Can’t We All Just Get Along?

There were several reasons I decided to quit my full-time writing job and become an owner at Church Street Coffee & Books. One was that I wanted access to free books and coffee. One was that I love our little community of customers and employees. But the main reason was that I think books are at an extremely critical point — the entire industry is being rewritten (pardon the pun), and I wanted to be a part of it.




I still want to be a part of it. But the changes that are making this industry so exciting are also making it a bit terrifying. Take this week, for example: Several publishers are fighting against the tyranny of Amazon and running into a Department of Justice lawsuit in the process. And Google has just announced that, in one stroke, they’ll both pull their support of independent bookstores and become yet another rich competitor.


Why should we care about all this infighting? Because these companies are more focused on creating a product that they can completely control than on inventing an ebook that’s good for the reader. Instead of building on each other’s ideas, we’re building walls of copyrights and patents. Instead of allowing any book to be read on any device, we’re battling to keep competitors’ stories out of our customers’ hands. Instead of sharing knowledge and encouraging creativity, we’re trying to cash in at any cost — and that’s pretty much the opposite of what books are supposed to stand for.


I understand that a company must protect its interests, and I’m not expecting Amazon and Google to go open source or anything like that, but this level of dictatorial control is absurd. It’s not only bad for the industry (and for the art of storytelling), but it shows a lack of willingness to learn from the mistakes of industries (film and music) that have gone through the digital revolution before us.


I hope the DOJ rules in favor of publishers and independent retailers, and I hope Google’s abandonment of indies makes room for new and better ebook wholesalers to step into the void and do things better. All good stories hit a low point before they reach their happy ending — I just hope this is an industry turning point instead of becoming business as usual.


(Church Street note: The Google change will effect our books, but not for a long time — they aren’t dropping us until 2013, and we’re looking into new options for ebooks. Until then, keep purchasing ebooks from Church Street and PostScript, and they should still be available in your Google account even after our partnership is over.)


Carrie Rollwagen is co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books.


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