Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Joy of Browsing Books

I have never gotten over the joy of browsing books, in physical bookstores. To this day, at least once a week, I visit either of my local Borders or either of my local Barnes & Noble (there aren’t any other physical bookstores left), to see what’s new and to catalog them for listing on the various New Books pages of Locus Online. For over a decade now, my policy for listing books on those pages has followed the policy of Locus Magazine — I only list books which I have physically seen copies of. Either I purchase them (almost always from Amazon), or am sent them for review, or I see copies of them on bookstore shelves (the majority of what gets listed).

That has become increasingly difficult. For several years now, B and B&N have become stingy about stocking books. It’s become difficult to spot copies of all new titles even from the major publishers — Tor, Ace, Baen — since, apparently, those bookstores no longer stock even single copies of every new title from those publishers. So my New Books pages are increasingly occupied by small press and even self-published volumes, as long as they send me copies [my standing offer], but not always the significant books from the major publishers… (I should clarify that I do not ask the major publishers for review copies, as Locus Magazine does, since of course Locus Online does not post independent book reviews.)

Things change. Amazon has cut off its California affiliates, including Locus Online, in a dispute over collecting sales tax, which removes a secondary motive for my posting as many newly published books as possible each month. With Borders’ passing, the difficulty of spotting all significant new books for posting is about to increase, since no one chain or individual store can be counted on to stock or display everything worth noting.

I enjoy my weekly strolls through physical stores; I have ever since I was a student at UCLA, and went exploring through Westwood, to College Bookstore and Westwood Books and several others — as well as A Change of Hobbit, at first in the village above a laundromat and later further down Westwood Boulevard, before it moved to Santa Monica. (All of them gone now.) As always, you see things browsing in physical bookstores that you would never think to search for on or Barnes and Noble or any other website.

I am thinking now that it may be time for a policy change. (SF folk are supposed to *welcome* and accommodate change.) Perhaps my policy for listing books on the site — which will continue despite affiliation or lack thereof with or any other site — could become more virtual. That is, not rely on physical confirmation of published copies. If, say, a title is available on Amazon and/or B&N, couldn’t I safely consider it published and list it on Locus Online? In a way that might correct the sampling flaw that has long existed with my current postings — they’re dependent on what I happen to see, mostly, on my weekly bookstore visits, and often do not include significant titles that are available via online sites even if not stocked in physical bookstores. There would be extra effort involved on my part, perhaps, to track Locus’ forthcoming books listings, to check which titles are available from online sites, and as long as they are indicated as being in stock — well, that would be the e-equivalent of spotting physical copies in stores.

I’ve always intended the Locus Online listings to be announcements of books that are newly available, and do not list books until they are available for sale — I’m always perturbed by reviews of books that are published before the books themselves are for sale. That’s still my intention, and I will adjust with the times, as need be.


Here’s news that’s on the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times — Amazon fights California sales tax requirement — and which made NPR’s national Morning Edition show this morning– Amazon Cuts Ties With Calif. Affiliates To Avoid Tax — that directly affects me, and Locus Online. The latter title tells the story. California just passed a new budget that includes provisions for collecting sales taxes from online vendors, such as Amazon has retaliated, as it has done in other states where such laws have been passed, by simply cancelling their contracts with their affiliates, in order to avoid the provision in such laws that apply to online vendors with a ‘presence’ in such states.

I have had a affiliate association with for a decade or more; all the links on book titles and covers on the Monitor and Directory pages go to Amazon, so that if you click on them and subsequently buy those items, or anything else for that matter in the same Amazon session, I get a percentage commission.

These commissions are typically $200-300 a month. Nothing like living wages, but enough to cover my personal book expenses, in most months.

That will now all go away. I can see the state’s position; it should collect sales tax where applicable. I have a bit of sympathy for Amazon, who if compelled by such laws to forward sales tax to states would have to set up some elaborate system to keep track of which state each order comes from, and the applicable state sales tax laws; complicated, no doubt, but surely no more complicated than all the tracking and recommending functions built in to every Amazon search. I’m less in sympathy, obviously, with Amazon for simply cutting affiliates, cutting off their nose to spite their face — they will lose sales from affiliates who longer bother to link to them. And the state too, is not necessarily in a winning position; they think they will gain sales tax revenues, but they will lose the income tax revenues from affiliates like me — and 10,000 others, according to those articles — who did get 1099 forms from Amazon to report their income to the IRS and pay appropriate taxes.

Not sure if there’s any clear resolution. I’ll continue to post Amazon links as I generate new pages, as much to avoid the work of re-coding my databases than anything. One solution would be to move to a new state. Or rehost the website’s affiliation in some other state, somehow. Hmm.