Which Ooligan Book Matches Your Zodiac Sign?

Aries: Leader, Brave, Prepared

Faultland tells the story of the three Sparrow siblings who must come together in the wake of a life-shattering earthquake. This book is all about being prepared for the unthinkable, and there is no better sign more equipped for the task than Aries. Like the characters in Faultland, Aries are bold, ambitious, and determined to survive.
Taurus: Stable, Devoted, Patient
Elephant Speak

Much like an elephant, Tauruses have incredible memories and aren’t likely to forget the small details. As you will read in Elephant Speak, trust is the key to winning over a herd of elephants in the Oregon Zoo. Their keeper, Roger Henneous, exhibited the core traits of any Taurus: ambition, honesty, and reliability.
Gemini: Adaptable, Adventurous, Curious
The Step Back

Ed handles whatever life throws his way, even making a 3-pointer every now and then. Like a true Gemini, he is impulsive and changes the direction of his life at the drop of a basketball, but he never gives up. Gemini’s are all about change, transformation, and opportunity, just like Ed finds in The Step Back.
Cancer: Sensitive, Intuitive, Protective
Laurel Everywhere

Like any true Cancer, family means everything to Laurel Summers. When her mother and siblings die in a car crash, Laurel must rebuild her home with her father. While coping with her incredible loss, Laurel is often haunted by ever-changing moods and grief, but at the heart of it all, she finds comfort and healing in her family and friends.
Leo: Warm, Passionate, Dynamic
Iditarod Nights

There is no better sign to warm you up on a cold Iditarod night than a Leo. Leos are fiercely brave and set out to dominate whatever task is at hand, making them the perfect sign to face the harsh and bitter Iditarod. Claire and Dillion won’t stop until they reach Nome, but they’ll find comfort in each other’s arms wherever they go.
Virgo: Logical, Intelligent, Observant
Finding the Vein

Virgos can’t resist a problem that needs fixing or a mystery to solve, making them the clear detective of the bunch. While investigating a murder at a summer camp for adoptees, Sergeant Mikie and fellow camper Isaac must sort through rumors and facts, channeling the attention to detail and perfection of a Virgo. Beneath the haze of suspicion, Finding the Vein is a story about acceptance and identity, with a passion for the truth.
Libra: Empathetic, Charming, Social
The Gifts We Keep

Five different people find themselves part of the same entrancing story that you won’t be able to forget in The Gifts We Keep. Much like a Libra, this story is balanced by love and loss, escape and home, and the sadness and happiness of being part of a family. Empathy and strong hearts are favored here.
Scorpio: Loyal, Determined, Bold
The Names We Take

A true Scorpio would never leave someone behind, and neither will Pip, even when faced with unspeakable trials and tribulations in The Names We Take. In a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by plague, she has no choice but to keep her and her friends alive. There is no doubt that out of all the signs, Scorpios would rule an apocalypse with style and ease, even finding a family along the way.
Sagittarius: Optimistic, Honest, Free
The Ocean in My Ears

Meri Miller lives in Soldotna, a decidedly small and boring fishing town in Alaska. Like any Sagittarius, she dreams of escaping to a far, distant, and way more exciting city. The destination doesn’t matter, as long as it’s new and the ride is great Even when the going gets tough and the days are dark, Meri is tougher and brighter, always looking for the silver lining amongst the clouds.
Capricorn: Ambitious, Serious, Helpful
Breaking Cadence

Standing up for justice and embracing her morals, Rose del Duca is not only a soldier in the National Guard, but also a conscious objector. Pragmatic and morally driven Capricorns are reflected in del Duca’s powerful vocalization of her beliefs. She is torn between duty and conscience, and is constantly testing her strength to its limits and breaking cadence.
Aquarius: Unique, Resilient, Surprising

