Indies suck, just ask any contrarian

by Jason Gross

22 May 2006


Even though Slate’s music section has been making an impressive comeback as of late, they still can’t resist being cheeky and flaunting their contrariness in their arts section, hence an article like this: What Are Independent Bookstores Really Good For?. How pathetic is it to support the indie cause? Well, you’re just a deluded hipster-wanna-be if you support independent publishers not to mention indies labels.

Need any proof? Well, a professor tells us that…

Patronizing indie helps us think we are more literary or more offbeat than is often the case. There are similar phenomena in the world of indie music fans (“Top 40 has to be bad”) and indie cinema, which rebels against stars and big-budget special effects. In each case the indie label is a deliberate marketing ploy to segregate, often artificially, one part of the market from the rest. But when it comes to providing simple access to the products you want, the superstores often do a better job of it than the small stores do: Borders and Barnes & Noble negotiate bigger discounts from publishers and have superior computer-driven inventory systems. The superstores’ scale allows them to carry many more titles, usually several times more, than do most of the independents; so if you’re looking for Arabic poetry you have a better chance of finding it at Barnes & Noble than at your local community bookstore.

Which of course means that chain stores not only rule the marketplace but you might as well support them since they’re just better than the smaller stores. But then he goes on to belittle this important point:

Part of the value of indie was that they helped introduce us to new titles; Shakespeare & Co. in Lower Manhattan features different books than does Barnes & Noble. But with the advent of the Internet, the literary world has more room for independence

Furthermore, since indie stores are responsible for markups and porn ads, they’re obviously worthy of ridicule and not worthy of your support.

All which goes along with what’s becoming a tradition at Slate. Need a contrary view to piss on a prevailing opinion? Just find an academic to put their name on an article and you’ll have a piece guaranteed to ruffle feathers and generate talk (guess I fell into their trap). Another unfortunate recent example of this was the hatchet job on Dylan and “No Direction Home” film by David Yaffe (“The Last Temptation of Dylan,” September 23, 2005; not worth linking to but you can always do a web search for it if you must).

Which isn’t to say that Slate or any other publication shouldn’t publish opinion pieces that don’t support a prevailing view but it suits a publication better if the article isn’t some mean-spirited tear-down written mostly to aggravate readers rather than to make them think. I mean, if Fox News does that much better than anyone else, why bother trying to compete on that level?

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