NPR did a story this morning, telling us that independent bookstores were doing quite well. This comes a day after GalleyCat reported that Barnes & Noble’s revenues were down 8% for the last quarter. I do think conditions favor the small, nimble, niche dwellers at this point in the evolution of the book business both retail and publishing (Amazon’s continued total dominance excepted of course).

In a January post, I wrote of signs of health among independent bookstores. I suspect these are indications of the balkanization of the book business. It is true that Random House Penguin has really only just got going, but I’m going to predict that that will be the last of the publishing mega-mergers. The book business just isn’t suited to a big business configuration. Books want to be loved as individuals. Selling them in bulk isn’t ideal — there are just so many of them, and each one is directed at one person: the author has a reader in mind, and any one customer will be likely to want this book but not that one or those others. Publishing and selling to like-minded groups of individuals isn’t really a business model that lends itself to consolidation and scale. We’ve tried it, and we’ve almost always been disappointed.

Amazon is amazing, sui generis, and goes from strength to strength. I was interviewed by Len Edgerly of The Kindle Chronicles (a weekly podcast) recently and made some fairly rude comments about the people in publishing who are always badmouthing Amazon. It’s true that Amazon uses its dominant position to demand more and more from its suppliers, but that’s what any large business does — think of Walmart, and then think where the low prices really come from. Naturally publishers do exactly the same to the book manufacturing suppliers they use, without any similar complaining. But it’s hard to imagine a regular book publisher whose largest customer isn’t Amazon: one or two have I acknowledge tried to abjure sales to Amazon, and I wonder how that’s going for them. Grousing about your largest customer is traditional if maladaptive behavior.