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being the odd one out in a room full of people. As an Aquarius, you are used to being you; some may describe you as being witty, original, and eccentric, but these are also words used to describe Odsburg. Take a journey with the self-proclaimed “socio-anthropo-lingui-loreologist” as he ventures into a fictional land, collecting ephemera and outlandish stories from its inhabitants. Perfect for the curious and creative Aquarius, this one is sure to redefine your reality.
Pisces: Generous, Emotional, Creative
At the Waterline

Forever the romantic, the one with the grand gestures, and the one with the dreamy eyes, a Pisces is often miles away or underwater, reminiscing in memories and submerged in thought. Divorced and haunted by tragedy, Chad once had romantic notions of a sailing life, but he now lives along the river just north of Portland. Meeting the colorful locals and learning about their lives, Chad learns once again to love, trust, and heal at the waterline.

Thumb hovering over Instagram app on a smart phone.

Learning the ABCs of Bookstagram

I started my bookstagram page at the end of September 2020. In under half a year, I have amassed 3,400 plus followers, held conversations with some of my favorite authors, and made many bookish friends. There are many tips and tricks only accessible to those engaging with other accounts, consuming a lot of content, and running an actual bookstagram account. Thus, I have gathered my most useful tips and tricks on how to create, operate, and brand a successful bookstagram account.

  1. Realize your definition of success.
    1. What do you want to get out of your account? Do likes matter? Do followers matter?
    2. Know your own value. Likes and followers only hold the weight you place on them. Big or small, this account is ultimately for you!
  2. Develop your content strategy.
    1. Will you be posting book reviews? Do you want your feed to be aesthetically pleasing and uniform in style or color? Will you post other content besides books?
    2. Many followers first engage with your image—this is Instagram, after all. Having good lighting and photo quality are a great first step to running a professional account. Many bookstagrammers use props like fake flowers, bookish merch, and other knickknacks to create a theme, while others use a consistent filter or color scheme.
    3. Your inaugural post is a great way to introduce yourself to the bookstagram community! Why did you choose to begin? What books do you like? Why is your account unique?
  3. Design your profile.
    1. Start with your account name, a.k.a. your @ handle. Making it book related helps alert others to your interests.
    2. Another critical part of your account is the profile picture. Some choose to pay for a designed logo, but you can make your own in many different apps, Adobe Creative Cloud, or even Word. A picture of books or you with books would work, just make sure it is recognizably your account. This is your chance to stand out!
    3. Many times people decide to follow and follow back based on your @ handle, profile picture, and bio. If you choose a random selfie or obscure name, other bookstagrammers may not recognize your account as a book page.
    4. You have the option to switch your account to a “business profile.” It is not required, but it can be worthwhile because you are able to see the best times to post, the demographics of your followers, and engagement rates of your posts.
    5. You can also create highlights on your profile from the Instagram story feature. You are able to further brand your account by creating cover images for different highlights.
  4. Extra tips.
    1. Engage. With. Other. Accounts. If you follow an account, like a few of their photos, and even comment, they are more likely to return the favor! You will also create friendships and start to carve out your own space in the bookstagram community.
    2. A big part of success on Instagram (and beating the algorithm) is consistency. Most recommend posting at least once a day. However, post as much or as little as you can manage. Do not overwhelm yourself!
    3. If you choose to use hashtags on your posts, choose ones with fewer than fifteen thousand posts and more than one thousand. This will help your post be shown to more accounts.
    4. There are many apps you can employ to help you. Instagram layout apps are great for planning your feed, follower apps can help you keep track of any spam accounts or bots, and editing apps can make your images pop!
    5. Follow trains are useful for beginners looking to make new friends and find new accounts to follow; you can often find them under hashtags and around general bookstagram.
    6. Do not follow too many accounts or like too many posts in a short period of time, especially when you have a new Instagram account. They will temporarily block your account. Since the numbers frequently change, you can google the current Instagram algorithm and rules.

Ultimately, successful accounts bring something new to the table! Convey your unique voice via your reviews, use unique props, or just find your people. If you are confused about any steps or features of Instagram, Google will most likely have the answer. You are also free to message me on Instagram, @fringebookreviews, and I will try to address your questions! You can also use my account as an example. Good luck, and happy reading!

