Maybe We Can't Live Without Amazon

By Meghan McNamara

I say it a lot these days: Amazon is taking over the world. 

We buy our gadgets from Amazon, our groceries—some might even say our news, if you count the fact that Amazon's president and CEO, Jeff Bezos, also owns the nationally syndicated Washington Post. Soon, we may even buy our healthcare from this behemoth online retailer. Often, our dollars support Amazon in ways we aren't even cognizant of


Amazon's influence isn't hyperbolic; this company is redefining the way we purchase and pay for almost everything these days.


What started out as an online book retailer has quickly, in the span of just twenty years, spiraled into a nationwide dealer of goods and services. And there’s plenty about that which might give government regulators cause for concern. But what most of the Amazon-consuming public likely isn’t privy to, is the complete lack of regard (or seeming disdain) that the company continues to show the publishing community.

It’s no small secret that independent publishers get short shrift with big box stores, but these days, Amazon is extending their indifference as far as big publishing houses, distributors, and authors.

For Stillhouse Press, this is hardly surprising. In 2017, we had two titles listed as “Unavailable” on their publication date, despite showing up for presale for months leading up to their release. What’s more, warehouses showed the titles as "in stock," but after several hours on the phone with out-of-country call centers, Amazon unapologetically told us there had been a “glitch in the system,” and we needed to be patient while it worked itself out.

Source: Twitter,  @kellyforsythe_

Source: Twitter, @kellyforsythe_

In the end, our distributor couldn’t force Amazon's hand on the matter any more than we could and the books continued to show up as unavailable for the better part of the week that followed. As a result, we ended up returning to Ingram’s distribution arm, for little reason except that they had more pull with Amazon than the smaller distributor we had been using.

Stories like this are a dime a dozen—and hardly the only thing Amazon is doing to undermine small presses. Last November, Goodreads.com—one of the many businesses owned by Amazon—took their previously free book “Giveaway” option to market. What had once functioned as a grassroots marketing tool for indie publishers and self-published authors is now a $119/book marketing investment.*

Why offer something for free when you have the power and visibility to charge for it? seems to be the modus operandi here. And sure, it seems like an excellent way to pull in even more in profit, but some are dubious about whether or not the program will stick around. As an indie press or self-published author, often times the funds just simply aren’t available.

Source: Swenson Book Development

Source: Swenson Book Development

Perhaps one of the most palpable areas where publishers are starting to feel the impact of Amazon’s capitalist ways, however, is with the company’s [in]famous "buy button."

Amazon's "Buy Button," now available to the highest bidder.

Amazon's "Buy Button," now available to the highest bidder.

With the exception of books, Amazon has historically offered their buy buttons to the highest bidder—the party that could offer a new good at the best (read: cheapest) price, regardless of who had brick and mortar rights to distribute the product. The emphasis on new is important here, because with booksellers, it should—in theory—be the publisher who holds the only new copies of a just-published or forthcoming book.

Not only does allowing third parties the right to a book's buy button undercut publishers, distributors, and authors (who see no dividends from books sold by third parties), but it ultimately begs the question: Where are these third parties sourcing their "new" books from? Some publishers have attempted to stand up to Amazon, but it doesn’t look like the company has any intention of changing its policy.

So... where do we go from here?

If my bookshelf and the recent Association of Writing and Writing Professionals conference (AWP) are any indication, the independent literary community is as ebullient and self-supportive as ever. But, if it is to continuing flourishing while the most popular platform for sales continues to re-write the rules, we in the book-buying community have to adapt our habits. 


I get it : it's simply easier to buy your books from Amazon. It's faster, often even slightly cheaper. But lately I've thinking about how important ease really is in the book buying process.


Last week, while surfing the web and drinking my morning coffee, I came across a book that gave me that "I have to have this" feeling. I get it often, sometimes twice a week (to my partner's dismay). I navigated easily to the Amazon site. As a Prime customer, it could be on my doorstep in two days. 

But I didn't end up adding the book to my cart. Instead, I called my local bookstore, One More Page, and spoke to a human (terrifying, I know). It took five minutes. I chatted with the woman on the other end of the line, exchanged pleasantries, told her I'd see her in a week. It will take about five days for my book to reach the store. But that's fine. I can wait. In fact, I am already looking forward to the trip, to the inky goodness of freshly-printed pages and colorful rows of un-cracked spines.

