Amazon puts Vancouver on list of well-read cities

Local bookseller says that just shows many readers buy online

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 
photoMel Sanders

Well-Read

Here’s Amazon’s list of the Most Well-Read Cities in America — based on Amazon sales of books, magazines and newspapers in both print and Kindle format since June 1, 2012, on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents.

1) Alexandria, Va.

2) Knoxville, Tenn.

3) Miami, Fla.

4) Cambridge, Mass.

5) Orlando, Fla.

6) Ann Arbor, Mich.

7) Berkeley, Calif.

8) Cincinnati, Ohio

9) Columbia, S.C.

10) Pittsburgh, Pa.

11) St. Louis, Mo.

12) Salt Lake City, Utah

13) Seattle

14) Vancouver

15) Gainesville, Fla.

16) Atlanta, Ga.

17) Dayton, Ohio

18) Richmond, Va.

19) Clearwater, Fla.

20) Tallahassee, Fla.

There are different ways to read Vancouver's surprise inclusion on the list of Most Well-Read Cities in America. One is that we're much more bookish than we realized.

The other is that a dearth of local bookstores is contributing to an explosion of local online sales.

"Really? Vantucky?" was the gut reaction of Mel Sanders, the proprietor of Cover to Cover Books, upon learning that Vancouver has debuted at No. 14 on Amazon's list of Most Well-Read Cities in America. But Amazon's press release doesn't make crystal clear, in saying it tracked "all book, magazine and newspaper sales," that all means its own. The Columbian confirmed this with Internet-based Amazon. We're just talking about direct Amazon sales here.

Sanders said that Vancouver's Amazon gain is local Vancouver bookstores' loss — and Portland's, too.

"I am surprised Portland is not on the list," she said. "I would have thought the home of Powell's would make a stronger showing."

Mainly, Sanders pointed out that Vancouver's brick-and-mortar bookstores have dwindled to an essential three — and one is Barnes and Noble, a nationwide chain. The others, Cover to Cover and Vintage Books, are small storefronts that deal more in used books than new ones.

Add in a handful of paperback exchanges, and you've still got a pretty meager literary landscape.

Which means that Vancouver readers must head for their computers, and Amazon, to make the bulk of their reading purchases.

"I'd say the death of the bookstore is driving Amazon's bottom line," Sanders said.

If Vancouverites do travel to Powell's, Barnes and Noble or anywhere else, those purchases don't turn up on Amazon's list — so maybe Vancouver is even busier reading than Amazon realizes.

It's also interesting to note that cities chock full of bookstores and highly educated readers — such as Cambridge, Mass., the home of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — placed No. 4 on the list, driven largely by sales in business and investing and nonfiction overall. "Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most" and "StrengthsFinder 2.0" were the biggest sellers in Cambridge.

Amazon didn't report what Vancouver readers are buying in droves. It did report the continuing widespread success of "Fifty Shades of Grey," the erotic romance novel and trilogy that topped bestseller lists last year.

Sanders reported that "Fifty Shades of Grey" "was a very big seller for us last summer and up until about Christmas, but sales have since fallen off steeply. We were selling the trilogy new at a discount, and every used copy we could scare up sold within a day or two at the most."

Local folks are very aware that "Fifty Shades" is set briefly at Washington State University Vancouver. "We even had a husband come in and buy the full trilogy so that his wife would give his phone back, because she was reading the ebook editions on his smartphone," Sanders said.

"Genre fiction" remains Cover to Cover's bread and butter, she said, with science fiction blockbusters such as "The Hunger Games" trilogy and the "A Game of Thrones" series leading the pack. History and anthropology do well, too.

Sanders said that Amazon "is amazing in their collection, analysis and use of data." And she said she thinks local weather "plays a big part in making readers out of people who might otherwise be outside playing sports or doing yardwork."

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://www.twitter.com/col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com