Book Subscription Boxes Offer an Alternative to Browsing Bookstore Shelves this Holiday Season (And Beyond)

The holidays are here. Festive city squares are displaying trees lit with tasteful white lights, and our marching band kiddos have asked us to buy pies or wreathes to support their teams. In past holiday seasons I have loved walking, wrapped in a knitted scarf, from the chilly city street or suburban stripmall sidewalk, past a musician strumming a guitar or beating a drum, and through charming glass or wooden doors into the warm space of a bustling retail bookshop, illuminated by soft yellow lights.

And now? Well, now I rarely go inside any stores, opting for delivery and curbside pickup. I tend to wince, seemingly irrationally, when I accidentally walk the wrong direction down a grocery store aisle per the masking tape arrows. Yesterday, I found myself asking the cashier at the liquor store if they had any hand sanitizer I could use. COVID-19 has got me like that.

I buy my groceries online. Every twelve weeks, twenty-four rolls of toilet paper are delivered to my front doorstep. I no longer need to carry the bulky, soft, plastic-wrapped packages through the checkout lane to my car, or through the hilly neighborhood to my second-story apartment. I like that. I’ve also been receiving a new pair of super cute, super soft underwear sent to me monthly since April.

Subscription boxes—the recurring delivery of goods—are, in my opinion, a vital part of the marketing and distribution of a product or service. And. They. Are. Convenient. And fun.

So why not feed readers’ chronic bibliophilia with book subscription boxes? In general, shopping habits have been changing for years, and COVID-19 has greatly amplified this. The book-shopping experience will need to transition into a new realm where local and indie bookstore owners send their bookish vibes into the hands and homes of their customers. Maybe every other month, or four times a year, a reader’s favorite local bookstore ships them a pile of used books, a new hardcover must-read, books from featured or local authors, some cute bookish socks, and a new notebook or a calendar. Maybe they could throw in an old bookstore–scented candle (Is that a thing? Powell’s has made that a thing.), or a traveling poet’s self-published chapbook. The product combinations, I imagine, are endless.

Delivery subscriptions for things like dinner prep kits, sustainable toilet paper, murder mystery games, and even locally roasted coffee beans have become increasingly popular since at least 2003. Forbes reported that in “April 2017, subscription company websites had about 37 million visitors. Since 2014, that number [had] grown by over 800 percent.” I wonder what the numbers are today, in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, with kids learning from home, many folks working remotely or unemployed altogether, elders isolated from loved ones, and people simply staying away from other people (in the best of circumstances).

COVID-19 continues to change lifestyles and restrict in-person contact. People may not be able to shop at their favorite bookstores (or any stores) without potentially waiting in a line outside the brick and mortar or needing to proactively set an appointment. A box of books and other goodies being delivered right to readers can bring the bookstore vibes to their homes, and can keep us consuming the titles that flood our wish lists and the titles we had no idea we needed.

Some booksellers have been dabbling in book subscription boxes for a while. For about fifty bucks, every six to eight weeks, Powell’s Books will ship subscribers a new title from an independent publisher. Their Indiespensable subscription club is well-reviewed (and out of stock). I am definitely adding their next installment to my wish list! Also, a charming local bookstore in Delaware is running The Book Drop, a monthly book subscription where adult readers get a wrapped, paperback book to pair with coffee, tea, or bubbly, and kids have options too.

I’m into it.

I am expecting to see more (like all my favorite) independent bookstores offering some form of niche subscription boxes for their book-loving readers. Bookstores, small and large, need to get their inventories online and offer more accessibility—as well as some customizable options—for these subscriptions.

A Marketing Tool for Indie Publishers and Authors Alike

“Tell us what titles or genres you’ve enjoyed in the past, and we’ll give you surprisingly insightful recommendations.”

In December 2006, many things were happening around the world. NASA revealed photographs supporting the theory of water on Mars, an adult giant squid was captured on video, and the dress Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s was auctioned to charity for $923,187. Another notable December 2006 occurrence was the creation of the online book catalog and recommendation resource, Goodreads.

