Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thoughts on books and culture in small towns

It was interesting to see the Culture Minister of France point out the link between books and culture, as part of a story on limiting Amazon's ability to ship books for free to buyers, as reported by SBS news yesterday (Anti-Amazon bill adopted by French parliament).
"France is proud of a network of bookstores it says is "unique in the world" and crucial for culture to reach small towns."
The very real fear is that with Amazon selling books at a much lower price than the local bookstores, that the local bookstores will be wiped out.

The 'books in small towns' comment caused me to reflect on a passage in a novel that I'm reading at the moment - Babara Kingsolver's Flight Behaviour, where a child's father berates him for enjoying reading a book because he is terrified that his son will be bullied at school for it. They live in a poor and remote Appalachian town in Tennessee. Books there are regarded as full of dangerous ideas, challenging the word of God, and distractions for people who should be working.

Which leads me to thinking about the divides - cultural and digital. It is so important to have libraries in remote regions and small towns for all of the reasons that have been written about before, but especially to bring culture. Just having the internet is not enough in my opinion. It is uncurated and I don't think anyone would say that the most popular sites on the internet are the pinnacle of human culture. It is more important than ever to have curated collections provided for free by our national institutions (libraries, galleries, museums), because the internet should never replace books, art and real life artifacts.

The SBS article also included another quote by the French minister to the effect that if they allow Amazon market dominance in France with it's free shipping, and dodgy policies (e.g. selling some books at a loss) then it won't be long before the independent booksellers all shut up shop and Amazon will be the only choice. And we really shouldn't be surprised when Amazon suddenly stop selling books at a loss and start charging what they will. I hope the Australian government institutes similar laws, even if it does mean paying slightly more for books now.