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Sunday, 28 March 2010

Amazon Is Amazing

There has been a recent hullabaloo in Canada as big-name mostly Toronto-based authors like Margaret Atwood protest the idea of Amazon - the world's leading Internet provider of books etc. - into the Canadian market. Canadian cultural protectionism (CanCon) has done some good, and some harm, over the years. Before it existed, my father's records went up against The Beatles and Elvis in the battle of the bands, and lost. With such protection, third-raters like Caucasian Chalk Circle had their moment in the sun.

The Canadian Government admirably subsidises many small Canadian publishers. This means many Canadian poets and writers get published in their homeland. I realise that the lack of many international book-selling chains in Canada means the country has an enviable number of small local independent book-sellers. However, from my perspective as a small press writer, Amazon has done far more good than harm for me, and my peers. After all, most poets sell most of their books online, to friends, fans, family, students, colleagues, and so on. Since no bookshop could or would stock every lesser-known writer and certainly not the thousands of extant slim volumes of verse in the world, who else but a place like Amazon can afford to house our works? It is true that Amazon does not run or organise local readings. But libraries and other venues can and could do that, aside from small bookshops.

And usually, their events sell far fewer copies of our books than we might care to imagine. Canada needs to be robust and open to outside influences. It is time to accept that Canadian culture is not fragile, and would only grow and mature in direct struggle and dialogue with larging competing claims.
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