Goodreads allows users to keep track of books they’ve read, books they want to read, and the reading journeys of other registered users. Users are able to interact with each other while getting consistent recommendations from both a Goodreads algorithm and the ever-updating feed from their friends on the website or app. While Goodreads is a wonderful resource for readers, it also houses a very lucrative market for indie publishers and authors. Through the Goodreads author program, Q&A groups, word of mouth, and the Goodreads recommendation engine, indie publishers and authors are able to establish a presence among the bigger five guns in the publishing world.

Goodreads Author Program

Per Goodreads, the author program is “designed for authors to have a profile on the site and interact with fans, and add photos, videos, or events to their profiles.” Using Goodreads as a sort of social media platform, authors are able to cultivate a following and stay connected with their readers. They can even update readers on what they are reading, since most authors are—at a fundamental level—readers too. Authors can post reviews or favorite quotes, or even create lists of favorite books.

Q&A Groups

Authors can also host a Q&A group to answer questions and interact with their fans. Any followers of the author are notified via their inbox to submit a question, promoting the new release. There are seven million users on Goodreads and it is very worthwhile for authors (either publishing independently or through an indie press) to interact with them! Another program, Ask the Authors, allows authors to engage with their readers from their author dashboard.

How do books get discovered? This pie chart distinguishes between the various methods Goodreads members use to find books on the site.

states that they “require such a threshold to guarantee they know enough about a book to be statistically comfortable recommending it.” Ratings and reviews on books, especially indie titles, matter!

Using programs such as LibraryThing and Eidelweiss offer the option to implore early reviewers to review books on websites such as Goodreads. Having a strong baseline of early reviews helps a title tremendously when looking to market it on Goodreads.

Furthermore, Goodreads notes that if there is a strong comparable title to a new release and a publisher or author is able to market their book to the readers of the other title—and the readers respond by adding the new book to their goodreads account—the recommendation engine will notice this correlation and be even more likely to suggest the book to the right readers.

Where do people initially hear about the books they read?

Friends are one of the best methods of new book discovery.

Black-Owned Bookstores Can Handle It

I think it is safe to say that the year 2020 has changed the world as we know it in a number of ways. Many people, myself included, are desperate for some semblance of the normalcy we were used to. While I completely understand these feelings, we all have to accept that important things are happening in 2020.

One important change is the momentum and support of the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement is affecting all areas of life and has caused at least one positive change in the publishing industry specifically—the support of Black authors, bookstores, and stories. With this abundance of support, there has also been some backlash on social media unfairly placed on Black-owned independent bookstores due to lack of stock and late shipping times. It’s vital to understand that the problem doesn’t start at these bookstores, but at the chain of supply that is being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are a few things we have to realize, and first is that the book you ordered from a small, independent, Black-owned bookstore is most likely the same book countless others also ordered. As a smaller, indie bookstore they are doing their best to get these books to you, but the supply just isn’t coming in at the rate they need. It is unfair to assume that the fault lies with Black-owned bookstores rather than outside factors that are hindering their operation.

The main factor here is the supply chain, as they also faced hits from the COVID-19 pandemic. The supply chain plays a huge part in getting books to bookstores and then, eventually, the hands of customers. This is the real issue, as “[i]ndependents are generally supplied by the wholesalers because of their small orders, meaning they now have only existing stock” to ship out. Another article points out that they are dealing with loss of employees, remote work, and safety and health checks to name a few obstacles in their way. These issues directly affect the distribution of books as they are forced to slow down production and reexamine processes. With slower distribution rates and lower stock, Black-owned bookstores are reaching a standstill as “[t]he concentration of interest among just a few titles can create long wait times, with some books on backorder for weeks.” These independent bookstores are nowhere near the calibre of their competitors such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, so some patience and understanding is required. Just keep in mind that this is bigger than just supporting your local bookstore; it’s a big step in changing the world for the better.

