Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Drone Resistance: Why Buying Books from Your Local Indie Rather than from an Online Retail Juggernaut Makes Sense

Inklings Bookshop, Yakima WA

As noted in far too many media channels, a certain monolithic online retailer recently announced its long-term "plans" for same-day delivery by drone. 
(For a consideration of why this prospect — and all the attention paid to it — is downright silly, see Kate Messner on the failure of journalism. Moreover, may we all appreciate the aliterate irony operating at Amazon HQ by recalling the role of drones in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.) 

Shelf Awareness recently shared the above snapshot from Yakima Washington's Inkling's Bookshop. It's a real drone, and it now hangs above the store's front registers. Inkling's owner Susan Richmond told Shelf Awareness that the sinister machine serves

"as a conversation starter for our smart, independent employees who are far from drones. We have 12 employees on our payroll who live in the community, support the economy and pay taxes and are excellent at helping customers face to face." 

She added that the store is also using the drone "to highlight the fact that 95% of the books we order every day are in the store the next day around noon and the whole experience for our customer is bracketed by delightful exchanges with real human beings every step of the way."

As for Amazon, by now we know that its propounded fealty to "The Customer" is its justification for every inhumane, thuggish, monopolistic, and openly creepy move it makes (e.g. the drone thing). 

Ethics and fair-play be damned, the Customer and The Customer's happiness are everything.  

Well, an all-consuming loyalty to The Customer may sound fine in itself, but in this case, if inhumanity, thuggishness, monopolistic actions, and creepiness do not make us think better, let us bear in mind that  
1) we are bound to live more and more by the rules of whomever we enrich,
2) this particular mega retailer has repeatedly demonstrated a rapacious desire to wreak fundamental changes both cultural (e.g., controlling the publishing landscape thanks largely to the data accumulated through e-reading over the shoulders of its device owners) and economic (e.g., predatory pricing and tax evasion).
Amazon may boast that its prospective use of drones is simply a further expression of its benevolent regard for The Customer, but for people everywhere a claim so outrageous ought to prompt some essential questions. For instance: 
Do I see myself as first and foremost a customer? Or as nothing else?
How many people would see themselves this way?
Do I see my neighbors this way?
We are all much more than customers. We are citizens, artists, community members, mothers and fathers, teachers, tax-payers, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and Hindus, and as such we can recognize that there are greater, more enduring values than rock-bottom pricing, short-term “customer satisfaction,” and, well, the blithe acceptance, in service to these things, of the invasion of drones into our neighborhoods.

(Deep breath!)

Anything that impinges upon the richness of our shared experience as a citizenry, as artists, as neighbors in a community inside local, regional, and national cultures — anything that serves to deplete these meaningful identities and dilute or pollute our common experience in order to render us mere “customers,” is a form of cultural and economic tyranny, and calls for resistance at once personal, mindful, and civic.

In this case, what better form of resistance than to visit your local indie, where you’ll find your fellow community members at work talking with readers face-to-face, placing real physical books into real readerly hands, and contributing to the quality and vibrancy of a real (drone-free!) neighborhood. 

As Roxanne Coady, owner of RJ Julia Booksellers put it in a holiday letter to readers: 

“You don't need a pie-in-the-sky technological Drone (perfect for indie skeet-shooting!) to help you with your last-minute holiday shopping this year. We — real human beings who have loved and sold books to you for nearly 25 years — are here to help you. Let us.”

All our finest indie booksellers around the country are echoing those sentiments. This holiday season, why not show them what kind of world you want to live in?

Find your nearest local indie via Indiebound

Warmest holiday wishes,

M. Allen Cunningham