November 7, 2013

“We are not Amazon franchises”: booksellers respond to Amazon Source


“Booksellers, you too could sell these attractivOW! Ow! Come on, stop throwing things!”

UPDATE: Even more indie bookseller reactions added below.

It’s a rarity, but I have to give credit where it’s due. Amazon did a good thing on Wednesday: they made me and indie booksellers around the country laugh.

Amazon unveiled what they’re calling Amazon Source, a program by which independent booksellers and other retailers will be allowed to stock Amazon’s Kindles in their stores (after buying them for 6% off the retail price, a number that was subsequently removed from the press release linked to above, but which is still there if you drill down to the pages detailing how the deal works). They are also offering stores 10% of the cost of ebooks bought on the Kindles they sell, for two years following the initial purchase of the device.

We wrote about the possibility of the program this summer, when Amazon was calling stores to gauge their interest. It seems they did find two stores to act as pilots for the program, both small indies local to Amazon itself. In that initial post I compared this to asking booksellers to consider selling suppurating buboes—but acknowledged that Amazon has proven themselves willing to try out absurd and cruel new ventures.

Now that the program is confirmed, however, I thought it best to get the impressions of the people at the center of the discussion. Rather than my own tired jokes at the gall of this corporation, what do the country’s best independent booksellers think?

“We are not enticed in the least by the latest ‘offer’ from Amazon. It’s a dagger disguised as an olive branch – the latest effort by Amazon to gain traction with indie customers and loyalists.”

Lissa Muscatine, Politics and Prose, DC

“Hmmm, let’s see. We sell Kindles for essentially no profit, the new Kindle customer is in our store where they can browse and discover books, the new Kindle customer can then check the price on Amazon and order the ebook. We make a little on their ebook purchases, but then lose them as a customer completely after two years. Doesn’t sound like such a great partnership to me.”

Carole Horne, Harvard Book Store, MA

“This offer seems clearly disingenuous and is obviously a Trojan Horse style attempt to gain access to our customers. As independent booksellers, we don’t have the negotiating power of Amazon, or their market share, or the luxury of losing money each year while being propped up by worshipful investors. What we do have is our own stores—physical spaces that are each unique (and many, like us, already offer e-readers), that serve as a center of their communities, that are frequented by passionate book lovers and supported only by their purchases.  On the other hand, Amazon has always proved itself to be an opponent of ‘e-fairness’ at every turn, has done grievous harm to communities of readers across the country by driving booksellers out of business and leaving many cities without a bookstore at all.  Therefore, our convictions tell us that Amazon, no matter how much they try to bully and encroach, will not be allowed access to our stores.  We are not Amazon franchises.  We don’t want 10% of a Kindle sale or anything else from Amazon.”

— The Staff of Skylight Books, CA

“Left Bank Books announces its new program whereby buys its books from us at a fifty percent markup over list price. They will also be charged shipping. We believe this will allow Amazon to be a part of the bricks and mortar experience that they can’t do without. Prior to this program Amazon was forced to make do with warehouses in tax free environments that did not leave their customers with that satisfied,  ‘I supported my local economy’ feeling they increasingly want. Now with the innovative Left Bank Books program they are easily able to stay relevant in a world that demands more integrity from its retail experience.”

Kris Kleindienst, Left Bank Books, MO

“If past experience is any indication, Amazon is not doing this to be sweet to indies.”

Dorothy Massey, Collected Works Bookstore, NM

“It’s an interesting move. It looks, on the surface, like a great deal, especially for booksellers frustrated by the continued opaqueness of Kobo’s business practices regarding independent stores. Some booksellers will certainly be tempted by this notion, as it has the appearance of keeping up with the Jones’. But those who do will be inviting hungry foxes into the henhouse.”

Jeremy Ellis, Brazos Bookstore, TX

“How generous of Amazon to extend this lifeline to independent bookstores. As our month over month sales have risen since Borders shut down in 2011 I can see why Amazon would want to help us tiny little guys out. Or could it be the Kindle platform has hit a ceiling? Could Amazon’s relentless quest for marketshare and increased revenue actually be slowing?

As I switch from bemused sarcasm to doubting hostility why else would they want to include 10% of the market in their multi-national ponzi scheme? This is no kind benevolence on their part, but, rather, a calculated move to squeeze every last hand-wringed cent they can out of all sectors of the book business. This is a small revenue token to take what they can not touch on their own: our loyal and dedicated indie bookstore customers.”

Stefan Moorehead, Unabridged Bookstore, IL

“Getting 10% of every book purchased on a Kindle is like getting to keep the autograph of a celebrity caught pissing on your lawn. For two years.

We believe in offering customers an eBook option, too. It’s called Kobo.”

