Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I'll Never Learn

Holly posted about the practice that chain bookstores use as part of their business model: ordering to the net. She states that this practice kills books and careers, and concludes that, to support a midlist author's career (and, of course, your local independent bookseller), it's better to buy books from independent booksellers since they don't order to the net. I don't really want to analyze the argument since 1) I'm most certainly an outsider to the entire publishing industry and therefore don't have access to all the information that Holly does and 2) I think a lot of the argument gets back into that whole writing as art or business debate that and that's been addressed here.

No, the reason I'm posting is to talk about the flak her post generated and how I'm probably going to regret opening my mouth.

In presenting her argument against ordering to the net, Holly begins by calling chain bookstores the Villains of bookselling and indie bookstores the Heroes of bookselling. Then she immediately goes on to explain how the heroes (indies) do it right, focusing on the actual booksellers. I'm fairly certain she did this to emphasize the human element of the indies for stark comparison against the Corporate Buyer looking at numbers and nothing else of the chains. Unfortunately, for the chain employees (aka, the actual booksellers at the chain stores), this argument structure seems to be implying that, by immediately focusing on the booksellers at the indies who are doing things right and are therefore heroes, chain booksellers are doing it wrong and are villains. Hence the furor.

Holly calls such an interpretation sloppy reading because she never said any such thing. In fact, she only mentioned the chain bookseller once in detailing that readers need to beat booksellers over the head with the need to keep a book/author stocked to get the beancounters to take note and thus produce a miracle that would prevent the ordering to the net death spiral. She's taken the booksellers completely out of the equation, really. And the removal of the human bookselling element from the villainy of chain bookstores seems to imply that they are complicit in the corporate villainy or that they are incapable of handselling to save an author's career, which is just as bad since she's already established that that's part of the right way to do things--you know, the way the heroes do it.

The whole mess gets even more grand when Holly puts part of the blame for the furor on people who "so closely identify themselves with their jobs that they believe a hostile comment about a bad corporate business practice was a hostile comment about themselves." Wouldn't another way of saying "closely identify themselves with their jobs" be "passionate about their work," which is bookselling? Isn't that what she's claiming is missing in the bottom-line mentality of ordering to the net? Have we just run 'round in a circle?

But I've run into this sort of thing on the internet before and have been burned in trying to present a dissenting opinion when someone is clearly certain they are right about something. So even though I see how Holly's rhetoric in and composition of her argument could garner (whether intentionally or unintentionally--this is where I stop enjoying argument analysis because no matter what wording or structure Holly used, I cannot presume to know what she intended with it) just the sort of reaction she's ridiculing as not only idiotic and sloppy but also akin to libel, I should just roll my eyes and go about my blog surfing. No, idiot me, I decided to post a response.

We'll see what happens. What I would enjoy would be a discussion of the rhetoric she used and why. I'm a writer and thus a constant student of language. I'm always interested to know the thought process behind someone's words.


Andi said...

I dealt with Holly once before, and I decided from that that it was no longer worth dealing with her or buying her books. She jumps on the defensive immediately, and she is convinced she is always the only one right, and everyone else just heard her wrong or is an idiot. At the very least, that's how she came across to me, and I decided I really didn't care to support the career of someone like that.

I think it was incredibly poor word choice on her part, because, yeah, people have loyalty to where they work (assuming they like their job). I take offense to the idiots who lambast zoos and aquariums, and I will defend them. If you want people to request your books (and I rarely see hers on the shelves around here, if I see them at all), then don't step on reader's toes...and ALL bookstore employees are readers.

Kellie said...

It seems a fairly rampant attitude on the net, actually: I have the right of things. It's nauseating to read some comment threads in various places that are just effusive in their agreement and praise of the blogger and vindictive in their condemnation of anyone who dares to dissent in any way. I've really stopped trying to wade into comment threads or internet debates because of it. But this topic just seemed such an interesting matter of language and argument construction...the writing geek just got the better of me.

Andi said...

Quite true, and when people have cheerleading squards, it gets worse.

I would think a writer would be open to debating language and such, and it could have made for a really interesting discussion, if people were willing to not claim sides. There aren't enough reasonable arguments on constructing arguments. *-*