Maybe we can’t live without Amazon — where would I buy my fancy French sea salt, or those perfectly sized tension rods at a moments notice?— but we can change what we depend on it for, and I would argue that books should not be one. #BuyBetter

* As of press time.

A Bookworm's Guide to Washington, D.C.


By Hannah Vandegrift

"Quiet and relaxing" and Washington D.C. seem a juxtaposition to most, but there are plenty of quiet corners around the city that provide a welcoming environment for the wandering reader. Here are some of our favorite spots to relax with a cup of coffee (or tea) and a good book.

The cafe at the Museum of the American Indian.

The cafe at the Museum of the American Indian.

Smithsonian Museums
 

Of course, places like the bustling Air and Space Museum, are not good places to relax, but there are a few that can be safe havens from the bustling crowds. 

MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN 

My personal favorite, this museum is four floors of fascinating exhibits, as well as a restaurant and café on the bottom level. The café is a great place to charge your phone and sit down with authentic Native American cuisine or a simple cup of coffee.

THE SMITHSONIAN CASTLE CAFÉ and GARDEN

One of the lesser-visited of the Smithsonians, this beautiful castle provides a welcome sanctuary. If it is warm enough, the castle’s garden area (which includes the African and Asian Art museums) is a beautiful escape from the city's busy city streets.

 NATIONAL GALLERY of ART, RENWICK GALLERY, HIRSHORN GALLERY,
and the NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

It might seem obvious, but art museums and galleries are a great source for quiet spaces. Wander through the halls of each museum before finding a bench or corner to settle in. Some of the galleries even offer food and beverage options, if you need to refresh.

The National Gallery of Art.

The National Gallery of Art.

The National Mall


During the warmer months, spreading out on a blanket in the grass underneath the Washington Monument or on a bench by the Reflecting Pool can be better than the beach. It's great for people-watching or lying on your back
with that great new novel.

Coffee and reading at Politics and Prose.

Coffee and reading at Politics and Prose.



Our Favorite D.C.. Bookstores


Throw and stone and you’ll hit a coffee shop or bookstore in Washington D.C. Some of the best-known ones, tucked in several locations around the city, are Busboys and Poets and Politics and Prose. Inside, you can shop for a new book, enjoy a meal, or even attend an author signing and reading at Politics and Prose. And with several locations to choose from, Busboys and Poets makes for an easy trip!
 

Library of Congress


While this famous library is known as a popular tourist destination, it is also a great resource for researchers and readers. And, most importantly, it’s free. Become a "Registered Reader" and gain access to the library's vast collection of books and research, as well as use the Main Reading Room. And don’t worry about being inundated by tourists; most
simply view the reading room from above. Visit the website for more information. 
 

U.S. Botanic Gardens


If it’s warm, snatch a seat among the local and exotic plants in D.C.’s outdoor botanical gardens. There are plenty of places to sit and read in the shade or sun. Too cold? Step inside and warm up! The humidity is kept as high as your average steamy jungle all year round.

There's always something going on in the city, but sometimes the best escape from finals or the holiday frenzy is a well-lit place and a good book. Don't worry about transportation. For the vehicle-less, almost any destination in Washington D.C. is accessible by bus or metro. And, for those wanting to avoid the traffic, all metro parking is free on weekends, bypassing backups on I-66 or I-495. 

Have a suggestion? Let us know in the comments section if we missed any of your favorite areas.


thumbnail_IMG_4437 (2).jpg

 

 

Hannah Vandegrift is an intern for Stillhouse Press.
She is a sophomore preparing to graduate in May 2020 with a BA in English and a minor in Sociology. She currently works at Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education as a Research Student for Research and Assessment. She loves stories of all kinds, whether they are from books, poetry, film, or TV.

Adventures on the Indie Bookstore Route, Pt. 4

It's fall and like any true book lover knows, it's time to cozy up with your favorite blanket and relax with a good book. Whether you're picking up the latest book of the season or a classic from the canon, we're here to show your the best places throughout the D.M.V. for scoring fresh reads—our fantastic indie book shops, of course!


Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café

DUPONT CIRCLE, WASHINGTON, DC


Photo courtesy of  Drink DC

Photo courtesy of Drink DC

By Madeline Dell'Aria

Wedged in like the keystone of the Dupont Circle arch, Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café is an amalgamation of culinary and literary worlds. Restaurant, bar, and bookshop, Kramerbooks is not your standard independent bookstore. It has been a fixture of the community since 1976 and offers more than most other bookstores, with a large café peering out onto 19th St. NW that provides an impressive diversity of items and a full-service bar with literary-themed cocktails like “Catcher in the Rye.”

