Yes, Amazon Is Evil, But Probably Not That Evil


Ryan Noonan

Ryan Noonan is an economist with a small federal agency. Fields in which he considers himself reasonably well-informed: literature, college athletics, video games, food and beverage, the Supreme Court. Fields in which he considers himself an expert: none. He can be found on the Twitter or reached by email.

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110 Responses

  1. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I think what’s happening is that Jeff Bezos really, really wants to be Paul Allen, even to the extent of having his own rocket company.  Unfortunately his rocket sucks.

    “You may not get to talk to anyone you’ve ever met in person, I guess, but I think the cost-benefit analysis clearly works in your favor on this one.”

    That’s certainly true if the only thing you look at are price tags.  I can’t see how anyone who believes in the desirability of healthy urban centers or walkable shopping/living districts could in any way support what Amazon is doing here.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

      Those effects you list are exactly what leaves me lukewarm.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      you pay for what you want. the bookstore shouldn’t be competing based on price. It should be competing based on community… or expertise, or other things that amazon doesn’t compete well at. Hell, soem people actually like another person to flirt with (Barnes&Noble’s business Model: “we’re not nasty like bars”). Imagine that.Report

  2. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Solid post.  And one which I largely agree with.

    Seems to me that if Amazon is getting away without paying taxes (sales or otherwise), then feeling anger at them seems misplaced.  You might, however, want to smack your congress person about the head about it.

    My one slight (possible) quibble with you, (which I think we might have disagreed about earlier in my post on Borders closing), is that I fear that the internet it ironically leading to the homogenization of books.


    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      The Internet is leading to the homogenization of books–for those who don’t have access to the Internet.  There are all kinds of ways to find things to read.  Finding a lot of variety in physical printed paper books is going to be harder.  The future of new-print physical books is what you see in an airport bookstore.

      The irony is that it’s true that bookstores are going to have to do more than be “a place that has stuff”.  It’s as true of bookstores as it is of any other store.  That doesn’t mean that giving people a cash benefit for mocking their tax-paying and regulation-bound status is a good thing.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        doubtful. ever read Tales of Mu? That’s in print. So is Megatokyo. And I’m certain I’ve got a comic book or two at home from the author of Something Positive.

        at worst, things cost more if they’re relatively “boutique”Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          Vanity-press POD outfits are not going to keep the mass market for printed books alive.  They may exist, but they’ll be luxury limited-production items, something you buy as an affectation and not as your primary method of experiencing text media.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            Before the advent of Barnes & Noble and Borders, selection was actually very similar to airports by my recollection (maybe you’re considering airport selection as being more limited than I am). Mall bookstores and the like (libraries being the big exception, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere). The difference is that now we have Amazon instead of mail-order and POD instead of its vanity press predecessors. And, as long as we have places we can’t use or won’t take ereaders, I think there is still likely to be a market for old-fashioned books. The POD revolution makes it not just so that any old schmo can easily and inexpensively print their own books, but also so that it is a lot easier for publishers big and small to manage their inventory.

            Now, once ebooks evolve into something that physical books can’t hope to replicate, that’s when everything changes.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              I think I don’t remember bookstores being like that.  Except, of course, for the B. Dalton chain, which was like a giant airport bookstore.

              It may be that I’m just spoiled from living in Portland; but all of our indies (even when you take out Powell’s) seem to go out of their way to find cool, new, interesting stuff that isn’t by John Grisham.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Todd’s right, for a long time there were 3 kinds of bookstores: national chains like B. Dalton, large regional booksellers like Joseph Beth (Kentucky-Tennessee), and small local booksellers. The B. Daltons of the world were awful, and unless you wanted something on the New York Time’s best seller list, you probably weren’t going to find what you were looking for. The Joseph Beth types were giants like Barnes & Noble or Borders, though often with a less corporate feel (I used to sit in Joseph Beth, in a leather recliner, and read entire books). The local bookstores often had all sorts of things you’d never expect them to, and a lot of them were specialized. One of my favorites was a rare and academic bookstore in Austin (long gone now) where you could find academic books from the 40s, 50s, and 60s that had probably been out of print for decades (I assume they got them mostly from the libraries of retiring and/or dead academics). I still have a bunch of books on Sapir-Whorf from the 60s that I found there.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

      “the internet it ironically leading to the homogenization of books.”

      I think that’s true for a lot of things.

      To my mind, thought I’m sure their are problems with it, the Internet has always felt like a dense blackhole.  The actual number of the most visited/most cared about is small., but their agenda setting power and the traffice they command are massive.

      What one actually sees from far away though is an apparently huge swirl of dust and debris orbiting a single point.  This debris is where the Internet gets it’s claim to diversity from, despite how heirarchical the entire things actually is.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Ryan, exc post and I couldn’t agree more.  There is an ethical responsibility, in using the brick-and-mortar showroom, to give them a fighting chance at the sale [and the saleman who invests his time in you].

      The chances of a brick-and-mortar being able to match price with a mail-order low-overhead Amazon is close to nil.  Bad faith rules.Report

  3. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Nice post Ryan.

    I’ve been pondering the Amazon/Brick and Mortar dilema for a while, and I pretty much agree with everything you say here.

    I’d also add that (and this is something I’m looking to explore in a future post) how Amazon actually helps decentralize the physical book experience.  Many used book sellers depend on sites like Amazon to list their products and find potential buyers.  In this way, the site has actually helped smaller businesses to reach outside of their immediate community, which is itself often to small (in rural/suburban areas) or to saturated (dense urban areas) to subsit purely on front door customers.

    Still, on a more social note, I remain skeptical of the Internet’s ability to provide a fully compelling substitute for local community.

    One of the fundamental social and cultural questions of our time is how do the multitude of digital interactions contrast and compare with face-to-face human interactions, and are these differences significant or meaningful enough to be concerned about?Report

    • Avatar Mike says:

      Many used book sellers depend on sites like Amazon to list their products and find potential buyers.  In this way, the site has actually helped smaller businesses to reach outside of their immediate community, which is itself often to small (in rural/suburban areas) or to saturated (dense urban areas) to subsit purely on front door customers.

      On the downside: this is possibly (but not provably) a net gain for the USED book market, but hell for the new-book market. It’s also evading the principal argument against Amazon’s tactics, which is the unfair advantage they gain in avoiding sales taxes.