COVID-19 has clearly played a large part in slowing down the supply chain for everyone. It is simply a part of living during a pandemic that requires a bit more sympathy and understanding while these independent booksellers work tirelessly to get the books we all love into the hands of those who ordered them. While many are used to free two-day shipping, that is simply not a sustainable way of life. Now is not the time to point fingers and blame anyone for why the world has changed this way. Instead, we should focus on coming together.

It is important to remember why we should support Black-owned bookstores and why everyone has ordered the same titles in the first place. Black-owned bookstores are not falling short, but rather they are operating as best they can in dire circumstances. I applaud the resilience and strength it takes for these bookstores to operate during a pandemic and prioritize the people supporting them. We can all use a little more patience and understanding rather than trying to find who is in the wrong.

So while you wait for your copy of Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, consider other titles that portray authentic Black stories and keep on supporting, educating, and growing. Also, if you have the time, maybe send out a supportive tweet to your local bookstore and let them know they’re doing a great job.

Indie Portland Bookstores During COVID-19

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many small businesses are facing hardships due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures. In Portland, however, small independent bookstores are changing the way they operate in order to stay open. Below is a list of local booksellers that are using their online presence to their advantage during these difficult times:

While this is not an exhaustive list, these are some of the stores that are staying open due to the patronage of their communities.

How are they operating behind closed doors? Most of these stores are now offering free shipping and, in some cases, free delivery or curbside pickups. However, these models are continually changing as the guidelines and procedures for safe transactions continue to be updated. Many of these small stores do not have a robust online catalog, which means that in order to get your books, you must speak directly with an employee in the store who can let you know what they have in stock and make recommendations. In this way—even though they don’t have the backing of larger chains who might have more employees available to ship books—these small independent stores are giving customers the service and care they always do, and making the extra effort to keep their communities safe.

Another thing to consider is how these companies are advertising to their customers during this time. We know people are not supposed to leave their homes unless it is essential, so how are stores getting the word out? Social media has been a key component in this process, beyond just a simple telephone call. As more and more people find themselves stuck at home with little else to do but skim their phones, these stores have utilized their advertising on social media platforms in order to keep the word out about their options. From posting funny quips to sharing ideas for family-friendly reading activities, these stores have been going above and beyond to reach their communities, all while fielding business in a challenging new way. A few of the bookstores have requests on their websites for customers to be patient when it comes to ordering and receiving their books. For a lot of people, that is no problem at all, because there is a lot of time to wait for a book these days.

Their ability to adapt is a testament to the ways independent bookstores go above and beyond to stay in business. During all of this chaos, it’s still important to be able to sit down and read a good book—and as people are stocking up on necessities, they’re starting to consider that as well. So as you consider the small businesses you’re supporting during this time, keep these bookstores in mind.

Self-Published Authors’ Ebook Success

More and more writers are becoming published authors. Some start with blogs, writers’ groups, and lifelong dreams. Traditional publishing can be difficult to break into, especially if you’re not already an established author. So how are new authors getting their books into the competitive market without an agent or a supportive publishing house?

Self-publishing has taken the book world by storm, and this is because self-published books are an easy way to bring attention to a new author and get their books to readers. The easiest way for authors to do this is to self-publish their works as ebooks. Steven Spatz from The Writing Cooperative says this allows the author to sell their book for a relatively low price, drawing a large readership, and permits the author to market their book the way they think is best. They can sell their ebook as a ninety-nine-cent Kindle option, provide free snippets online, and monitor their own previews. One author who did this, Andy Weir, didn’t meet expected sales with his first book. Because of this, he posted free chapters of it to his personal website in order to obtain an audience and introduce them to his work. He went on to sell his ebook original to Crown Publishing for a large sum.

In addition to getting their names out there through self-publishing, authors also benefit from lower production costs. Publishing an ebook is significantly cheaper than publishing in print. This makes ebooks more convenient for first-time authors in many ways. If their work doesn’t reach its potential the first time around, they won’t be dumped by an agent or lose profit. This gives them another opportunity to establish themselves in the market for their next book. Mike Omer is one author who took advantage of this opportunity. He was relatively unknown until his sales on Amazon’s “Prime Day” propelled his career forward. According to Steven Spatz, on this day alone he sold more books than authors like James Patterson.

