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My New Year’s Resolution is to Dump Amazon, And Why I’ll Fail

I want to see my local bookselling community survive into the future, but dumping Amazon is proving difficult.

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-chief

If you’re anything like me you probably have several ereaders around the house. I’ve got several Kindles, dating back to the first generation, which now has a blown screen and sits — sadly — serving as a $400 paperweight, its “lifetime free wireless” chip silenced (I wonder if I can pry that thing out and it put it into something else?). There are three Barnes & Noble Nooks with in reach, one Glowlight model and the new Nook HD models around, which have been loaned to me…I have a Txtr Beagle that was given to me at a promo event at the Frankfurt Book Fair, but I can’t get to sync a single title via Txtr’s app. There’s my phone and the half dozen apps that can read books. There is the iPad…The stuff is stacking up, but since it all more-or-less syncs, it works for me in tandem.

So, why is my New Year’s resolution to dump Amazon for my ebook purchases? Well, like most other people, I want to see my local bookselling community survive into the future.

“…like most other people, I want to see my local bookselling community survive into the future.”

But I hate to say it, as much as many of us are reticent to give Amazon our business, they always trump the competition. Why? Simple. Convenience. They got there first, they have the majority of my library, and for a book critic like myself, I can one click to have a galley sent to me via NetGalley. That is very, okay, convenient. If I want to put a review ebook on any other device, I need to download it, launch Adobe Digital Editions, sync the device, etc…grrrrr.

Why Can’t You Order a Kobo Device Direct?

With the (re)launch of Kobo in the US market I was planning on switching over to a Kobo Glo. My allegiance to indie bookstores goes back to my days as an indie bookseller (until Barnes & Noble bought the company I worked for back in the early ’90s) and I’d like to see the two indies in the city where I live survive, but I can’t even figure out how to buy one, save for driving over to one of the stores (a not insignificant trip) and hoping they have what I want in stock. A Glo? A Mini? Both? If my shopping patterns are anything, both sound good to me.

But honestly, why can’t you order direct through Kobo’s site? Or can you? I can’t figure out how — all I get are multiple click-through screens telling me to “Learn more.” It’s simply absurd that you can’t order direct. With Amazon everything is one click and it’s done. The device shows up two-days later, assuming they have it in stock (which was a problem for several months after the launch of the Paperwhite). I suppose I could order a Kobo through BestBuy.com. But I’d rather spend my money at a bookseller. Which was the point of this whole “switch to Kobo” project to begin with.

Grumbling about the New Nooks

This Christmas I have been using a pair of the new B&N HD tablet devices. They are very appealing. Light, snappy, with great screens. Look at them in the store and you think, “ah, this really is for me.” That is not the case when you play with several of Amazon’s tablet devices in the small handful of retailers that still stock them (Staples, MicroCenter come to mind). Side by side, B&N’s devices are much nicer. And then you turn them on — itself a pleasant experience—and you think, “ooooh, I made the right decision.” And then you start using them…shame, but this is where the experience starts to fall apart. If you have an iPad, as many people who might be shopping this segment do, the tablet experience pales. Even if you have an Android device, the experience disappoints.

Specifically, B&N has touted the superior magazine-reading experience on their devices. Reading, for example, the New Yorker magazine, you find that it is is the same downloadable format as on the iPad — perhaps a bit lighter because of less interactive elements — but you can’re resize the text. There’s no “article view,” which takes an article and blows it out to a full screen-text only view (a nice feature on B&N devices, which incidentally, has only been pulling dated content — the “article view” on the New York Times home page pulls stories from mid-2012). And you can’t enlarge the size of the page at all. What gives? This is a bit of a deal-breaker here. No resizable text on a magazine — or at least certainly no intuitive resizing — makes no sense.

Oh, and these days, why bother subscribing to magazines via a bookseller anyway when you can use NextIssue to subscribe to the vast majority of major-title magazines for a reasonable fee? B&N, wisely, doesn’t offer the option to access this app on their platform — why would they? They want to sell you their own subscriptions.

