net, an amazing site for more obscure titles (check it out). If I shop through B&N, I’m supporting their overall business and those all-important showrooms.
- B&N’s website — as near as I can tell — is collecting tax to pay to state governments for sales into that jurisdiction, which is something Amazon has never done. At the risk of sounding naive, I think that’s terrific. No, I’m not crazy about paying taxes, but it is the price of being part of civilized society, and it’s lousy when there’s a glaring example of non-compliance which requires that others pay more. Individual states are slowly forcing Amazon is to collect sales tax, but I like a business that has decided to comply with the law all on its own.
There are more steps I need to take. I should put a buy-the-book button for Barnes & Noble on this site, though I’m not sure I’ve actually sold any books through this site . . . ever. And over at the Washington Independent Review of Books, the online book review that I and some amazing people have been operating for almost a year, we are going to install such a button; we do sell books through that site, and would invite you to use it!
But when you’re looking into e-books, used books, or online ordering of real books, think about B&N. Even though it doesn’t care about us, it’s important to us.