All Hail Amazon.com

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I just placed my order at Amazon.com, and can expect the arrival of my books within a few days. What a pleasure to work with their system.

Normally I do purchase most of my books at Amazon, but yesterday we had to be in Ann Arbor. Since Ann Arbor is the home of Borders, as well as the home of the University of Michigan, I took my shopping list with me. I anticipated finding the books that I needed on the heavily laden shelves in a community that esteems knowledge and encourages diversity of thought. I was also eager to read one of them during the 3 hour drive back home.

As soon as we arrived in that area, we went to Borders at Arborland. I carefully checked shelves for the books, but was unable to find any of the ones that I wanted. I went to the information desk to use the computer and soon had authors and titles on the screen, but for one after another I read “Out of Print,” “Available in x-number of days,” or “not in the store”. The clerk, Rhonda, came around to ‘help me’ and entered the same information that I had entered; came up with the same pages. Right — none of the books were in the store, but she offered to order them for me. I explained that I did not live in the area, and really needed them sooner than she could get them for me.

I expressed surprise that the books were not carried in their store. I pointed out that they had no copies of That You May Prosper by Ray Sutton; no books at all by Bill Kauffman; only a couple titles by Neil Postman, and I already had those. She said that Borders doesn’t carry books by Kauffman. I stated that they certainly do for I just purchased one at their Traverse City store.

I said that as a teacher and writer, I looked for the wonderful books on reading, spelling and language by Louisa Cook Moats and books by Jeanne Chall. Rhonda pointed out that they did have a large education section but mumbled something like “obviously none that you think should be there.” I said that since phonics is being recognized as the proper way to teach reading, it would be nice to have some of the more notable authors instead of so much on whole language. I wondered aloud what the local schools of education were teaching if such important books were not judged by Borders as necessary to keep on hand. She said something to the effect of, “Oh, if you are Conservative you probably won’t find what you need here.” She then asked me, “Are you Catholic?” (I refrained from stating — “None of your business”.)

I removed myself from her presence by saying that I would look, again, through the education section. After I had disappeared into the stacks I heard Rhonda and the other clerk laughing, but tried to dismiss the thought that they might be laughing at me as a customer with cash that I had hoped to spend in their store.

Back at the education section I found only a handful of books that I value but already have in my library. I kept thinking of her comment about books for Conservatives; of her question as to my religious beliefs. I decided to return to the computer to see what Borders might carry as far as the economics books that I value. A search showed that there were no books by Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard, or Ludwig von Mises, in the store. By that time, I was no longer surprised at what they lacked, but I was shocked to note that so many of the books were listed as “Out of Print.” Rhonda asked if she could help me so I pointed out that I did not believe so since they carried none of the books I was seeking. I did express concern that so many Austrian economics books were listed as “Out of Print.”

She explained what the term meant — as though I might be having difficulty pulling meaning from that three-word phrase. I told her that my reactions were due to the fact that I owned a great many of those books; had purchased them in recent months; and could not believe that the books were out of print. She theorized that the place where I bought the books must have purchased their stock right before the books went out of print. I told her that could not be true since I bought them from the publisher. Ah! She said she now understood — that the books were listed as “out of print” because they are printed by a small publisher. I asked how it could possibly be fair for customers seeking specific books, to find them erroneously listed as unavailable, when they really are available, but published by a small publisher. She did not have a good answer to that question.

I turned and left, but had only gotten a few feet away when Rhonda and the other clerk burst out laughing and whispering to each other. I turned and went back. I quietly said, “You needn’t laugh at me.” Rhonda barely tried to control her smile, saying “We are only laughing out of nervousness as we don’t know how to handle your request.” She did not apologize nor did she look embarrassed. I pulled out my pen and paper, saying, “Well, I know how to handle it.” I wrote down “Rhonda” for I had heard her name when she had answered a phone call. When I finished and looked up, she was holding her nametag out for me to see, with an attitude that I interpreted as cocky and arrogant.

I was going to find a manager, but decided that I was no longer interested in being in Borders, for any reason. I walked to the car where I jotted notes regarding all that had occurred and been said. I decided that I should make others aware that if they want books by, or for, Conservatives, Catholics, or Austrian economists, they should shop at Amazon.com or at The Mises Institute. I have certainly lost all interest in purchasing anything at Borders, and I suspect that others would soon become frustrated there, as well.

I’m happy that Amazon will get my business and my money, in exchange for their inventory and their professionalism.

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.

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