Bookshelves showcase the usual suspects: the bestsellers, the trending authors, and a whole lot more. The small store doesn’t offer used books, its new titles so densely packed into different sections that they seem almost to blend together. Proud of its local heritage, Kramerbooks devotes a large selection to the city that hosts it, which no doubt pleases history fans and tourists alike.

Wanderlust is not lost on the inhabitants of the bustling Dupont Circle and certainly not on Kramerbooks clientele. The Circle is surrounded by embassies from all over the world and gazing upon the brightly colored spines of travel books will have you pining for adventure, from a cheese tour of Vermont to the tropical beaches of Phuket. Like many independent bookstores, Kramerbooks also stays quite busy. Few event calendars can rival the raw frequency of Kramerbooks’ lineup, with an author reading, wine tasting, or music event nearly every night.

Because the bookstore is also café and bar, its hours range from early morning to the very early morning. In other words: it caters to early birds and night owls alike and is easily accessible via metro. Take a gander at the clientele and you’ll see architects scribbling down drawings, lobbyists making friends, and the [rare] government official perusing a government docket. For those seeking respite from the hurry of D.C., you won’t find it here. From the bustle to the price of beer, it's clear you're in the city.


Madeline Dell’Aria, a Northern Virginia native, is a graduate of George Mason University's BFA Creative Writing program. Growing up she wanted to become a tree, a witch, or an explorer; so she became a writer.

Adventures on the Indie Bookstore Route, Pt. 3

by Madeline Dell'Aria

It's summertime and like any true book lover knows, it's time to kick up your feet, soak up the sun, and relax with a good book. Whether you're picking up the latest book of the season or a classic from the canon, we're here to show your the best places throughout the D.M.V. for scoring fresh reads—our fantastic indie book shops, of course!


IDLE TIME BOOKS

Adam’s Morgan, Washington, DC

Along a street of hookah bars, dives, head shops, tattoo parlors, and boutique restaurants, Idle Time Books seems an incongruous addition, yet it resides harmoniously. Just three doors down from the prominent hot spot Madam’s Organ, Idle Time Books quenches the community’s literary thirst.

Outside the bookstore, the sidewalk is littered with carts full of one dollar books, discounted due to overstock or light wear. Visitors are first greeted by unique event cards (Hallmark doesn’t stock these) and stacks of vintage magazines spanning several decades. Beyond, the meticulously organized collection of used books rise not just one, but two and a half stories tall. Fiction occupies a large swath of the first floor, but there is so much more tucked away in this unassuming store. A glass case of first editions sits by the stairs: The Hobbit for the fantasy collector, The Fountainhead for the libertarian, an antique copy of the now out-of-print music magazine Creem with rock and roll supernova David Bowie emblazoned on the cover.

The well- kept landing carries biographies and other non-fiction. And upwards, on the second floor, section after section of non-fiction is featured; women’s studies, queer studies, racial studies, and the sciences, whittled down to subsections of biology, technology, chemistry and the like, military and foreign history divided by country. And then there is the fiction: sci-fi, fantasy, and vintage pulp books wrapped in cellophane like candy.

The most appealing aspect of Idle Time Books is that it invites its guests to linger. Folk music plays softly from the speakers. Hand-written signs like “YES WE CAN! Put Books Back Where We Found Them” and other vintage posters are cozily appropriate for a bookstore nestled amongst the politically savvy, witty populations of northwest DC. As the name suggests, visitors will want to have ample time to visit Idle Time Books and let their minds and attentions wander. 


Madeline Dell’Aria, a Northern Virginia native, recently graduated from George Mason University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Growing up she wanted to become a tree, a witch, or an explorer; so she became a writer.

 

Adventures on the Indie Bookstore Route, Pt. 2

by Madeline Dell'Aria

It's summertime and like any true book lover knows, it's time to kick up your feet, soak up the sun, and relax with a good book. Whether you're picking up the latest book of the season or a classic from the canon, we're here to show your the best places throughout the D.M.V. for scoring fresh reads—our fantastic indie book shops, of course!


