For a webzine that has “Where free markets meet technology” in its masthead, Tech Central Station sure seems to have little faith in the ability of free markets to provide consumers with what they want. Consider this column by Glenn Reynolds. Reynolds reckons that bookstore employees are driving customers away:
Even my hard-core lefty colleagues have noticed the wall of Bush-bashing books that are prominently displayed at the entrance to every bookstore in town, and to my surprise, one of them told me the other day that it was turning him off. He hates Bush, and will certainly vote for Kerry (unless Kerry looks like such a lost cause that his temptation to vote Nader wins out) but he’s still taken to buying his books from Amazon. All those Bush-bashing books, he said, are just too depressing to encounter every time he visits the bookstore. He buys books to escape politics.
Now here’s the thing: bookstores need to sell books or else they will go out of business. So if they are building walls of anti-Bush books, it’s because people are buying those books and that’s the way to sell them. They will also conduct market research to find out how they can get customers into the store, so are likely to have more basis for their decisions than Reynold’s one anecdote. And if they weren’t doing these things, there would be a business opportunity for someone to start a bookstore with no anti-Bush wall and clean up. Reynolds seems to believe that the free market has failed to provide consumers with the sort of bookstore that they want.
On the right, of course, people are a lot unhappier. And they’re unhappier still since word got out that Borders employees were actually bragging about hiding copies of the anti-Kerry book, Unfit for Command. (You can see a cached Google page here. Example: “Just ‘carelessly’ hide the boxes, ‘accidentally’ drop them off pallets, ‘forget’ to stock the ones you have, and then suggest a nice Al Franken or Michael Moore book as a substitute. Borders wants those recommends, remember? . . .I don’t care if these Neanderthals in fancy suits get mad at me, they aren’t regular customers anyway. Other than ‘Left Behind’ books, they don’t read.”)
According to IP Address records, the person who posted the “let’s hide the book” message was also posting under another name, responding to the messages he posted under his first name. Under his second ID, which identified him as a free market conservative, or “Classical Liberal”, he said he was shocked that Borders employees would not tolerate diversity of opinion, and that the messages (he) posted under his first pseudonym proved that there was a problem. This suggests to us that this was a troll who was trying to manufacture controversy. His account(s) have been deleted. He was a new user.
This information was posted at the forum a week before Reynolds wrote his column, but he does not seem to have checked. Oh well, at least he didn’t base his column on forged memos.
Update: I emailed this post to both Glenn Reynolds and Atrios. Atrios linked here. Reynolds posted a correction but did not link or acknowledge my email. It is possible that somebody else emailed him first, but the timing of his correction (a couple of hours after my email and a couple of days after his column) suggests otherwise. More interestingly, he has posted some comments from his readers speculating about why bookstores are prominently displaying anti-Bush books. Amazingly, in neither his comments or the other comments he posted is the explanation I gave above (and emailed to Reynolds) considered: the anti-Bush books sell and make money for the bookstore.