ABA Joins the Amazon Boycott – Fools!

Yesterday the American Bookseller Association announced that they were joining Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and Indigo Books & Music in the general boycott of all books published by Amazon whenever Amazon retains the ebook as an exclusive.

The ABA is going to delist all of Amazon’s books from their IndieCommerce  program, which will make it very difficult for participating bookstores to sell those books online.  The ABA also went a step further than the major chains. They created a new policy that states “only publishers’ titles that are made available to retailers for sale in all available formats will be included in the IndieCommerce inventory database.”

Update: It turns out that IndieCommerce  decided on their own to delist Amazon’s books. The ABA management was not consulted until after this was announced.

This is so not a good idea.

But first, a little background. IndieCommerce is a program that the ABA launched a couple years back. It’s intended to make it  easy for an independent bookstore to run a website (and sell books and ebooks via the website). The ebooks are supplied via the Google eBookstore, and the paper books are supplied from where ever.

There are actually a couple reasons why this is not a good idea.

Not carrying in-store is one thing; people might browse and buy something else. But when IndieCommerce refuses to list the title online, they’re not helping anyone. They’re not going to hinder the sales of those books; the customer will simply open a new tab and buy it from Amazon. All this will do is cost the local bookstore money.

Before you come down on the side if the ABA, consider this. What is more important, encouraging people to buy from local bookstores, or striking a symbolic but pointless blow against Amazon’s exclusivity?

If you think the principle is important, let’s first please follow through on it.  When fully applied, it turns out to be a rather poorly conceived idea.

The ABA has committed itself to only stocking paper books via the IndieCommerce program when it can also stock ebooks. This is going to be  problem because over the years I have come across any number of niche publishers who only offer ebooks via their preferred platform. It might be library ebooks or it might be their own DRMed app, but it doesn’t matter. It’s exclusive, so the paper editions will have to be delisted from the IndieCommerce program.

Update: I just remembered a publisher who will have to be delisted:  Cambridge University Press. CUP only sells ebooks via www.ebooks.com. This is a major academic publisher, and they will have to go.

And then there are the titles which simply aren’t available in the US as ebooks. Those will have to be delisted as well because they were not “made available to retailers for sale in all available formats”. That is where the principle starts to be self-destructive; now it includes such classics as Roald Dahl’s Matilda series and it includes the Harry Potter series (when the Pottermore ebookstore opens). Those books cannot be had in the US as ebooks, so they will need to be delisted as well.

Now do you see why I don’t like this idea?

And with this new policy, IndieCommerce will offer a poor selection of books compared to B&N, Amazon, or anyone. How does that help the bookstores, exactly?

Folks, IndieCommerce was conceived as a way to give customers a chance to support their local bookstore while buying online. If this new principle is fully applied, IndieCommerce won’t exist to support local bookstores anymore. It will be turned into a program which is dedicated to only selling the same content in both paper and digital. That sounds great, but I wanted to give my local bookstore some of my money.

What do you think?


Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. flyingtoastr9 February, 2012

    This (as all the other “refuse to sell” issues have been) has much less to do with Amazon than it does with the authors and publishers.

    BN, BAM, Indigo, and now the ABA are all sending a message to the authors and publishers who might have been enticed by Amazon’s exclusive contracts that there are going to be repercussions.

    You’re correct that this won’t stop people who want these books from just hopping on Amazon and buying it. But book buying is still mainly a browsing industry. There have been dozens of studies that have shown that a large portion of book purchases are spur-of-the-moment things – you see a book on a shelf or table that looks interesting that you wouldn’t have bought otherwise. It’s why refusing to physically stock Amazon’s books is a sound tactic for the B&M bookstores to employ against Amazon. It doesn’t hurt Amazon much, but it does make those authors think twice about exclusivity contracts.

  2. Fbone9 February, 2012

    The online prices for most of the ABA bookstores were full list price. Anyone price conscious would have bought it at Amazon where they first saw the title.

    Not all independent bookstores are part of the ABA or Indiebound and these are free to stock Amazon’s title in store. And I’m not sure this decision is binding on those stores that are a part of the ABA.

  3. Common Sense9 February, 2012

    Boycotts are seldom successful and I think this one will just drive more people to Amazon, where they make it super easy to buy just about anything, which is really the most successful policy.

    Artificial barriers to purchase is also what creates the black market, i.e. piracy. This is short-sighted and economically ignorant.

    A smart company would find a way to partner with Amazon on books, possibly becoming their physical outlet, which Amazon is rumored to be experimenting with. A business owner would be smarter to hitch his star to a successful company like Amazon rather than any of the struggling companies in the publishing/bookstore space.

  4. Dane Zeller9 February, 2012

    From its start, the internet has thrived by breaking down barriers. Even Napster changed the music publishing industry for the better. In the long run, the boycott of books and publishers on both sides will not stand. I trust that creative people will prevail.

  5. Alan9 February, 2012

    These organizations sponsoring this boycott are just driving me and others to do more of our purchasing at Amazon. Somehow I don’t think that is their goal but it is a consequence whether intended or not.

    1. Nate Hoffelder11 February, 2012

      I missed that, thanks. Luckily I don’t have to change my post much; I have my facts correct.

      IMO it actually makes the ABA look more foolish, not less. One small program decided to set a policy with the ABA’s name attached but neglected to clear it with the ABA. It makes me wonder if anyone is really in charge over there.

  6. […] you remember how first Barnes & Noble and then Books-a-Million, Indigo Books & Music, and IndieCommerce decided not to carry any Amazon published titles in store? That took less than a week.We could see […]


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