Internet use is as widespread as cable TV, and an internet user in rural Utah has access to more books than a citizen of Greenwich Village had before the web. Millions more books. Like record stores and video rental places, physical bookstores simply can’t compete for breadth of offering and, also like the social changes around music and moving images, the internet is strengthening rather than weakening the ability of niches and sub-cultures to see themselves reflected in long-form writing.
The internet also moderates the competitive threat, because the competition is only a click away. Amazon lists millions of books, but so does eBay, and publishers like O’Reilly or McGraw-Hill or Alyson can sell directly to the reader. If you had to choose between buying books only offline or only online, the choice that maximizes the number of ideas in circulation is unambiguously clear. Even if all but a dozen online booksellers were to vanish, there would still be more places to buy books on the web than there are bookstores in the average American city today.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Clay Shirky writes about the American Booksellers Association's open letter to the Justice Department asking Justice to investigate the competitors the ABA's members can't profitably compete against. The article is great throughout—Shirky has a keen grasp of the economics, technology, and social change involved—so please read all of Local Bookstores, Social Hubs, and Mutualization: