Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2003 Issue

There&#146;s a <i>Reason </i>It&#146;s a Big River — A Guide to Swimming in the Amazon

He's pushy, he's expensive...but dang, he's worth it.


Renée Magriel Roberts

Harwich Port, Cape Cod. Let’s face it: super-big, super-successful businesses are hard to love, even when we love the things they make or do. Case in point: I once had a passionate affair with my Selectric typewriter (does this date me?), but never could put my arms around IBM. And even though I buy enough books on Amazon to qualify as a high roller, what is there to love about the company itself? They make too much money, they dominate too much Web space, too many websites shamelessly point to them, they’re too young (and they seem to stay too young), and trying to get a human being from Amazon to identify themselves is like pulling teeth from a frozen mastodon.

I still haven’t changed my mind about IBM. But giant Amazon isn’t just my partner in une affaire de coeur: he’s more like a shareholder in my fledgling Internet book business. And, unlike many bloodsucking book databases, credit card merchant accounts, postage printers, and electronic pay services, all seeking the Holy Grail of e-business — a piece of every Internet transaction — Amazon has more than repaid my investment in the relationship. He’s pushy, he’s expensive, but ... dang, he’s worth it.

I know he’s over-muscled and gaudily dressed — a mass marketer, playing to the best-selling crowd. He doesn’t look anywhere near cultured enough for my precious antiquarian titles. He chokes on non-Anglo-Saxon diacriticals. His self-expression is limited by his standard 8th grade vocabulary. He allows the hoi polloi (i.e. just anybody who isn’t overtly offensive) to write his book reviews and post their own book lists. And (I admit this hurts) he communicates, if at all, in the form of form letters.

So why do I keep on listing with stud-like Amazon when there is a whole universe of livre-libro-biblio-buch-databases possessed of oodles of sophistication and savoir-faire through which I might ply my wares? And let’s not even mention my own (sadly-neglected) website. Let me put it to you like this: if you took all the other book databases and put them in one pile, and told me I could list on every single one of them OR Amazon, but not both — I’d go with the Big Dog.

Why? What’s so compelling about Amazon? Simply this: as Bloomingdale's and Macy's were to department stores, as Sears Roebuck was to catalogue sales, so is Amazon.com to retailing on the World Wide Web. They invented the concept. Nobody, but nobody, does it better.

I know there is nothing classy-looking about the Amazon site. As a matter of fact, with the recent addition of stores of all stripes, Amazon is actually looking kind of crowded and trashy. He’s basically now the cyber-equivalent of the Mall of the Americas, one of those bigger-than-life emporia which houses amusement rides, hotels, movie theatres, skateboard parks, and restaurants. I agree that my fine leather-bound volumes, recently resident in the manor house of a “person of quality” now fallen upon Dickensian hard times, would look better in a glass-fronted, carved walnut bookcase. But this is the Web, and on the Web Amazon is not merely the dominant book-selling site: it sells more than all the other book sites combined. By far.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [RUTH, George Herman “Babe” (1895-1948)]. Signed photograph. Circa 1930s. 191 x 248 mm. $1,500 to $2,500.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HARRISON, Benjamin. Document signed (“Benj Harrison”) as governor of Virginia, certifying the service of Daniel Cumbo, a Black Revolutionary soldier. $6,000 to $9,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: ONE OF THE FIRST PRINTED ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: FIRST PRINTING OF LINCOLN’S IMMORTAL GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HIGHLY IMPORTANT MORMON ARCHIVE. ALLEY, George. Archive of 23 Autograph Letters Signed by Mormon Convert George Alley to His Brother Joseph Alley. $10,000 to $20,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [AVIATION]. [ARMSTRONG, Neil A.] Aviation Hall of Fame Gold Medal MS64 NGC, Awarded to Neil Armstrong in 1979. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: NEWLY DISCOVERED FIRST PRINTING OF "WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE... " FROM THE ONLY NEWSPAPER ACTUALLY ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN LINCOLN’S SECOND INAUGURAL PROCESSION. $4,000 to $8,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: THE MOST IMPORTANT GEORGE WASHINGTON DOCUMENT IN PRIVATE HANDS; GEORGE WASHINGTON’S COMMISSION AS COMMANDER IN CHIEF, 1775, ONE OF ONLY TWO ORIGINALS. $150,000 to $250,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: A VERY RARE ACCOUNT OF BLACKBEARD’S DEATH AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PIRATE ITEMS EXTANT. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: EDISON, Thomas. Patent for Edison’s Improvements on the Electric-Light, No. 219,628. [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent Office], 16 September 1879. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [VIETNAM WAR]. The original pen used by Secretary of State William P. Rogers to sign the Vietnam Peace Agreement, Paris, 27 January 1973. $10,000 to $15,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: SONS OF LIBERTY FOUNDER COLONEL BARRÉ ANNOTATED TITLE-PAGE, “WHICH OUGHT TO ROUSE UP BRITISH ATTENTION”. $4,000 to $6,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions