February 29, 2012

Should a bookstore have to sell everything?


Seth Godin’s newest commentary for The Domino Project, “Who Decides What Gets Sold In The Bookstore?”,  doesn’t explicitly reference Amazon’s boycott of indie titles from IPG, but it says something quite relevant about Amazon’s actions: that there’s something insane about one of the biggest online retailers in the country not carrying the widest range of titles possible. Godin’s Domino Project is of course co-branded with (“Powered by”) Amazon and bills itself as aiming “to change the way books are built, sold and spread” — all of which almost makes the post look like an insider’s attack. He writes:

There’s been a long history of ubiquity at the bookstore. With a few extreme exceptions, just about every book is available at every bookstore if you’re willing to order it. Universal availability feels like part of the contract we make with bookstores-we expect them to sell everything. In the digital world, this goes triple, because there’s no issue of shelf space to deal with.

But the explicit occasion for Godin’s piece is that Apple recently refused to sell his newest book because it contained links to buy the books mentioned in the bibliography…. on Amazon. Godin argues that this prohibition against Amazon links shouldn’t be, and he invokes recent sentiments against the SOPA legislation in his jab against Apple, saying that “once bookstores start to censor the books they carry (business reasons, personal taste, etc.) then the door is open for any interest group to work hard to block books with which they disagree. Where does the line get drawn?”

It’s a good question—for Amazon especially.


Kelly Burdick is the executive editor of Melville House.