      And I’d argue that it’s not as much of a gain as you’d think. Certainly a certain book chain known as Half Price Books is doing quite well on a nationwide level.Report

  4. Avatar Trumwill says:

    I don’t really have a problem with Amazon winning the price wars. But encouraging people to go to B&M’s top window shop only to not actually buy anything is encouraging people to take advantage of B&M’s: Use their selection to browse, but not give them any money. The entire browse-before-you-buy is built in to the B&M model. That’s why they don’t charge a cover. There is an element of good faith here being abused by the customer, and egged on by Amazon.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      To be honest, physical stores have brought that on themselves.  Their business model was “browse before you buy, and oh yeah we have coffee and snacks over here” long before Amazon got rolling, and I always did wonder why they thought that was a good idea.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      not really. their business model was BUY COFFEE. read books, but BUY COFFEE.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        There are cases where this is true, with bookstores in particular. But what Amazon is doing here goes far beyond bookstores. They are outliers.

        That being said, maybe with all of this they will all start. I could certainly come to dig a lot more coffee places. Last time I was stranded in an unknown city looking for a place with WiFi, it was Hastings that came to the rescue.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          I dug a laundromat/coffeeshop in San Fran last time I was there. Researched the dickens out of Portland while doing 7 days worth of laundry. Then a flight the next day.Report

  5. Avatar James Hanley says:

    [Bookstores] are the first line for book talks, readings, or signings.

    There’s a great opportunity for local libraries, which still seem to be thriving.

    you have still already discovered that Amazon sells the book cheaper, and so you are probably going to buy it from Amazon anyway.

    Well, add in shipping costs and wait-time, and not necessarily so.  If so, then it’s a considerably better deal, and certainly the customer ought to take it.

    We are in no way running out of space for like-minded people to gather [and] Amazon seems to be more a symptom of a larger cultural change that really doesn’t have much to do with Amazon’s business practices.

    Fully agreed.

    On just the slightest sidetrack, I live in a small town that at its best could only support a WaldenBooks and a religious bookstore.  Amazon and Powells online site have been a godsend for me (somehow I never got into using Borders or B&N’s online sales).  And it’s worth noting that most of the books I buy are purchased through Amazon, but not from Amazon, since in the great majority of cases I’m satisfied with a used copy–so I’m guessing Amazon has been a boon to independent booksellers who aren’t focused on having a storefront.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      And it’s worth noting that most of the books I buy are purchased through Amazon, but not from Amazon, since in the great majority of cases I’m satisfied with a used copy–so I’m guessing Amazon has been a boon to independent booksellers who aren’t focused on having a storefront.

      This is true for me as well.

      Also: I’m becoming less generally attracted to possessing things that I can acquire through my local library.  So my book purchasing is now trending pretty hard towards, “looking for things that are out of print”.

      Amazon is helpful in that regard, as well.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith says:

      Oddly enough I posted something using Amazon as an exemplar in a reply to Liberty here.

      Interestingly (or not depending on your viewpoint) back in the dark ages of the Internet when our ISP was first formed (circa 1992) one of our first “events” was held in the largest bookstore in our town. I told the owners (also interestingly, with almost identical backgrounds to Bezos) that they would be /brilliant/ to open the first “bookstore on the Internet”. Like a lot of my early wanna be customers, they let me know in no uncertain terms that I was a complete idiot for suggesting such a thing, and in fact brought up a lot of the “ambiance” arguments I’m seeing in these comments and the links in the OP. They said and I quote, “No one will EVER buy books on the Internet”. Fortunately Powells /did/ listen – albeit later. But hell, I have horror stories out the wazoo. We presented to the regional VP for Blockbusters and pitched them on selling CD’s, VHS and the nascent DVD’s online and were given pretty much the same response as the bookstore owners. It ain’t easy being early, pioneers do get arrows in the back, but they can also become fabulously wealthy. YMMV

      Is Amazon inherently evil or are they just attempting to maximize shareholder value? Is it Amazon’s fault they are good at what they do? As I said to Liberty, it certainly helps to be well-capitalized and Amazon certainly was (and is). Therefore they can shake off this and any number of gaffes. And meantime, they can share revenue with a site like LoOG and help Kain pay the bills. Eventually (if they’re smart) they’ll /host/ LoOG for free, and still send money to Kain. In fact I’d recommend ED follow up with them right after he reads this for dozens of reasons. They understand the value of eyeballs, stickiness and intelligent reviews and they’re sitting on massive datacenters already paid for.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        You can be “good at what you do” without doing a sack dance on your competition.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith says:

          Oh readily agreed DD, I count this as a gaffe and said so above. As BSK states directly below they weren’t the first by a long shot, but they did rub everyone’s noses in it by being Amazon. Brick and Mortars have been doing this to each other for at least 100 years that I know of. Does, “We’ll beat any competitor’s advertised price by 10%” ring any bells with you?

          The Psyops part of this campaign is more interesting to me now that I’ve been thinking about it. They seem to be sending folks into bookstores, but their deal has nothing to do with books? Yes it only lasted a day, but I think the real intention was all about reminding their customers how great a deal they’re getting on the books they do buy from Amazon. Finally, and given that this was an Amazon promotion to existing Amazon customers (or so I believe, given that I got a “flyer” from them in my “Amazon spam” folder) were those people heading into bookstores nationwide already /those/ bookstores’ customers? Perhaps, but more likely perhaps not.Report

          • Avatar Liberty60 says:


            I did miss your reply post. While I still don’t buy the notion of “build it and they will come” aka “capital is more important than other factors of production”, we can just let that point go so as not to derail this thread.

            As Blaise points out, Amazon’s model isn’t really new; Sears and other merchants have always pursued this strategy of constantly diversifying- if you corner the market on socks, why not scarves as well? Then how about hats? And so on.

            My only take on it as a card carrying liberal, is to question whether this is in the best interests of the people, for so much power to steadily accrue to one entity.

            At this moment, I think it still is. But that may change with time.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith says:

              @Liberty, Capital is a lot like mass, and sufficient capital a lot like gravity. Enough gravity and it starts attracting other capital and we’re off to the races. Capital really is “the attractive force” that holds things together.

              Does it have a downside? Sure, the wealth accumulation of the “planets” gets to continue unabated. Even the earth grows by about 1M tons per year, just from accumulating space dust. However in economics we can always count on destabilizing influences from political disruption, innovation disruption (see Amazon) and demographic disruption. So even that accumulation is not permanent. Of course before trust funds we could always count on the inheritors going broke after (or by) the third generation, but the Kennedys are proof against that today.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                Until the whole thing implodes into a black hole or explodes into a supernova.

