When I caught up with Kobo at BEA 2013 last week they made a big deal about how their ABA member partners were having a positive effect on their ebook sales. It seems Amazon has also noticed Kobo's success, because the retail giant appears to be building a similar network of retail partners.
Update: Amazon officially launched the program in November 2013.
Reports have been coming in for the past week that Amazon is trying to recruit indie bookstores to sell the Kindle. The first to report this shocking news was Los Angeles-based Skylight Books.
This indie bookseller posted on their blog last week that they got a call from an Amazon rep:
so i got a phone call today from a representative of Amazon! apparently, he was given the task of reaching out to independent bookstores in order to ‘build’ a ‘relationship’ with the indies in order to ‘partner’ with us in a program to sell Kindles in our store…yea, really. so, in my most incredulous voice i asked him if he was serious and stated flatly that we wouldn’t be interested.
I haven't been able to confirm the accuracy of this story, but other sources have indicated that this isn't the only bookseller to be telemarketed by Amazon. One report even lead back to an email for the Amazon Kindle Wholesale Team. That in and of itself is not newsworthy (I knew of that team already), but it does provide convincing supporting evidence that this story is true.
Update: Shelf Awareness beat me to this story this morning, and they have a second bookseller who reports that he too was contacted by an Amazon rep.
But we now know for sure that Amazon has approached at least one other independent bookseller about selling Kindles. Roger Page, co-owner of Island Books, Mercer Island, Wash., was standing near his wife, Nancy, when she fielded a call like the one made to Skylight Books. "I believe they mentioned the word Kobo and said they could offer competitive prices," he said, adding that he suspected the caller was "somebody low down on the totem pole" and describing Nancy's response as "very firm."
But never mind the unconfirmed story; there are other signs today that Amazon is much more interested in brick-and-mortar stores than they used to be. I have discovered new job listings on the Amazon website for field sales reps for the Kindle.
Amazon is currently looking to fill 10 different positions for a "Field Sales Representative - Kindle" (as well as a management position). The locations for the sales reps are spread across the US and are focused on major metro areas like Seattle, NYC, Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Francisco.
So far as I can tell these listings are brand new; they certainly weren't there when I was researching a related story in late April. The job is a part time position with duties including being a Kindle evangelist, leading training sessions, and so on. There's not much in the job descriptions that is really all that unusual for a sales rep, but there is one line that caught my eye:
Participating in assisted selling activities on weekends at select retail locations
That seems a little intense when compared to Amazon's past interest in retail sales, don't you think?
So far as I know Amazon had previously focused their efforts on getting into retail chains like Staples, Target, Microcenter, and the like. But that task doesn't seem to fit with the impersonal sales of a major retailer.
Instead, I think that "assisted selling activities" would more closely describe pitching the Kindle at book fairs, author signings, and other more personal events. You know, the kind of events that a bookstore might run.
I'm not suggesting that Amazon will have much luck in convincing bookstores to sell Kindles, but I do think they are working towards that goal. And Amazon has convinced Waterstones to be their partner in the UK, so this clearly isn't impossible.
And it would also be a good idea. Over the past year Amazon has lost a number of retail partners as major retail chains have decided to stop pimping for their competition. Both Target and Walmart stopped carrying Kindles in 2012, costing Amazon shelf space in thousands of retail stores.
Still, the bookseller at Skylight Books is probably a good example of the response Amazon will receive. This bookseller asked that Amazon fulfill a couple requirements before he would agree to be a partner:
- Amazon has to stop its predatory business practices such as undercutting the prices of an entire market of products (books) that they themselves do not depend on for revenue and/or creating sleazy apps that encourage people to buy from Amazon while they’re actually standing in a bookstore.
- Amazon needs to start paying sales tax in all 50 states of the union and stop sucking all the money out of every community they infiltrate.
I don't see that happening, do you?
P.S. I am still trying to find out more about this story, and I am waiting to hear back from Amazon. If you know of an indie bookseller who has been contacted by Amazon, please let me know in the comments.