Using the Nook for books is magic. Both of the HD devices are light and taller, rather than wider, then their competitors, which makes them easier to hold — this is especially nice with the HD+ tablet, as it give you a two page view. Lovely. And the Glowlight remains my go to reader. I’m so happy with it, I’ve bought three, because the first two seem to have had quality control issues and broke.

Amazon is Simply, Well, Convenient

Speaking of broke, I’ve spent a ton of money on e-books over the holidays. It is, after all, when I have the most time to read. But it’s surprising to me how, after trying to deliberately purchase books from Amazon’s competitors, they keep luring me back in. After all, so many blogs, critics and others continue to rely on Amazon as an affiliate company, one they link to in order to garner a few pennies or dollars should I purchase the book the recommend. What’s more, yes, it’s a simple fact, Amazon is almost always cheaper. They are pros at putting on sales and helping you find them — their “Daily Deal,” offered in four categories almost always has something appealing. In contrast, B&N offers just a single “Daily Find,” which is often also appealing, but as a single title, is a far more limited choice.

And there’s the Amazon lending library, which is very — sorry for the repetition — convenient.

Oh, and lest I forget, I’ve been buying books from Amazon since 2007 (and as far back as 2000). They have a library of books that I’ve licensed in my servers. I’m stuck with them no matter what I do.

I suppose I’m trapped proverbial walled garden.

So tell me, am I simply being lazy by not putting my principles into practice, of wanting to switch but finding the effort and expense involved too daunting and/or disappointing? Have you tried to make a switch? Have you succeeded?

Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. George Robinson
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article; as someone who is both an author and a compulsive book-buyer (I used to cash my checks at a local bookstore — an improvement over doing it at a local bar), I sympathize with both your eagerness to spread the wealth to indie bookstores and to wean yourself away from the perfidious influence of Jeff Bezos.

    Judging by your photo, I have a few years on you and I think as one gets older, a certain amount of inertia takes over your life. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, you reluctantly pick your battles on the basis of dwindling time and energy. Not, I would add, dwindling rage at injustice — that shouldn’t change, but you become accustomed to letting younger men and women do the heavy lifting. (Did I mention the increasing appeal of that close relative of inertia, sheer laziness?)

    All joking aside, the real question is what is to be gained by boycotting Amazon, either officially or personally. If you’re going to spend the money at local indies, that’s great, but you need to convince others to do likewise. Of course, that was the whole point of the article, wasn’t it? So you’re definitely not barking up the wrong tree.

    I’ve been reading PP for about a year now and thoroughly enjoy it. I find it both entertaining and informative and recommend it to my friends in the business. Keep up the good work, and have a healthy and productive 2013!

    George Robinson

    One small typo: “They got their first”


  2. Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Dear Edward,

    I see what you mean and I hope Amazon doesn’t do anything that will deeply affect the way consumers see the company (as it has been happening with Walmart, Papa John’s, Applebee’s and other businesses that have had political mishaps and labor issues that drove patrons away). The reason I say that is because I, too, am crazy about books and my Kindle has definitely made a deep change in my life.

    I was actually wondering if I could translate parts of your article and quote you through a trackback link on a small website called eBookBR.com, which is a collective blog from Brazil (formerly known as KindleBR.com, but Amazon made them release the name to them…). It’s about the world of digital books and eReaders and how Brazilians can have access to hardware and content. There are many reviews being posted there by other columnists who, unlike me, are physically in Brazil. I believe yours is a great perspective from which our Brazilian visitors would greatly benefit.

    You see, Kobo is gaining momentum down in Brazil because the device itself is being sold in the country. Besides, they partnered with one of the largest national bookstores to sell Kobo books online. While Amazon has just launched Amazon.com.br exclusively with a Kindle Store for Brazilian readers, Kindle devices will slowly reach Brazilian shores now in early 2013, so the competition in that market is pretty fierce right now.