                Or something.

                Seriously I am not sure where you are going with that metaphor, but if you are suggesting that accumulation of capital and power into a single entity is not something we should worry about, I would disagree.

                The idea that power inevitably comes unglued and levels out the playing field is a common one, which Hanley and I argued about at length.

                Basically, whether it is true or not (an over a long enough time, it IS always true- I mean, the Roman Empire only lasted abut 500 years) it is irrelevant.

                The relevant issue is how much harm and injustice it creates before other forces bring it down, and whether the people decide to allow it to happen or not.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Oh we well may see that supernova or black hole, to belabor the metaphor. Think hyperinflation or depression. Rome is an excellent analogy of its own. You’re wrong of course that it only lasted 500 yrs, you’re continuing the Western bias and ignoring the Eastern half that lasted another thousand years. Likewise while I immediately grant that Pax Romana (vs Pax Byzantium) allowed for gross and unfair excesses, it was truly nothing compared to the barbarism and insanity that followed. Contrary to current mythology, the dark ages weren’t dark because the Church was ostensibly in charge, it was the only institution that stood in the way of utter depravity. It too was fatally flawed, but was perhaps better than the alternative.Report

  6. Avatar BSK says:

    I thought some other company had pionered the whole “live price check” thing?  I don’t remember what, but I remember hearing about this years ago, though it might have only been an idea.  SmartPhones with apps weren’t out yet, so I’m not sure what mechanism could have been used.  I don’t have a SmartPhone, but I’ll often go to BestBuy to see products, use my old fashioned camera phone to snap a shot of the shelf label/price, and then go home to research and, usually, buy it elsewhere.

    Something else to note about Amazon is that they offer some “free” services to customers and even non-customers.  I will often check the reviews on Amazon, which there tend to be more of than anywhere else, but still buy a product from NewEgg because the price is better there (on some, not all, items).  They also have that whole “Other people who looked at/bought this product also looked at/bought these products” which I find helpful for a host of reasons.  And, again, I can access all of this information without paying a dime to Amazon.

    I’m not the biggest “all free markets all the time” believer, but I have trouble finding issue with Amazon on this front.  And any attempt to resolving this situation seems to create for larger and worrisome issues.  More to the point of the article, I’m not one to wring my hands over how the internet is killing society.  First off, much of that is pointless fear mongering.  Secondly, if people are really bothered by the direction society is going, they have more than enough opportunity to redirect it.  If there isn’t enough of a push to resist these forces, maybe society is generally okay with the direction we’re headed…Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I will often check the reviews on Amazon, which there tend to be more of than anywhere else, but still buy a product from NewEgg because the price is better there (on some, not all, items).

      I actually did the opposite this week. I isolated the product I wanted using NewEgg’s superior search/sort tool, then went on Amazon and bought it. I actually feel kind of bad about it, though, because I used NewEgg’s service but then paid someone else. I did it to save money, but mostly in the context that I have free 2-day shipping from Amazon and needed the part quickly.

      I have trouble finding issue with Amazon on this front. And any attempt to resolving this situation seems to create for larger and worrisome issues.

      I have issue with Amazon, but agree that it is unresolvable. I still think they should catch grief for it.Report

      • Avatar BSK says:

        NewEgg, in general, is far superior.  The quality of their reviews and the design of their sight is far superior for tech products.  But there are times where an item will only have 2 or 3 reviews on NewEgg but 30-40 on Amazon, yet NewEgg will have a better price.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      …. yeah. you ever read Robert Jordan’s “reviews”? rofl. They’re written by other book publishers — some of them are just too nasty, and well-written to be done by people who ain’t getting paid.Report

  7. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    May I just say that I infinitely prefer discussing books online to discussing them in person?

    Print is the proper medium for the work, because quoting books aloud and at length is tedious.  And if I may be frank, the quality of the discussion here is vastly superior to anything I’ve seen elsewhere, excepting only graduate-level seminars (and sometimes not even those).

    Speaking of which, I’m reading Leviathan now.  This is my third time all the way through it, my first post-grad school, and I’m finding it a lot more interesting than I thought I would.  I may even do a series of posts, as I did on the old blog for both Ludwig von Mises and Karl Popper.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      I’m finding that I need to restart the whole “Great Ideas of the Western World” series.

      I plowed through most of most of them at a younger age (<25), but they read much differently when you’re over 40.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Pat, at 48, film critic David Denby retook the Great Books course at Columbia he took as an undergrad.  You’re in the zone, dude. Needless to say, it meant something quite new.

        3 bucks, used.  I liked it, esp since my college was no Columbia to begin with.


        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Here’s my old list.

          You may chastise me for not having yet read Democracy in America, I have no excuse.

          Much of the science stuff on that list that isn’t related to mechanics is both dated and condensed via college-level intro to bio/chem/physics, so I make no apology for having skipped ’em.  Although reading the original Darwin was interesting, even at 22.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            We had this series in my house. To my great regret they were “disposed of” by my overly anxious family members when we moved my partially invalid mother out of the house she had lived in for the past 40 yrs. I didn’t read them all cover to cover but I’d say I read something out of every single one of them growing up. By the time I hit my Jesuit high school, they often came in handy for handy quotations to jazz up whatever paper I was working on at the time.

            But hell, I’ve got the Complete Works of William Shakespeare on my Kindle (just because I can) and read it all too rarely. Too much to read, too little time. Reminds me sometimes of that most excellent of all Twilight Zone episodes.Report

        • Avatar Plinko says:

          Excellent recommendation.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      I would argue that each of the two different experiences (online/in-person) offers something of value the other doesn’t (or doesn’t as well).

      I agree with all of the things you said just now about online books discussions, but I like the in-person ones as well.  Online often ends up as a series of on-on-one dialogues, which is groovy; but I still like the group dynamic that’s inherent when everyone is at the same table.Report

  8. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Okay first off – great post. I agree, pretty much, though I do think this is bad faith from Amazon and may indeed shoot them in the foot down the road. It’s smart short-term strategy for sure.

    Re: my terrible book club proclivities. That should change going forward. Sort of crazy days lately, but normalizng just in time for holidays…Report

  9. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I keep hearing that there are legitimate ways to be anything but sanguine about things like this without being accused of being a Luddite, fear monger, or anti-capitalist; but I have yet to discover what they are.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      … most of my beef with amazon comes from a simple fact: They have no sense of humor. That and there appears to be an organized campaign to turn into a dour gloomy place.Report

  10. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Thinking about this for a while longer, I guess I’d like to hear something a bit different.

    Rather than giving me the case for why Amazon is acting badly, please give me the case for why price-gouging by local retailers ought to remain forever a secret.  This is a double-edged sword you’re grasping.

    With one caveat, this really does just look like four-legs-good two-legs-bad tribalism.  The caveat being that Amazon should have to pay sales taxes just like anyone else.  The remedy here is to make them do so, not to restrict competition still further.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

      Is this a response to me? Because I don’t think it really addresses an argument I’ve made.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      On what basis do we call what the retailers are doing price-gouging? Retailers, by letting you look around, having people standing by that you can ask questions to, and instant inventory. These things cost money, which are passed on to the consumer. Now, whether this added value is worth the extra cost is a market question. However, using the added value of a retailer by using their facilities and then turning around and ordering it online still strikes me as taking advantage. And Amazon is egging them on in doing so.

      There is a bit of a fuzzy line in that I don’t think you should be *obligated* to purchase something after browsing. And so, if you go in with the intention of buying something but instead find the prices to be too high (this has happened to me at Best Buy more than once), I can’t say I have a problem with that. But I think there is a distinction between that and using a retailers production arrangements as a shopping guide in order to buy something somewhere else. Amazon seems to be gearing customers towards this behavior.

      (I say this as an Amazon Prime customer. I am hardly anti-Amazon. I am just disappointed in their behavior here.)Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        There is an old joke:

        Three guys are in jail. They get to talking and all come to find that they are all gas station owners.

        The first speaks: “I charged more than my competitors. I am in jail for price gouging.”

        The second: “I charged less than my competitors. I am in jail for predatory pricing.”

        The third: “I charged the same as my competitors. I am in jail for collusion!”


        • Avatar Mike says:

          Ahh, the old strawman. Your repertoire is wearing thin.

          Price gouging laws are triggered when a commodity deemed ESSENTIAL is charged for at an abnormally high price due to emergency. Pricing your gas even $2/gallon higher than a competitor’s won’t get you there.

          Predatory pricing laws are triggered when you charge BELOW COST on an item or items, not simply as a “loss leader” (which is what gas normally is), but in an attempt to drive competitors out of business in hopes that you can then hike your prices once you are the only game in town.

          Price fixing is a third category, in which a group of competing businesses agree to only sell products at a minimum price across the board. Much better examples are the behavior of music and movie cartels in the past 40 years. You’re not going to find gas station owners charged with “price fixing” if their prices closely match those of the stations nearby. Of course, there is a good case that the CEOs of Chevron, Exxon, BP, et al have engaged in illegal collusion regarding the market price of the gasoline delivered to (and sold to) the affiliated stations…Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            And now we’re talking about books.

            Let me guess… QED?Report

            • Avatar Mike says:

              Books are not an essential good – they are not a “necessary” item in the way that food, drinking water, shelter, even gasoline (for travel) or cooking fuel may be considered necessary. There may be an argument to be made in this regard to the pricing of textbooks, inasmuch as they are a wholly required component for any student and thus sold to what may be considered a captive, coerced clientele.

              Predatory pricing, put simply, is the bread-and-butter of Wal-Mart’s existence. Their pattern of destroying independent business in any small city they happen to pop up in is very well known and documented.

              As for price fixing: if it were found that all but one of the major book publishers had entered into an agreement to sell paperbacks at not less than $9.99 per copy, and to require retailers to buy them at prices and in sales agreements meant to require this, that is price fixing. This is what actually happened in the music industry, where the RIAA as a whole implemented “agreements” whereby should a retailer advertise CD’s below a certain price, that retailer would be cut off from purchasing future product.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Having lived in small towns: thank god for Walmart. And not because of the low prices.Report

              • Avatar Lyle says:

                Agreed Wal-Mart provides greater variety in a smallish town. In addition their web site allows free delivery to the store, although they do charge sales tax since Wal-Mart does business in all 50 states.  But Amazon is still basically Sears or Montgomery Ward in disguise. Recall that these two demolished a lot of local merchants in the late 19th and early 20th century. The started by offering a better selection than the local general store, and eliminated the field rep and sales houses like the wholesale business of  Marshall Field. (Yes they acted as a wholesaler to small town merchants who came to Chicago every so often).

                So in reality except for orders getting entered faster compared to the US mail, how different is Amazon’s model than the old catalog model of Sears/Wards. (Recall the old big book of about 600 pages from Sears).  Sears and Wards were accused of killing local merchants as well.  Again a catalog or web sales organization has a big advantage in terms of overhead compared to a network of retail stores let alone compared to a a bunch of independent stores.  Lowes/Home Depot  have devoured the hardware business as well.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I think there is a tipping point, when it comes to convenience. I know that before the Internet, I used to mail-order comic books a lot. These days, I would order them on the Internet. Even though in both cases you’re dealing with time delay, the fact that it went from 2-3 weeks to under a week completely altered my behavior. I went from purchasing (more-or-less) only what I couldn’t get locally to not even checking locally before making an order.

                That’s why I think that Amazon poses much more of an existential threat than mail-order did*. Which is not to say that I think you’re wrong about Sears/MW running places out of business (I assume you’re right), but that this makes ordering online actually more convenient than going shopping for all but the most urgent items (and groceries). I don’t altogether consider this a bad thing. Especially living in the sticks where I do! It does, however, make me believe that it is tactless for Amazon to target vendors in this particular way. “Hey, use them to figure out what you want, then order it from us!”

                Tod could be completely right, though, that I am an outlier and people will still find it worth their while to buy from the store rather than wait a few days to save $1.45.

                * – That brings me back to my music/media analogy. The recording industry did fine with people allowed to take to the radio. The same goes for dubbing copies from friends. But when Napster came along, they had to change their entire way of doing business (and they’re still hurting). Somewhere in between dubbing tapes and Napster, there was a tipping point and the threat became existential.Report

              • Avatar Mike says:

                “The threat”, as you call it, is vastly overblown.

                The heyday of Napster, as it was, was also a “heyday” for the music labels. They were making plenty of money, and introducing a lot of new acts.

                The decline in “music sales”, determined solely as money taken in by the big-few labels, has followed much more closely to four problems that are far bigger than “Napster” or “illegal file sharing.” The first is the lack of new acts – labels simply aren’t signing new acts, and getting out new albums, like they used to. The second is the rise of alternative forms of entertainment in a down economy; music is simply a bad investment, both in terms of money and time, as opposed to other entertainment options such as video games, netflix, free TV via hulu or youtube, and movies. The third is the rise of the “only buy songs you want” model, via outfits like iTunes. The music industry had done their best to kill the Single during the 80s and 90s, but customers just got fucking tired of paying $15-20 for a CD in order to listen to the only two good tracks on it.

                The fourth, which I leave for last, is the fact that the music industry transitioned from a set of goods that ran heavily on planned obsolescence and wore out constantly – audiotape and LP – to the CD. In the 90s, part of the sales boom was baby boomers and Gen-Xers replacing their tape collections with CD audio. That replacement boom is now over and done, and they shouldn’t expect to keep getting that sort of revenue stream.

                Another part of the problem is that the music industry has unrealistic price expectations: when I can get the DVD of a movie for $7-10, but the soundtrack of the movie still costs $15, the RIAA have their heads up their price-colluding asses.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Mike, not much of what you say contradicts what I said. In fact, the bit about iTunes was exactly what I was talking about. Free (illegal) downloads forced them to do something that they didn’t want to do, which is make songs available one-by-one. Such was and is the threat.

                The notion that labels aren’t signing new acts is wrong. I used to believe it myself, then I got onto Rhapsody and I was stunned to see the very wide selection of artists and music styles that the record labels have signed. We can quibble as to whether they’ve done everything they can for these artists as far as promotion goes, but the primary limited factor – as far as I can see – is the radio.

                I disagree about the value of a CD, at least from a consumer’s perspective. Given that I will listen to and re-listen to a CD repeatedly, for days at a time, that makes $15 for a CD far, far more reasonable than $8 for a DVD which I will watch only periodically). I own many, many CDs but comparatively few DVDs.

                We can say “But the movie cost so much more to produce!” Yes, but movies also come with much more in the way of revenue streams.

                None of this is to say that I particularly like the labels. They (still) provide a service (artist selection and promotion) that I broadly do not use. But regardless of whether we think they are valuable or they are useless buttheads, none of that changes where they are, what the threats to their industry are, and so on. And I have to think that the wide availability of free music would be one of them. Not the least of which because they had to change their business model because of it and are still hurting.Report

              • Avatar Lyle says:

                Let me add the following how different except for the media is this than what one could have done with the old sears big book, either copying the prices onto a sheet of paper before going to the store, or actually carrying the book around. (All be it the book weighed several pounds). Its only a matter IMHO of the delivery option of the prices.Or how different is it than the price comparison services on the web?


        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Reading this thread from the bottom up, I saw Mike’s comment first and immediately thought of this joke.  Funny that what he saw as a response to the joke appeared to me as a trigger for it.

          By the way, Mike doesn’t understand the definition of predatory pricing.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            By the way, Mike doesn’t understand the definition of predatory pricing

            More’s the pity that that’s not all he doesn’t understandReport

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        I wonder, then, what is the difference between Amazon and every appliance/electronics/bed/etc/ store I hear advertise that if you find a better price they will match or beat it?

        Is it the same thing?  Is it different, but only by a degree?  Or are they two entirely different things altogether?

        The other point that I think has to be made:  It’s that my guess that some folks here might well do what Amazon hopes they will just because we’re disproportionately tech-y folks.  But I believe most people, when they are holding that book they want to read or gift in their hands, decide to skip the small savings and walk out of the store with it.  I do not believe this practice will have the far-reaching consequences others do.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          It’s the difference, I think, between being able to record a song off the radio, taping off a CD that a friend happens to own, or being able to download any song you want illegally. It’s a difference of degree and kind. The whole “We’ll match or beat any price” meant that theoretically you could get a better deal at Store A instead of Store B, but it’s never something I would put a whole lot of trust in.

          You make a good point about geekery and such. Maybe something like this, where you’re going home, ordering online, and waiting for delivery is more like recording a song off the radio than downloading it off Limewire. Not worth the effort for a few dollars saved.Report

          • Avatar Mike says:

            Don’t forget, the content cartels fought tooth and nail with both technological sabotage and the bribery of officials writing laws against your right to:

            – Make a backup copy of a tape (audio or video) that you purchased, as a precaution against damage (heat in the car, dog with a chewing problem, young child, etc).

            – Make a backup of a CD or DVD.

            – Transfer something you had purchased on any medium (8-track, VHS, Beta, LP, DVD, etc) to another medium (audio CD, iPod, portable video player, etc).

            “Geekery” isn’t the problem. It’s the problem of demanding that the customer re-purchase things that they ALREADY bought time and again, exacerbated by ridiculously, foolishly, insanely long copyright terms that last longer than most current countries in the globe have even existed.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              You completely missed what the “geekery” was in reference to and talking about. It wasn’t in reference to media copying/distributing. It was about the main thrust of my comment, which is that I do see what Amazon is doing as being different from “We’ll match that price” ads. Though, as Tod points out, it could be because I am assuming that buyers are more like me than they are and will actually use this.Report

            • Avatar Lyle says:

              It all depends on when you take the benchmark to compare against. If the 1950s which were the salad days for the music industry, practically speaking you could not back up or copy a vinyl record. You just played it on your player as tape was still an expensive item. No one back then asked for rights to copy to other media etc because there were none you had the radio and the phonograph record period.  Yes there were a few devices that would cut new records but they were very rare. Since that time technology has improved so that more options exist, but the RIAA believes that that was the best time, so you get the rights of that time.Report

          • Avatar Mike says:

            It’s the difference, I think, between being able to record a song off the radio,

            Before I forget: when I was young (early 70s), the deejays would regularly spin an entire album on the radio. By 1984, that practice had pretty much stopped, mostly because the content cartels were screaming about “kids taping free albums” off of the radio.

