Hamil­ton dropped from Ama­zon’s top-20 list

But that doesn’t mean we’re no longer a city of read­ers — just ask the pub­lic li­brary

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - AN­DREW DRESCHEL

For the first time ever, Hamil­ton has failed to crack Ama­zon Canada’s an­nual lineup of the top 20 Cana­dian cities that love to read.

Ac­cord­ing to the on­line shop­ping gi­ant, Saska­toon, Kingston and Kelowna, B.C., took the top spots for 2017.

But Hamil­ton, which al­ways squeezed in at No. 19 or No. 20 since the list de­buted in 2013, dropped off the chart en­tirely.

What’s more, neigh­bour­ing Burling­ton, which has been shut out in pre­vi­ous years, fi­nally el­bowed its way onto the list, rank­ing No. 15 among the top 20.

The Seat­tle-based com­pany, which op­er­ates Ama­zon.com and Ama­zon.ca, com­piles its list of “Cana­dian Cities that Love to Read” us­ing an­nual sales data from its print and Kin­dle ebooks on a per-capita ba­sis in cities with more than 100,000 res­i­dents.

On a per­sonal note, I’m sure no one will be more sur­prised by Hamil­ton’s fail­ure to make the cut this year than my wife. She’s con­vinced I’m per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing Ama­zon.ca Canada’s largest on­line re­tailer.

Not a fort­night goes by that a book doesn’t ar­rive in the mail at our homestead. We’re not only run­ning out of space to store them, my wife is run­ning out of pa­tience. It’s got to the point where I’m re­duced to sneak­ing them into the home and squir­relling them away in the back of clos­ets and empty dresser draw­ers.

In my de­fence, buy­ing books is my only vice, or at least the only one I’m will­ing to ad­mit to while sober, and reading them is a big part of my es­cape-to-Shangri-la re­tire­ment plan. Still, the ques­tion re­mains: Why did Hamil­ton lose its place on the Ama­zon list?

An Ama­zon spokesper­son noted via email that it wouldn’t have taken much for us to be bumped since we only ranked No. 20 last year. Be­yond that, he couldn’t speak to any changes in cus­tomer be­hav­iour.

Is it pos­si­ble Hamil­to­ni­ans aren’t reading as much as we used to? Prob­a­bly not. The thing to re­mem­ber is the list is based on Ama­zon sales. Maybe Hamil­to­ni­ans sim­ply aren’t or­der­ing as many books from the ecom­merce colos­sus as they did in pre­vi­ous years. After all, Ama­zon isn’t the only player in the game.

This city is home to two su­per­stores owned by Toronto-based Indigo Books, plus three Coles stores that op­er­ate un­der the same cor­po­rate ban­ner. In ad­di­tion to its brick and mor­tar out­lets, Indigo also has an on­line op­er­a­tion that of­fers Ama­zon-like dis­counts.

Fur­ther­more, Hamil­to­ni­ans can shop at a dozen or so lo­cal in­de­pen­dent, used and spe­cialty book­stores, as well as tak­ing an easy drive to Burling­ton, which has its own col­lec­tion of big box and au­ton­o­mous book­stores.

It’s pretty clear there’s no short­age of choices be­sides Ama­zon. But the strong­est ev­i­dence that Hamil­to­ni­ans aren’t turn­ing their backs on reading comes from Paul Takala, chief li­brar­ian and CEO for the Hamil­ton Pub­lic Li­brary.

“We do have a very strong read­er­ship in Hamil­ton,” Takala says, cit­ing li­brary data.

Based on pro­vin­cial statis­tics re­leased ear­lier this year, among larger li­braries serv­ing pop­u­la­tions over 250,000, Hamil­ton ranked first in cir­cu­la­tion per card holder and third in cir­cu­la­tion per capita.

Ad­di­tion­ally, cir­cu­la­tion of li­brary ma­te­ri­als last year was 6.74 mil­lion, down a touch from the high of 7.2 mil­lion in 2012, but still more than two mil­lion ahead of where we were at amal­ga­ma­tion.

Takala notes there’s also been a rapid growth in other li­brary for­mats such as ebooks and au­dio books, which again speaks to people’s love of the writ­ten word.

Over­all, Takala sug­gests we shouldn’t read too much into the Ama­zon rank­ings since they’re based on lim­ited data. But, as be­fits a li­brar­ian, he cau­tions we should never un­der­es­ti­mate the im­por­tance of lit­er­acy, a key de­ter­mi­nant for health and well­be­ing.

“With the city of Hamil­ton’s fo­cus on poverty re­duc­tion the Ama­zon stats clearly show an op­por­tu­nity for re­newed em­pha­sis on reading in all its forms and the li­brary is happy to work with others to ad­vance that agenda.”

Tan­gen­tially, I bet my wife’s per­sonal agenda is to get me to kick my ad­dic­tion to Ama­zon.ca and be­come hooked on the li­brary in­stead.

An­drew Dreschel’s com­men­tary ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. adreschel@thes­pec.com 905-526-3495 @An­drewDreschel

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