Book­shop.org tak­ing on Ama­zon

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - BOOKS - By John Warner Twit­ter @bi­b­lio­r­a­cle

In the open­ing of the very first “Star Wars” movie, a small space­ship flees from a be­he­moth Star Destroyer that’s so mas­sive it ex­pands beyond the frame. The small ship is filled with Rebels, and as they pre­pare to be boarded by a party from the star destroyer, you see a mix of fear and re­solve in the de­fend­ers’ eyes.

They know this ain’t go­ing to go so good, but what choice do they have?

Of course the Stormtroop­ers make short work of those Rebels, and here comes Darth Vader, an­nounced by that im­pos­ing theme mu­sic we’ve all come to know so well. The Em­pire has ar­rived, and it is one bad mama jama. As a 7-year-old watch­ing it for the first time, sit­ting in the aisle of the over­crowded (and long-ago-de­mol­ished) Edens The­ater, I had an in­stant grasp of what it means to be un­der the thumb of over­whelm­ing power.

When I read a re­cent Pub­lish­ers Weekly story by Gila Lyons about an “in­die al­ter­na­tive to Ama­zon,” I couldn’t help but pic­ture those Rebel soldiers so bravely ready­ing them­selves to stand up to Darth Vader’s board­ing party.

The project, Book­shop.org, is sched­uled to open this month and is de­signed to of­fer an al­ter­na­tive out­let for in­de­pen­dent book­stores, au­thors and pub­lish­ers to sell their wares. Con­sider them the Rebel Al­liance stand­ing up to the Ama­zon Em­pire.

The Princess Leia be­hind the ef­fort — the gen­eral in charge of or­ga­niz­ing and in­spir­ing — is Andy Hunter, who can boast some ad­mirable suc­cesses as co-founder of lit­er­a­ture-re­lated en­ti­ties such as Lit­er­ary Hub and Cat­a­pult. The vi­sion for Book­shop is bold, with an in­ten­tion to pro­vide “a uni­fied e-com­merce strat­egy that is as fast and user-friendly as Ama­zon.” Es­sen­tially, Book­shop aims to be an al­ter­na­tive for pub­li­ca­tions or re­view­ers or even celebrity en­dorsers such as Reese Wither­spoon to link to when pro­mot­ing books on­line.

The mech­a­nism is an af­fil­i­ate net­work, recre­at­ing a model Ama­zon uses it­self, and pro­vid­ing a higher per­cent­age of share per sale (10% ver­sus 4%) than Ama­zon.

Reg­u­lar read­ers are prob­a­bly tired of me cast­ing Ama­zon as a malev­o­lent force and, to be fair, I don’t be­lieve that Jeff Be­zos is Darth Vader, with demon­stra­bly evil in­ten­tions.

But an em­pire is an em­pire, and the na­ture of an em­pire is to elim­i­nate those who stand in the way of em­pire busi­ness. There are those who ben­e­fit from the ad­vance of the em­pire and those who do not, and in­de­pen­dent en­ti­ties of any kind within the books ecosys­tem are among the lat­ter. There may be tem­po­rary ap­pease­ment of the em­pire (like what Lando Cal­ris­sian tried in “Em­pire Strikes Back”), but in any re­la­tion­ship with an em­pire, the em­pire will al­ways have the up­per hand.

And if it wants to seize your Cloud City or cut your mar­gins, it will.

Any­thing or­ga­nized un­der the head­ing of “al­liance” is tricky to pull off. An al­liance re­quires some mea­sure of in­di­vid­ual sac­ri­fice for the greater good. Book­shop looks con­structed to make those sac­ri­fices as limited as pos­si­ble, but for it to work, it will take broad buy-in.

We should be root­ing for them, in­clud­ing with our pur­chas­ing power. I am not say­ing that Ama­zon must be out­right de­feated, but I would ar­gue that all of us who love books and read­ing will be bet­ter served if Ama­zon is held in check by a com­pet­ing force.

I am not nec­es­sar­ily op­ti­mistic about Book­shop’s chances, but I am hope­ful. It took more than 40 years for the “Star Wars” Rebels to win on screen.

May the force be with Book­shop.

Ben­jamin

Mar­shall by Karen Kil­gar­iff and Ge­or­gia Hard­stark

I get great joy when­ever I see that some­one has read “Or­anges.” If some­one wants to know what it means to be truly cu­ri­ous, I point them to­wards that book. “Pris­on­ers of Ge­og­ra­phy” is an­other one that makes you grate­ful to learn some­thing new. In that vein, let me rec­om­mend a book from a ways back:

by Trevor Cor­son.

RAMIN TALAIE/GETTY FILE

Andy Hunter is the driv­ing force be­hind Book­shop.org, a site that hopes to unite in­de­pen­dent book­stores.

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