ONE MORE PAGE

Arlington, VA

Tucked away beneath sprawling condos near the East Falls Church Metro, One More Page Books is a relatively new addition to its lovely Arlington neighborhood and is quickly becoming a community hub for authors, bibliophiles, and pleasure readers alike.

Inspired by her time working on a book truck during her college days, former consultant Eileen McGervey quit her job and founded One More Page Books on Jan. 21, 2011. The bookstore exhibits McGervey's love of mystery and fiction, but also harbors a small wonderland of children’s books, and most intriguingly, wine, beer, and locally-crafted chocolates—such natural complements to a good book, that it’s a crime other bookstores don’t do the same.

Buying inventory for a small store can be tricky. Staffer Lelia Nebeker calls it a negotiation between what the staff loves and what the community wants. Gauging a community's preferences takes time. Over the years they have found that political books are in surprisingly low demand for a shop only six Metro stops west of DC. What does sell well, beyond their ample mystery and fiction collection, is humor, followed by biography and historical books. One More Page Books often stocks recognizable names, but not exactly the best-seller list. However, if a customer wants a book they don’t carry, they can order it and have it available within 24 hours.

Instead of a contemporary Staff Favorites section, the staff write their suggestions on heart-shaped sticky notes and attach them to the cover of their favorite books. This practice is more organic for the staff, as they’re encouraged to add a note whenever the store stocks a book they love. Even the wine and chocolates are peppered with these bright little papers. Behind the cash register, a cabinet is so plastered with Post-its from books they’ve sold that the wood underneath is masked entirely.

One More Page Books also encourages customers to return by hosting an extensive series of community events, such as wine tastings, author readings, and even karaoke. Five events are forthcoming in July alone: the first, a reading from author David Krugler on July 9th.

With a selection of complimentary food and drinks, a colorful, laissez-faire approach to staff suggestions, a host of quirky and entertaining events, and a visit from President Obama to boot, One More Page may be a young bookstore, but it has quickly established itself as a venerable hub in the metropolitan area.


Madeline Dell’Aria, a Northern Virginia native, recently graduated from George Mason University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Growing up she wanted to become a tree, a witch, or an explorer; so she became a writer.

Adventures on the Indie Bookstore Route, Pt. 1

by Madeline Dell'Aria

It's summertime and like any true book lover knows, it's time to kick up your feet, soak up the sun, and relax with a good book. Whether you're picking up the latest book of the season or a classic from the canon, we're here to show your the best places throughout the D.M.V. for scoring fresh reads—our fantastic indie book shops, of course!


Source: http://holeintheweb.com/

Source: http://holeintheweb.com/

HOLE IN THE WALL BOOKS

Falls Church, VA

Hole in the Wall Books is located right in the middle of placid Falls Church, VA at 904 W Broad St. The quaint bookstore’s azure door is a gateway to a different time: specializing primarily in science-fiction, fantasy, and comics, books at Hole in the Wall are stacked, squeezed, and pigeon-holed in overlapping arrangement. This overabundance of fiction, the must of buried tomes thick in the air, harkens back to literature’s tactile, page-flipping, pre-Kindle origins. While its name implies a tightly packed space, this bounty of books is hardly stifling, creating instead an entrance to infinite worlds and spaces ripe for exploration.

The concatenation of literary sources is curated by the knowledgeable and affable founders, Michael and Edie Nally. In 1979, Michael began running a small book section of what was then Record and Tape Exchange. This store would later move, but Michael’s "Hole in the Wall" would remain, eventually occupying the entire space of the original store.

Besides the collection, which has certainly expanded over the years, little has changed since 1979; there is no computer system, reference books are used instead of Google, and cell phones are seldom spotted. The only exception to the owners’ pursuit of antiquity is the store’s website, and (naturally) their up-to-date collection of comics and a miscellany of geek genres. Particularly strong are the science fiction and fantasy collections, which reflect the taste of the founders. This bookstore is largely operated on a buy-sell-trade basis, and the collection similarly reflects the diversity of the Washington metropolitan area.

The store is accessible via MetroBus on Broad Street and has a surprisingly large parking lot, given the diminutive size of the store. For those avid genre-fiction readers seeking escape in fantasy, adventure, or just a bygone era, there may be no better locale than Hole in the Wall Books.


Madeline Dell’Aria, a Northern Virginia native, recently graduated from George Mason University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Growing up she wanted to become a tree, a witch, or an explorer; so she became a writer.