    Considering that, I believe your observations would paint a nice picture for people to make an informed decision regarding their ebook selection.

    Kind regards,
    Rafa Lombardino
    Literary News Blog http://bit.ly/literarynews

  3. Alison
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Hi – what I did was to buy myself the Kobo Mini. I did get it from BestBuy however (it was before they were widely available in the bookstores.) I use it for reading the epub library books (that don’t come in Kindle format), for epub galleys, etc. I haven’t bought any books for it yet. It’s my secondary reader and I do have the Kindle 1, and 2 Kindle keyboards as well.

  4. Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Buying a Kobo direct from a bookseller might put a little money in its coffers for that initial outlay, but what then? You would still be buying ebooks from large conglomerates and/or direct from publishers. Until local indie stores adopt a model that embraces ebooks (and there are no local-to-me stores that do so), the problem for local booksellers remains that of epublishing vs traditional print.

    I use a non-Kindle device. While I shop at Amazon occasionally, my choice of ereader was deliberate, so that I wouldn’t be giving Amazon more money than I already do. I like to think that, at the very least, I am supporting indie publishers by buying from them directly.

    As for convenience, that’s something readers have to grapple with within themselves. I don’t buy on impulse, because I have only so much money and so much time and already with so many books to read. So I don’t mind syncing, or checking ahead, or waiting for availability, because I feel more in control of my reading, rather than my impulses, or Amazon, controlling me.

  5. Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    In Australia Book.ish (recently acquired by OverDrive) has partnered with the Small Press Network and with independent bookstores to sell ebooks. So I can now buy ebooks from my local independent. I read all my ebooks on my iPad, using the Kobo, Kindle and iBooks apps. I don’t find the Book.ish app (which is actually a browser) nearly as good the Kindle or iBooks apps, but it’s comparable to the Kobo app. But when I want to do something positive like buy an indie book from an indie store, I at least have the option now! See http://ebooks.readings.com.au/ for an example.

  6. Michael
    Posted January 15, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    ebooks? I haven’t been trapped by that snare as of now; I don’t think I will unless I am forced to. Somehow I don’t think that will happen. I am not comfortable with the idea of another device that has to be plugged in or charged. I don’t relish the idea of having to worry about how to dispose of another device that is not environmentally easily to part with.

    I like the printed format. The weight and feel of a bound book is not a burden to me. In fact, I have so many that make me feel good after having read them, that I can just look at the book on the shelve and relive some of its magic, fury or confusion.

    When a printed book is not of value to me any longer (rarely) I either give it to someone to read or if forced to burn it in my woodstove for heat.

  7. Nancy
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I live in a small town and it’s important to me to keep it vibrant by supporting small businesses. But I also want to reward good service.

    I buy everything local in town that I possibly can – even if I pay a premium and don’t always get exactly what I want. But if I can’t buy it locally, I have decided it has only marginal ethical utility to buy it in a big box chain that offers mediocre service.

    Amazon does well because it provides good service – it’s convenient. I would also note that in its bid to take over the retail world, many of the non-book products I’ve recently ordered come from non-Amazon vendors. Non-chain stores not in my town. So that’s a good too. I did buy a kindle – because my son lives in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa and he can download – for free – any book Amazon sells for kindle. And access wikipedia and (if he’s really patient) surf the web, even though the only internet within 10 miles of his home is his blackberry. And read the books on his blackberry as well. And the device runs for 3 months without a battery charge in a place where electricity is hard to come by. Sorry – a company that offers a service like that deserves loyalty.

  8. Ian Kemmish
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Why should weaning yourself off be difficult? I have never made a purchase from Amazon, and intend never to do so.

    The explanation is simplicity itself. Around ten years ago, I discovered that someone was making purchases from Amazon using one of my email addresses and somebody else’s stolen credit card. It took me SIX WEEKS to get anyone at Amazon to take any notice – I eventually had to write a paper letter to their copyright lawyers in this country.

    After that, I simply don’t go aynwhere near the site.

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