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Digital buying: Is it our only future?

When reading a recent article in the New York Times about Amazon and its apparent goal of monopolizing the bookselling industry, one sentence in the story stood out as an epiphany to me.
A sentence from the article “Booksellers Resisting Amazon’s Disruption” reads: “Amazon can do many things, but it still cannot let readers examine a book before buying.”
The more I thought about that, the more the point was driven home. Digital buying and selling, digital informing and teaching is intangible and fleeting at best. Shopping online affords convenience, but it also limits your ability to actually touch and consider the items you’re buying.
The article is about “The 4-Hour Chef” by best-selling author Timothy Ferriss. According to the article in August 2011, Ferriss, a former nutritional supplements marketer (now there’s an endorsement for being an expert in the field of healthy eating), signed a seven-figure deal with Amazon. It seems that Amazon wanted books that would make an impact in both the digital and physical worlds and felt Ferriss’s offerings would have such a presence.
The problem with all this Amazon business is that other bookstores, both physical and digital, felt betrayed by Ferriss when he signed with the digital giant. The article said they had been champions of the author before his book deal, and most are adamant that Amazon is out to destroy the smaller book chains and independent bookstores.
A direct quote from the article by Michael Tucker, owner of the Books Inc. chain, reads as this: “At a certain point, you have to decide how far you want to nail your own coffin shut.”
In response, a lot of the smaller chains and independent stores and other online venues aren’t carrying the book.
So, what does all this mean to the traditional bookstore? What does it mean when it comes to those book signings by your favorite authors that you look forward to? It’s a given that you can’t shake John Grisham’s hand online.
Living in a digital age is a wonderful thing, but when it comes to the bookshelves in your home, or sitting down with your child to explore and enjoy Dr. Seuss, it’s really hard to get the same results from digital copies of your favorite book.
And while you can, of course, order your hard copies from Amazon’s virtual bookstore – the experience is much different from walking the aisles of Barnes & Noble or your local community bookstore such as Square Books.
According to the article, even retail-giant Walmart said that Ferriss’s book would only be offered through its online presence, and Target isn’t carrying it at all, although it will offer other similarly-contented material.
In short, as the buying public, we have to make a stand. Do we want our local bookstores and real shopping venues to disappear due to the gargantuan presence of companies such as Amazon, Google and Apple? Do we want to replace that wonderful experience of walking the aisles of a bookstore, or even a library, with typing in the right dot com address to fulfill our buying needs?
If the future holds nothing but a digital world for us as consumers, won’t that serve to limit our own real-life experiences immeasurably?
And that’s what worries me.

Angela Rogalski is a print journalism senior who lives in Abbeville. Follow her on Twitter @abbeangel.