The absence of an agent and editor also allows the author to build their own fan base and distribute their books as they see fit. If an author knows their niche, and if they have a knack for marketing, they can target their audience early on and cheaply promote their book. According to IngramSpark staff, in the long run (and if it is done correctly), this will benefit the author and provide them with a wide readership for future publications. Understanding their platform will allow a self-publishing author to succeed and go from blog writer to New York Times best-selling author.

Self-publishing is thriving and growing by the day. Many authors hoping to make the best-seller list would likely never have the chance for success without self-publishing, and especially without ebooks. Posting free chapters online or publishing an ebook can not only give an author name recognition but also create a success story that lasts for ages. As sales continue to rise and more and more writers break into the market via ebooks, there is sure to be a continual rise in self-published works by authors digging their way to creative fame.

Battle for Books: Texts and Tariff Exemptions

The written word only matters insofar as it is made available and accessible—and in this case, insofar as it can be taxed. With the Trump administration dealing with the aftermath of a trade war with China, many consumers and publication producers are licking their wounds. In an unprecedented tariff implementation, almost every form of publication is being exposed to a 10 percent tax increase that started September 1, 2019. A second wave of taxes will come in December 2019.

There have been moves to grant pardons to specific products, with only one significant publications exemption: religious texts. After religious groups made (and won) their case to have the Bible, Quran, and other similar texts exempted, independent publishers and bookstores were hoping that such clemency would trickle down to other publications. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Most publications were rejected from exemption, including fiction, nonfiction, scientific texts, coloring books, maps, atlases, dictionaries, textbooks—basically anything bound in the form of a book.

There was, however, a short reprieve granted specifically to children’s books, which received partial clemency until mid-December so as to escape a price increase during this year’s holiday season. However, the new year will usher in a new economy. According to ProPublica, after December 15, “importers will pay 10 percent of the value of whatever they bring in from China.” Dan Reynolds, CEO of Workman Publishing, notes that China is exceptionally useful when “producing affordable children’s books with all kinds of bells and whistles, like pop-ups and textures.” It will get increasingly more challenging to market the tariffed book prices when buyers like school districts and libraries already have set budgets that do not account for these new tariffs.

The extra 10 percent tax is especially substantial for independent publishing houses and bookstores, who now need to revisit and revise their budgets, acquisition schedules, and hiring plans in order to compensate for the increase in importation costs. Furthermore, it is not just the physical books and book-like materials that are being levied, but also bookmaking equipment. Publishing Perspectives notes that “bookbinding machinery, including book-sewing machines” and equipment parts, are also being taxed.

China is an important player in American publishing, and these changes in taxation cannot be ignored. According to Derek Stordahl, executive vice president of Holiday House, “there are good color printers in the US and Canada, but they don’t have the capacity to service the entire industry and their prices are usually twice what you might pay.” Plus, with publishing houses scrambling to get out of China, neighboring Asian facilities have limited amounts of space to take on new customers, with the majority of that space going to publishers within the “Big Five.”

With September 1 having passed and December 15 rapidly approaching, consumers and producers alike are feeling the ramifications of the tariff increases. Budgets, proposals, and schedules are being overhauled in attempts to keep businesses afloat in the face of the influx of taxes imposed by the Trump administration. Both nationally and locally, the unprecedented fiscal pressures are shifting not only the market, but also the institutions. The very foundation of publishing houses and bookstores is under attack.

Portland Bookstores: Beyond Powell’s

We love books and live in Portland, so of course we’re familiar with Powell’s. But the “City of Books” isn’t the only shop that makes Portland a bibliophile’s paradise. We are blessed with many choices of independent bookstores, each with its own personality. Here are seven less-tourist-clogged stores worth exploring and supporting.

