Yes, they've delayed the project a number of times, and "we really intended to launch for the last holiday season," but, Vlahos explains, "Nothing's ever been done quite like this. We're sort of reinventing the wheel. It's more complex than we first thought."
Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Alibris, Daedalus and the odious Amazon, among others, have managed to have their Web wheels turning for some time (although, granted, a visit to Amazon these days is like a trip to Wal-Mart). Even the independent Powell's, a book mecca in Portland, Ore., takes out the occasional ad in national publications for its Web site (www.powells.com). A dandy Web site it is too, with engaging interviews conducted with visiting literati (Roddy Doyle, Michael Ondaatje and Gish Jen, for example) and members of the staff. There's a Web sale table, contests for free books, staff picks from an idiosyncratic group of booksellers (Mary Jo, for example, has "a penchant for trashy vampire fiction") and free shipping for purchases over 50 bucks.
BookSense.com is downright dowdy by comparison. "Fun in the Stacks," for example, includes some "mind-bending" games, "Cryptogram" and "Phrase Invaders" ("This retro-chic game pits you against attacking letter-aliens..."). Click on either game, however, and there's nothing but a blank screen. It is possible to buy books now, but if the point is supporting your local indie shop -- go Hoosiers.
"Sure and steady wins the race," muses the imperturbable Barron. Meanwhile, as far as Left-bank.com is concerned, currently there's a "low-tech order form," which is essentially e-mail. For the future, Barron says "We're adding more content -- that is, books, in various categories.
"We're making the Web site ready so that when we hook it up to the (BookSense) database, everything will be up and ready to go, so that books that you see, instead of just reading about them and getting information -- which is always nice -- hopefully those will also be linked. Once you click on them, then you'll find yourself in the position to buy the book."
In the meantime, BookSense.com still isn't able, quite yet, to provide the service to booksellers and book buyers it had claimed it would more than a year ago. But, according to Vlahos, at least five stores are being connected to the hub site each day, 50 in the last week. Soon customers will be just a click away from the kind of knowledge and expertise that only indie stores provide. When Vlahos speaks of the vulgar practices of Amazon.com, which actually offered cash prizes to customers for capsule book reviews, he sounds as if he needs to rinse the bad taste out of his mouth. Customers who seek advice from an independent bookseller, says Vlahos, do so because they "know the strength of the recommendation."
This fall, for sure. Won't Jeff Bezos tremble when he hears the bells and whistles of October?