Remember how exciting it was when the Los Angeles Review of Books was gearing up here on Tumblr? Long form reviews of interesting books, and well written, too. It was inspiring and a bit surprising, considering that some of these editors and authors were still brushing off the ashes of the LA Times book review section.
And then, what, two months back now, when the LARB finally launched their new site, which is beautiful and, while it buries the reviews behind slightly obscure titles, is full of even more incredible writing, who among us in the bookly realms of this internet trash island weren’t overjoyed? None of us. It was a rhetorical question. We were all overjoyed.
And yet now, not a very long time later but certainly long enough for their clearly talented and maybe expensive designer to have worked out some kinks, we see the above. When you go to purchase the books reviewed by the LARB you see a tantalising array of lovely little widgets linking to online book retailers. It is strange that they are all greyed out and not, in fact, active links. You would think they might fix that, seeing as … but, oh wait, no, one of them is not grey. One of them is active.
That’s right. When you go to buy the books you’ve seen so intelligently reviewed at the LARB, you can only be led to Amazon. It is as if the other sites were defunct, broken links to the wild west days of the internet, before the grand and benign rule of Bezos.
Okay, so, it was mercantilism that broke the LA Times Book Review. I can understand if they are squeamish about entering into any sort of bookseller infighting. But this is not something they or any book site can ethically remain aloof from. This, this did not happen by itself. This was a choice, a choice to align themselves with an empire whose success is predicated on stifling literary culture and, while they’re at it, state government, decent labor practice, and probably puppies.
People will argue this was done for the “Affiliate Program” Amazon offers. Powell’s offers the same, at great rates. Indiebound, whose web commerce architecture we use, does, too.
I have no doubt that the editors at LARB are themselves book lovers and serious supporters of independent bookstores. Those among their reviewers whom I’ve met certainly are. I’ve no doubt there is some contractual grant-tied reason they’ve become a shill for Amazon, the internet’s leading vendor of potato peelers oh and maybe a book or two. And I’ve no doubt that put under enough pressure, this could be changed. LARB, please, fix this. Readers, please help them feel the need to do so.
UPDATE: The kind folks at the LARB twitter tell me they are aware and are working to fix the issue. Thanks LARB.