Dave and Goliath: Maverick writer Eggers takes a stand against Amazon | Books
The plight of the street bookstore, battling the power of online giants, is a common complaint on both sides of the Atlantic. But it is rare for leading players, authors and publishers, to put their words into action and take a stand against the tide.
This month award-winning campaign writer Dave Eggers risks US sales of his new novel, The whole, by limiting access to hard copies. Only small bookstores will offer it.
It’s a typical move for Eggers, who has long pushed industry conventions aside, starting his own non-profit publishing house, McSweeney’s, in 1998, two years before his bestseller. A heartbreaking work of astonishing genius. But it’s also something that fits the topic of his new book perfectly. A sequel to his 2013 hit, The circle, it’s a dystopian satire, featuring a company that looks a lot like Amazon.
For the book’s US release on Tuesday, Eggers will allow hardcover editions to be sold only at small bookstores. A few weeks later, Vintage, a division of Random House, will release an eBook and paperback version. Even then, customers will not be able to purchase the hardcover on Amazon.
Eggers’ decision of non-compliance has been greeted with great gratitude by owners of independent US bookstores, who are battling the huge post-Covid shift to online services.
“It gave us the impression that the author and the publishing industry really care about small stores,” said Laura Scott Schaefer, owner of Scattered Books in Chappaqua, New York. “It was difficult to compete with the bigger retailers. Any little advantage that we can get in any type of space is great.
Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books in Miami and creator of the Miami International Book Fair, goes one step further. He believes Eggers recognizes “the important role that independent booksellers play in the ecology of our literary culture.” Kaplan sees Eggers’ innovation as a store support more than an attack on Amazon, which, after all, has had a negative impact on a wide range of other small businesses. The big question for Kaplan is what would be lost if independent bookstores disappeared.
“You would lose a diversity of voices when you lose a diversity of salespeople. The people who sell literature in a community help people discover voices that otherwise might not be presented, ”he said.
In Britain, where Eggers’ release day will be like any other, retailers are clamoring for a similar champion. And many authors will rally to the cause on Saturday, Bookstore Day, by attending live events at local bookstores. Leading writers Jeanette Winterson, Ian Rankin, Mark O’Connell, Val McDermid, KN Chimbiri and Piers Torday are among those who gave signings or readings on October 9.
Popular resistance against the dominance of online book sales has three main strands in the UK. The first is the growing solidarity between independent bookstores across nations, characterized by the arrival a year ago of uk.bookshop.org, a book-buying portal that reimburses booksellers that are not part of large chains. In 12 months, the site was joined by 480 independent bookstores, generating £ 1.6m for them.
Nicole Vanderbilt, managing director of the UK site, said defending the independent bookstore was “vital” work. “They are a fundamental part of their local communities, often providing more than just a place to buy books. We pride ourselves on being an online site that offers insight into that expert bookseller touch but, more importantly, enables clients to support freelancers.
The second response to online domination is a campaign to persuade Amazon to let its staff join a union, improve their conditions and thus level the playing field. It is led by the Unite union, which also published a report on Amazon’s business strategies and set up a confidential whistleblower hotline for workers. “We call on Amazon to support a declaration that guarantees workers the freedom to speak out and form a union without fear in the UK and Ireland,” a spokesperson for Unite said over the weekend. Hotline callers, Unite says, spoke of the stress, poor health and the everyday indignities of a “toxic” work culture.
The third element of the popular movement takes place in the main streets. Drawing inspiration from activists such as Eggers, who set up places to read on the West Coast of the United States, many bookstores are now venues for community groups and events. In the aftermath of the lockdown, the bookstore appears to have become a focal point for many people.
“It is very clear that everyone is enjoying the experience of boating, making recommendations from the team here and attending our author events again,” said Sheryl Shurville, owner of Chorleywood Bookshop in Hertfordshire. and Gerrards Cross Books, Buckinghamshire. “All of our customers have been incredibly supportive over the past 18 months, but it’s great to get some form of normalcy as we head into Bookstore Day and the busiest time in the world. year for bookstores. “
On Saturday, Ann Cleeves, the bestselling author of the Shetland, Vera and Two Rivers novels, will be signing copies at her local bookstore, The Bound in Whitley Bay, Northumberland, while Melissa Cummings-Quarry and Natalie A Carter, authors of Grown: Black Girls’ Guide to Shine will attend an event at the newly opened Bookhaus Bristol. The founders of the Black Girls’ Book Club will share stories and tips starting at 4 p.m. While in Seaton, Devon, the Owl and Pyramid Bookstore plays host to a series of events, including a children’s book scavenger hunt.
Author Graeme Macrae Burnet to take a walk-in mystery tour of bookshops in the north of England, from The Book Case, Hebden Bridge, to sign copies of his book Case study; and in Rotherham, from Tuesday, Typeset, a new community bookstore and collaborative workspace, is handing out £ 5 vouchers to five winners of a daily contest for customers who arrive with a five-line poem.
In Eggers’ new book, Mae Holland, the protagonist of The circle, became the ugly leader of a company taking over a rival, with a familiar-looking founder who “was only too happy to withdraw the money and devote his time to space exploration with his fourth spouse”. But, for the writer, the narrative is more than a chance to poke fun at Jeff Bezos. Eggers highlights the huge shift towards online technology in our lives.
“I don’t think most people necessarily realize how much an inhibitory species changes that – this overwhelming, constant and inevitable surveillance,” he said recently, adding, “and that makes us a much less species. interesting and much more subject to technology. “