            The FBI got their underpants in a twist imagining “taping parties” where kids would smoke pot while using linked tape decks to wholesale-copy audiotapes from an original LP or cassette. Pretty damn inane, but then again, the FBI’s always had its share of morons-on-the-take sliding round from the revolving door of the content cartels into cushy, “don’t do anything we’ll just pay you a couple years for what you’ve already done for us as our inside guys in government” jobs.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              “taping parties” where kids would smoke pot while using linked tape decks to wholesale-copy audiotapes from an original LP or cassette.

              Oh, yeah, those were the days.  How else were we going to pay for our drug habit?  Heck, I paid for college selling bootlegged 8 tracks on usenet sites.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              I actually used to tape whole albums from the radio, in the 80s. The DJs would often tell you when they were going to play the album, so all you had to do was cue the tape, and wait for the time to come.

              Of course, now I can download whole albums for free any time I want, so I don’t really miss those days.Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain says:

              More frequently in college towns, as I recall (it has, unfortunately, been long enough ago to measure conveniently in decades).  Having spent some time worrying about piracy on a professional basis for a large corporation, I have come to the conclusion that college students represent an anomaly that shouldn’t really be considered in the debate.  Fundamentally, a significant fraction of college students have (1) small discretionary incomes, (2) computing hardware (years back, analog sound hardware) much greater than their income would normally allow, (3) a community of similarly-situated individuals, and (4) reasonable amounts of free time.  This is a situation made for piracy.

              Upon graduation, a considerable amount of the incentive disappears.  Ordinarily, discretionary income increases, available time decreases, and state-of-the-art computing requires that they pay for it, rather than mom and dad.  In short, the incentives for pirating media decrease.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                These are all fantastic points. I don’t disagree with your conclusion, but I would add these counterpoints:

                (1) Early in piracy, it was (depending on the status of Napster, AudioGalaxy, and other such sites) incredibly easy and not at all time-consuming to download stuff. After Napster and before BitTorrent, it was more difficult (and everything you say applies), though with BitTorrent it is remarkably easy again. With SOPA and the like, it may get more difficult again. So this is variable.

                (2) Arguably, with some things, it is easier to get an own and use an illegal copy of something than a legal one. This is less the case with music since it went DRM-free, but it’s still very much the case with software and also with movies.

                (3) Once in the habit of downloading these things for free, I think a lot of people got used to the notion and continued to do so even after they had discretionary income. Hardware, which used to be an issue, has long-since stopped being one. (I would add that this is an area where the record companies *really* screwed up, dragging their feet on legit downloads and allowing people to get used to less savory methods of acquisition.)Report

              • Avatar Plinko says:

                Regarding 2). This has been a point Valve’s Gabe Newell has been hammering in interviews about in interviews regarding software and media. As content owners make it harder to buy and use their content, the incentives to pirate increase.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      If something falls off the back of a truck, it’s free.  Therefore anyone who charges more than zero dollars is price-gouging.

      “The caveat being that Amazon should have to pay sales taxes just like anyone else.”

      Yes, well, they tried that, and Amazon decided to cut off its affiliates programs in the states that did, resulting in lower overall tax revenues.  Interesting how Amazon’s response to learning that they have states by the nuts is to squeeze harder.Report

    • Avatar Mike says:

      please give me the case for why price-gouging by local retailers ought to remain forever a secret.

      Your first dishonesty is in insisting that the differential between Amazon – who enjoy a substantial number of advantages over the bookstore in terms of staffing costs, infrastructure, shipping, and favorable tax dodges not available to a brick-and-mortar operation – is “price-gouging by local retailers.” Services – physical location, zero time lag between purchase and potential product enjoyment, ability to preview, possibly a set of knowledgeable staff, a venue for events such as book signings and launch events – are provided by the brick-and-mortar store, and if the store is not to close their doors, they need to make back at a minimum the costs of both inventory and operation, plus whatever overage the owners (corporation or private) seek.

      I know people who work in local bookstores, both big box (Barnes & Noble) and small, independent stores. I’ve seen the books on what it costs to maintain the store, maintain employee numbers during business hours, physically manage inventory.

      I can also say that not once have I gotten a damaged book from a B&N, and when I buy a slightly damaged book from a used bookstore I’ve seen it beforehand and chosen to buy it in that condition. Meanwhile I have several times received a piece of damaged merchandise from those ripoff artists that populate both Amazon and the “affiliates” in Amazon Marketplace, merchandise that was advertised as being either New or in “Like-New” condition.

      If Amazon can manage to get lower prices on merchandise AFTER the issues of undue collusion with and/or extortion of certain publishers are addressed, and AFTER the issue of sales taxes is addressed, then fine. They are free to compete on that basis. However, to insist that the difference is “price gouging” by local stores is the sort of simple-minded dishonesty I’ve come to expect from you, Kuznicki.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Hey, Mike?

        Not everybody who disagrees with you is being dishonest.  And you make a good point about the brick and mortar store’s costs forcing them to legitimately charge higher prices, but that doesn’t mean the person you were responding to was being dishonest–they just may not have thought of that at the moment.

        On the other hand, you accused me–with no basis–of wanting to allow force prayer in school and bullying of gays.  Why haven’t you ‘fessed up to that real-for-sure dishonesty, and dial back on accusing everyone who takes a point differently than you of being dishonest?Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          Using a derogatory term like “price-gouging” implies a certain line of thought leading to the selection of that term.Report

          • Avatar Mike says:

            Precisely, and nothing I wouldn’t really expect from one of those dishonest CATO tools. They talk a good game about “small business” when coming up with the usual right-wing talking points, but policy-wise it’s all about giant megacorps and creating as powerful of an aristocracy as they can, the societal problems caused by their actions be damned as long as they’re in the “let them eat cake” position.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              I’d thought I was fairly clear.  Amazon should not enjoy any tax advantage over small businesses.

              Failing that, however, it’s difficult to fault Amazon for following its incentives.  The solution is to tax it equally, not to restrict individuals’ freedom of speech.

              There are as I see it two relatively stable alternatives:

              Unfair taxation (Amazon is exempt), plus restrictions on free speech.

              Fair taxation (Amazon pays its share like everyone else), without restrictions on free speech.

              I’m for the latter.  Which one are you for?Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          If you keep responding to Mike, he’ll keep commenting.Report

    • Avatar Plinko says:

      I’ve long been under the impression that sales taxes are levied on the customer, not the seller. The problem for e-commerce is that Amazon, like many e-commerce sites, cannot be compelled to collect the tax from their customers on behalf of the taxing entity, plus it’s nigh impossible for local or state governments to enforce the tax on customers.