Wallace Books

7241 SE Milwaukie Ave

This unassuming little house is literally overflowing with books; they spread the selection outdoors whenever the rain lets up. Inside, the floor-to-ceiling shelves and narrow aisles embody the delightful chaos of book hunting.

Cameron’s Books and Magazines

336 SW 3rd Ave

Established in 1938 and in its current location since the early sixties, Cameron’s is a cave of buried treasure. Their huge collection of vintage magazines dominates the main room, and the rest of the shop is crowded with loosely organized paperbacks.

Belmont Books

3415 SE Belmont St

This is a classic independent used bookstore with a wide selection and some of the best prices in the city.

Excalibur Comics

2444 SE Hawthorne Blvd

Between their deep archive of old comics and their precisely organized new releases, Excalibur is the quintessential shop for comics and graphic novels.

Backstory Books & Yarn

3129 SE Hawthorne Blvd

Used books and upcycled yarn hidden in a little blue house makes for a cozy way to spend an afternoon. This is another treasure-hunt shop with stacks and boxes along the aisles.

Rose City Book Pub

1329 NE Fremont St

This is the number one choice for a long browsing session. Come for the beer, stay for the wide variety of surprise finds. Curl up in a comfy alcove with a new novel and a cheese plate.

Secret Forest Books

3561 SE Division St

A metaphysics and occult specialty shop with a sprawling book collection in addition to their stock of tools and gifts. The enchanting atmosphere alone makes this shop worth a visit.

You’ve Got Amazon Books: On Working at Amazon and Ooligan Press

I recently watched You’ve Got Mail for the first time (I know, I know). If you haven’t seen it yourself, it is about a children’s bookstore owner (Meg Ryan) who exchanges emails with the man opening up a corporate bookstore just around the corner (Tom Hanks), except they don’t know the identity of the other person. The movie was released in 1998, so there are a lot of fun and outdated cultural references, one of the more prominent ones being in the name itself: “you’ve got mail,” the iconic chime whenever someone with an AOL email would log in.
What really struck me, however, was the conflict between the local, specialized bookstore and the larger, corporate one. It struck me because I’m living that right now, having just been hired at the third installment of Amazon Books.
Leaving a full-time job to go back to graduate school, I felt the need to continue working in a part-time job, and miraculously, the listing for an Amazon Books store associate popped up at the same time. I had always wanted to work in a bookstore, and they were specifically looking for part-time workers, so it seemed like fate. I applied, interviewed, got the job, and celebrated the fact that my plans were working out.
But I was still torn. Almost all you hear about Amazon—at least on the publishing side—is that they’re monopolizing the book industry. They’re using it to boost their bargaining power against publishers, so that they can get more money from them. And when they’re (virtually) the only retailer, they’re going to boost prices so that they’re expanding their profit margins from both directions. With the retail locations opening up, some people are resistant to the idea, and I understand, because I might have been one of them.
Once we started training, however, it not only became difficult to view it as an us-against-them situation, I no longer wanted to. There is such a strong desire to fulfill the customer’s needs that it is planned into everything in the store. The faced-out placement of the books is intended to help customers discover titles they may have passed over when it was just the spine facing out. The review cards give the reader another chance to understand the book past what’s been presented in the summary. The store is stocked with books tailored to each city to provide a better chance for each customer to find a book that they love.
Even still—maybe more so since I’ve started working—I don’t consider Portland’s independent bookstore community in danger. Independent bookstores have always had a strong following, even throughout the recession. And the addition of another bookstore isn’t likely to shake that up, but rather add to the availability of books in the Tigard area.
After Meg Ryan’s bookstore closes in You’ve Got Mail, she goes to visit Tom Hank’s corporate bookstore. She makes her way to the children’s section, only to find kids and their parents still enjoying the books they love. We get the sense that Meg Ryan’s character can’t resent this store, because these children are still finding their way into the world of books—the same one that drove her passion to continue on her mother’s bookstore and start her own writing at the end of the movie.
And isn’t that what it’s really all about? our love of books?