Colin McDonald, Common Good Books, MN

“I saw the headline this morning and laughed. It’s like the bully at school who steals my lunch money and then invites me to sit down and share a chocolate milk (and only gives me, like, half a sip). Um, no thanks. Chris Morrow from Northshire Bookstores put it right in the PW article: there’s no ‘alignment of values.’ It’s interesting they’d launch something like this after the trouble they’ve had getting the books from their publishing arm into brick and mortar stores. Knowing the aggressive working relationship Amazon has had with publishers over the years, I certainly wouldn’t want to work with them. I won’t even shop with them.”

Julie Wernersbach, BookPeople, TX

“I have to question any store that is willing to help Amazon sell books. I suppose it’ s under the idea of providing as much as possible for customers but it seems a little backwards to me.”

Hans Weyandt, Micawber’s Books, MN

“They can go fuck themselves.”

— Sarah McNally, McNally Jackson Books, NY

“We chose not to sell e-devices or e-books on our website. It was a conscious decision that our efforts are better spent selling real books to real people at a real bookstore. Event if I did sell e-books or devices I wouldn’t support the Kindle. Amazon has spent years trying to steal customers from brick-and-mortar stores. Why in the world would I give them space to do it in my store?”

Hilary Lowe, Literati Bookstore, MI

“Any program that encourages customers to browse a bookstore and then make a purchase elsewhere doesn’t seem to make any sense to me. It’s the wrong message, which is why we don’t sell the Kobo. It is not okay to wander through our store, get ideas, and then spend your money elsewhere.”

— Robert Fader, Posman Books, NY

“They have made those approaches here. It was/is a bit of a moot point for us, as we don’t carry the kobo device, though we make the ebook content available through that channel. What would I make of one of these? These which last … how long before you need to replace them with something shinier and newer?”

Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company, WA

“Even if you take the emotional context away and the historical Indie vs Amazon antagonism away, its still a no brainer – this is a shitty deal.  Clearly Amazon thinks it can reach readers it wouldn’t otherwise through this program. Great. Then really be willing to pay for it. Two years of 10% of ebook sales is nothing. Ten years would be the beginning of the conversation. Even then it probably wouldn’t be enough.”

— Anonymous bookseller, WA

“No surprise here, it’s not for me. From a purely dollars and cents point of view I’m sure some booksellers somewhere will see value in this. Especially the ones who dwell in the gray areas of buying deeply-discounted books from Amazon to resell in their stores or those who charge authors who publish through CreateSpace a fee to stock their books on their shelves. I know they exist, and I know they think they are ‘sticking’ it to Amazon in some way. But I have no desire to sell my customer info to Amazon or send more of my customers to them. I’m happy keeping completely separate from them. I also said no when I was approached by Audible (owned by Amazon) to sell them my customer data by sending my customers to them. So Amazon is obviously interested in us indies right now. Let’s hope that’s an optimistic sign that we’re making a difference.”

— Christine Onorati, WORD Bookstores, NY

And lastly, a genius comment from the booksellers running the McNally Jackson tumblr yesterday:

Is this clear enough?


UPDATE: More fantastic indie booksellers chime in.

“I can’t imagine any independent bookstores will take them up on this. I was talking to some people about it at the NEIBA meeting yesterday and someone (a shrewd someone) suggested it might be a swipe at B&N and their college division, as college stores don’t experience these issues the same way we do. … and finally, it may not be targeted at bookstores at all. Amazon lost a lot of showroom space last year and they may simply feel the need to get their devices out into any brick and mortar stores they can. Not that they would admit it.”

Michael Herrmann, Gibson’s Bookstore, NH


“So here’s Amazon–god bless them–telling us inept booksellers that we should offer our customers what they want, which (surprise!) is a Kindle. The thing about that: many of our customers tell us every day, both vocally and by coming into the store that Amazon is NOT what they want.

Maybe this is Amazon’s olive branch to indies, but it sure feels like they’re jabbing us with it.”

Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books, CA


“We sell Kobo eBooks and devices and don’t have any plan to sell the Kindle at this point.”

Chuck Robinson, Village Books, WA


“As a bookseller who has declined to participate in the selling on electronic content in general, news of the Amazon Source program is not intriguing to me. Throughout the rise of e-books, though many of BookCourt’s customers are “hybrid readers”, purchasing both trade and electronic content on a consistent basis, we’ve encountered few customer requests for us to actually sell electronic content or devices. The concept of an indie bookstore peddling Amazon’s electronic product feels to me on par with drinking orange juice just after you’ve brushed your teeth. However, we do make a point to support local Brooklyn authors who are published by Amazon’s various trade book imprints. We have an obligation to support and honor local writers and their books, especially when it involves an in-store event where a community can come together and celebrate a publication, no matter who the publisher.”

Zack Zook, BookCourt, NY


“I’m not sure ‘Barf!’ is a measured publishable response.”

Maryelizabeth Hart, Mysterious Galaxy Books, CA



Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.