      The problem is state and local dependence on sales taxes and their failure to adjust to changes in commerce. Amazon purchases, by all rights, are subject to those taxes but the problem is not something I can blame on Amazon themselves.Report

  11. Avatar mac says:

    Well, it depends on the local bookstore. I don’t particularly miss the Borders books that closed recently, but I sure would hate to see Elliot Bay Bookstore close. It’s a great place to just hang out.

    There’s no way that any online presence could replace it.


  12. Avatar Meister Eckhart says:

    Jason’s favorite Baltimorian?   Not John Waters.  Maybe Divine.  Or Edgar Allen Poe, although he was born in Boston.  Babe Ruth?   Brooks Robinson.  Johnny Unitas?Report

    • Avatar Meister Eckhart says:

      Leon Fleisher!! Good choice, Jason. I knew beneath that beneath that impenetrable, cold-hearted veneer of yours, was a real , living, breathing soul who recognizes beauty when he sees it. A pianist of the finest order and a friend who hooked me up with the two best brain-science wizards in Deutschland. The hands are irreversibly shot but seeing the musical Holy Land made trip well worth it. Please do take the time to listen to this exquisitly played Bach–a musical version of Keatsian realization of eternal Beauty…read the words while listening to the music. Your life will never be the same!

      “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing A flowery band to bind us to the earth, Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth Of noble natures, of the gloomy days, Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all, Some shape of beauty moves away the pall From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon, Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon For simple sheep; and such are daffodils With the green world they live in….”


  13. Avatar Pyre says:

    Mixed feelings on the cultural aspect.

    Yes, you can speak with a lot of people but how many will become friends?  I mean the type of friend that will carry you when life has knocked your feet out from under you.  I’m reminded of two things here.

    1) What Rob Dreher in that small town piece that E.D. Kain recently linked to said about how no man is an island even though we’re all encouraged to be one.

    2) A quote from one of the actors at the local Theatreworks (back when I used to go to plays):  “We live in an age where people know more about people living in South Africa than we do about our own neighbors.”

    We can speak to a lot of people on the internet about books but there really is very little chance of meeting someone who will become a lifelong friend or, for the romantics, someone who may become more than a friend.  It just seems to me that it is a case of quantity over quality.  Being somewhat of a recluse, I don’t normally have a need for anything more than another voice on the internet that I can communicate with but, when I was knocked off my feet, it was good to have a friend who made sure that I got back up (and that I later made a dedication to on an FAQ I wrote).

    Now, as for the economic cost…….it’s only worrisome in that the cost of shifting everything over to the internet is beginning to make itself known in terms of jobs, dollars and consumer rights.  However, given that this hasn’t stopped me from ordering things from Amazon, I’m going to leave that issue for the next generation to unknot.  ^_^Report

  14. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    O tempura, o morels. I bought a load of Amazon stock back in the day and made a killing. While my peers were scoffing, I told them the instructive history of Sears and Roebuck, another firm which made a vast fortune on the mail-order business. I did thirteen gigs for Sears over the years and got to know many of the old-timers from Homan Avenue, once the world headquarters. But Sears and Roebuck made their first passel of shekels doing an end-run around the brick ‘n mortar general stores with the Sears Catalog.

    In those days, the general stores would routinely mark up their goods double the wholesale price plus shipping. The first Sears catalog was issued in 1888. Sears Roebuck didn’t even open up an actual store until 1925. Sears capitalized on the trend of shopping malls. When the novelty of the malls wore off, Sears was in an unhappy predicament. That problem continues to this day as Sears wriggles around in the slough of retail despond. But while Sears stuck to the catalog, it was the Amazon of its day, a century before Bezos ever set about selling things online.

    Sears also sold all manner of patent medicine through the catalog, doing another end-run around the Pure Food and Drug Act. Cocaine was sold, complete with needles and syringes in a pretty little case, purpose made. Sears would even sell folks houses, automobiles, oh the list of things you could get out of the Sears catalog beggars imagination, things not even Amazon has the chutzpah to sell.

    I wouldn’t worry much about the demise of literature or the homogenization of the publishing industry. Cellulose had a good long run, from Gutenberg well into modern times. As a bibliomaniac, few things inspire me to bouts of acquisitive lust more than an old book. But my girlfriend mostly reads things she downloads. Authors are still making money, distribution is far more efficient, O’Reilly Media supplies me with excellent geek books and City Lights bookstore sells wonderfully odd things on their website. All the elderly people of my acquaintance absolutely love their Kindles. I can send galleys to and print books of photographs for friends, or create an ebook for two dollars.

    The problem was never the technology. Content is still king. If the catalog is making a resurgence courtesy of the Internet, the brothels of Pompeii featured frescos of the services on offer for those whose Latin might have been deficient.    If anything, our surfeit of choices has overwhelmed us.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      An example of a Sears kit house advert. The spouse and I considered buying one a few years back, although not of the style pictured here.  For those who don’t know, the whole kit would be delivered to your lot, pre-cut and ready to build.

      Barns were sold that way, too, although I don’t know if Sears was a purveyor of those.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        Ah James, thanks for that link. I have the Craftsman Houses book with all the different Craftsman houses (including this one that I lived in and was a bona-fide Sears kit house). By the time I bought it in 1989 it had only had 2 owners and it had all the original plans plus what the original owner/builder had done to change things around. He kept meticulous records including what he’d bought, where and how much he’d spent (amazingly cheap as you can imagine in the early 20’s). I still miss that house, had the most beautiful gum wood trim I’ve ever seen before or since. Had a full basement (that leaked sometimes) where I built my first wine cellar.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        This is my whole neighborhood, James.

        I live here.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Ah, I’m jealous of you guys. I particularly like Craftsman/Bungalow style houses.  I really wanted the Sears house we looked at, but it needed too much fixing up to be worth the price  Had it been a Craftsman style, it might have been irresitable.  Of course we ended up in an old victorian, so I can hardly complain.

          So, Patrick….. the Rose Bowl is coming up, and I can’t afford a hotel room…. nah, just kidding.  I can’t afford a ticket, either.


      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Thanks for doing the legwork, James.  The Sears Modern Home was a marvel of technology and logistics, never equalled in the history of retail sales.  The problem with the Modern Home, as the old-timers called it, was getting people to finish pay for them.   The Sears Modern Home took off just before the Depression arrived and Sears sold these homes on the installment plan.

        Oh, Sears used to run a bank too.   Yep, Sears Bank.   The parent corporation had to divest itself of the bank in the USA, but they made a bundle on the newfangled lines of revolving credit.    Sears would take much of its credit operations and roll it into Discover Card.  Sears Canada is still running a bank.

        Before the Internet accepted public router traffik, Sears Communication ran the world’s largest IBM Token Ring LAN.   IBM had a whole floor in the then-Sears Tower.   I wrote them a concession cash register which ran on that LAN.

        We now look back on the Sears Modern Home as a triumph of ingenuity and good taste.   Elgin, IL, where I still have a home, has hundreds of Sears Modern Homes.   While Sears kept quality high and guaranteed its products, nobody could touch it:  most of what it handled turned to gold but when the malls lost their panache, the illusion was crushed.

        We are such stuff as dreams are made of.   Once, the Sears Catalog was called the Dream Book,  I remember my grandmother using that phrase.   We see the world in context:  the dowdy old malls might still be the parade grounds for kids since there are few enough open spaces for children to congregate, faut de mieux.  But if the old mall anchor stores have seemingly lost their appeal, retail was always theater.    Apple knows this and builds beautiful stage sets for its devices complete with actors and music, a place of pilgrimage for soi-disant hipsters with more money than good sense.   If Amazon and eBay and Newegg can out-compete the brick and mortar stores, it’s because they let us fill in the context ourselves.   We see the New Toy on Amazon, not in a shiny display case but in our dreams.   The Buddhists tell us desire is a sort of sickness but I don’t buy into all that hair shirt baloney.   Nothing happens unless you want it to, first.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith says:

          Blaise, can I just state again, and for the record that you are one hell of an excellent commentator? When i first found this site your tomes had be breathless and they still do. Keep up the great work good sir and thanks for coming back!Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            When he writes like this, I fully agree.  I wonder if he would be willing to expand a bit on this:

            The problem with the Modern Home, as the old-timers called it, was getting people to finish pay for them.

            Was Sears carrying the mortgage on them?  Did they have any greater difficulty than a bank would have in collecting?  Was the problem just that they foreclosure was an unattractive option because they didn’t want to be in the home ownership/resale business?  Color me curious.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Not really a mortgage:  obviously Sears didn’t own the land upon which the house was built.  At first, customers had to buy the home outright.  Sears later set people up on a payment plan.

              Here’s kinda how it worked.   Revolving credit was, as I said, was in its infancy.   Sears has always had its hand in the Numbers Bidness:  it’s also the parent company of Allstate Insurance.  A few shrewd accountants realized they could earn more money on the interest payments from revolving credit than they could by markup and extending credit was the one advantage the brick ‘n mortar general store still had in those days.

              Other merchants were offering revolving credit, Montgomery Ward was then their largest competitor and had a much more developed distribution center.   Sears and Wards were mighty competitors in those early days:  both had extensive catalog operations. Sears began as a watch retailer, mostly reselling Elgin Watch Company movements he purchased wholesale, rebranding them as Sears Watches.   Roebuck enters the operation as a repairman for those watches. Sears and Roebuck quickly fade from the picture.

              Subsequent leadership wanted to control the operation, end to end:  revolving credit allowed them to get merch off their shelves and into the hands of consumers.   Banks weren’t regulated in those days:  almost anyone could open one, ditto insurance companies. The era of the Sears Modern Home ends about the time the Depression ends.    Sears was stuck with several million in long receivables and simply took a one-time write-off on the Modern Home operation and shut it all down.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            +1 to wards’ sentiment Blaise. I’m grateful you deigned to come back ’round.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          My son was born in Elgin, strangely enough. Small world.

          Though man, that is a crappy little town.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            It’s considerably less crappy these days.   I raised three kids in that town and had a fair bit of input with the mayor, then the principal of Coleman Elementary.   He landed Elgin the last riverboat gambling license and the town’s never been the same since.

            When first I came to Elgin, its downtown was dead.   They’d put in some wretched open-air mall, aping the fad of Rockford and State Street in Chicago’s open air malls, closing down Grove Street, the femoral artery of that burg.  Predictably, all the stores died.    Grove Street was reopened and the wretched parking deck out on the river was torn down.    The gambling revenue allowed Elgin to overhaul the downtown, build a new cop shop, library, fitness center, oh there’s fancy brickwork on all the street crossings, much tomfoolery of that sort going on.   Gotta keep up with the Joneses of Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates, donchanow.

            The Prairie Rock brewery, once a lovely old movie theater, has closed down.   I’ve run a jazz bar for 26 years, they brought me in to give them some advice.   I told ’em what to do, they did none of it.   Warned them the city would take away their parking space across the street between their restaurant and the gambling boat, again, concerns idly dismissed.   Now a hideous collection of carbuncular condos, a massive affront to architecture and hideous eyesore, stands as ugly as a baboon’s ass, Auschwitz-upon-the Fox in that parking lot.

            St Charles somehow managed to avoid these errors of judgement.   So did East and West Dundee.   A hundred architects tried to warn them.   Oh, Elgin, thou that stonest the prophets…..Report

  15. Avatar James K says:

    I for one am very grateful for Amazon.  I can buy more specialist books (RPG sourcebooks and wargaming rules) for less than a third (in USD) of their NZD price.  Since 1 NZD buys you about USD 0.75 these days, that’s not due to exchange rates either.

    Nor is it entirely due to shipping, shpping costs out of the US are brutal (I can end up paying as much for postage as I do for the book), but since I’m payin a thrid of the price I still come out ahead.

    And that’s not counting the fact that it can take months after US release for these books to reach New Zealand, if at all.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith says:

      Time to switch to E-books. Although I don’t know if the RPG’s are available on that format yet.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        Some are, and I do buy some in pdf, but the electronic formats I’ve seen to date are inferior as reference books as compared to paper.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Yeah there’s a lot of frantic flipping in RPG books that ebooks just don’t cater to quite right yet. When I’m GMing a 3.5 game I can pinch the paper of the DMG or players handbook and land aproximately where I need to be and then find what I’m looking for from there. There’s a lot of non-linear parsing in RPG books.Report

  16. Avatar Scott says:


    Why does running a succesful business make Amazon evil (whatever that means to you, though it seems to mean successful big business)? What is so tasteless about giving your customers a means to compare prices and encouraging them to do so?Report