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Booksellers Respond to Amazon Source: "Die Amazon Die"

Amazon launched a new affiliate program amazon sourcefor indie booksellers yesterday. They’re paying booksellers a small commission on hardware sales and a 10% commission on ebook sales, all the while pitching the program as a great idea. “Now your customers don’t have to choose between e-books and their favorite bookstore,” Amazon says in its pitch to booksellers.

Booksellers, on the other hand,  see things differently.

A number of indie bookstores across the US have spoken out about the program, and there have even been a few negative responses from the UK. (Even though this program is only available in the US, and not even the entire country).

The responses so far (as reported by Wired, PW, MobyLives, and even The Bookseller) have been uniformly negative (with a single neutral response). It’s not clear whether the coverage is biased, but I would tend to think it is not. All of the responses I have found so far match with what I was expecting to read.

Lissa Muscatine, co-owner of the Politics and Prose bookstore in DC, said: “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.”

Her opinion was echoed by Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and president of the New England Independent Booksellers Association: “If Amazon thinks indie bookstores will become agents for the Kindle, they are sorely mistaken. There is no way I will promote Amazon products in my stores after the havoc they have wreaked on our industry as a whole. Sorry, Jeff. I’m not buying it.”

Several booksellers iterated the "Amazon is out to steal customers" theme. Michael Tucker, president and CEO of Books Inc., a 12-store indie chain based in San Francisco, described it as more or less a form of suicide. "In the long term, for anyone who gets into it, they would be losing their customers for what would end up a very small return."

Steve Bercu, co-owner of BookPeople in Austin, Texas, and current president of the ABA, agrees: "They’re attempting to acquire independent bookstores’ customers for two years of commission. This is simply in general not aligned with the interests of most independents."

I must say that my favorite response was the one from Left Bank Books.

Author and owner Kris Kleindienst has a skill for sarcasm that exceeds my own: "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."

And finally, the generally negative response is coming from more than just US booksellers. While this program is still limited to the US, booksellers in the UK have already weighed in with their opinion.

 Tim Walker, owner of Walkers bookshops, said: "One would have to ask the question ‘Why would Amazon want to take that step? Where is the motivation?’ Because at the end of the day, they haven’t really ever given a stuff about everyone else in the book trade . . . My worry would be that by selling Kindle devices, we would be converting customers to using Amazon for their physical book sales as well as e-books. I would be very reluctant to jump in."

Sheila O’Reilly, owner of Dulwich Books in London, said: "I think I would search my heart and find that morally I just couldn’t stock the Kindle. I know Amazon employ lots of people in this country but they also have head offices in Luxembourg and Ireland for tax avoidance reasons and I couldn’t ignore that. If it was more of a level playing field between Amazon and independents then maybe I would think about it, but it isn’t."

To be honest, none of this comes as a surprise. The general tenor of the responses matches with what the very first bookseller said when news about this program broke in June.

Though I do find it strange that a few of these booksellers participate in the ABA partnership with Kobo; I don’t see how only Amazon is going to steal away customers.


  • Amazon’s New Kindle Offer Rejected by Indie Bookstores (Wired)
  • Booksellers Say “No” to Amazon Source (PW)
  • "We are not Amazon franchises": booksellers respond to Amazon Source (MobyLives)
  • UK indies: 'We won’t stock Kindle' (The Bookseller)

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fjtorres November 7, 2013 um 8:47 am

They should keep dishing out the vitriol.
AMAZON’S Legal department is doubtless collecting the quotes.

willem November 7, 2013 um 11:33 am

Since this is hardly a good deal for them the response is no surprise.

You have a good point regarding Kobo, a bookseller joining that program in an attempt to stay 'relevant' is well on its way to becoming one of the Walking Dead.

William Ockham November 7, 2013 um 2:50 pm

The natural constituency for this sort of offer are non-traditional bookstores, organizational bookstores (churches, museums, etc.), and retail outlets looking to get into the book biz. The haters ought to be worried about their customers to those folks instead of wallowing in the pit of useless fulminations.

Nate Hoffelder November 7, 2013 um 3:02 pm

CVS/Walgreen/DuaneReade would be a good example of retail outlets that should sign up; they already sell some electronics so carrying the Kindle would not be a huge stretch.

fjtorres November 7, 2013 um 4:37 pm

Better yet, small town retailers in the much-neglected "flyover country". Locals are probably Amazon customers already but would love to support the local retailer. And in most of those towns there is no bookstore, so no owner to be offended.
Or how about community groups and churches?
Amazon carries a lot of indie Christian fiction.
A win-win-win.

Mackay Bell November 8, 2013 um 5:13 am

I guess it isn’t surprising that indy bookstores might not like big corporations. But I can’t see how anyone (particularly people who buy books) wouldn’t already know all about Amazon, wouldn’t know they can buy books cheaper on-line, and wouldn’t have already have made a decision about whether they like reading books on a eReader. I’m just guessing, but I’d figure the average customer already buys books occasionally from Amazon and still goes to the bookstore to find new things and just take in the ambience. So why not give them an option of supporting the store by buying a Kindle from it and feeding some income from Kindle sales?

It seems like this is already working for some blogs, who ask readers to buy books from their Amazon links in order to get a kickback. That’s a pretty easy and transparent way to support a blog, without costing the supporter anything.

These days, when I buy a book from a bookstore it’s because I want to take it home immediately, and yes, to support the store. If I could upgrade my Kindle and know I’m feeding some money to the little guy who runs the shop down the street, on stuff I would have bought anyway, that seems like a win/win option.

Rejecting the program out of hand, seems shouting against the wind. Amazon isn’t going away anytime soon. Do they really think someone who buys a Kindle in an indy bookstore (maybe at a markup) is going to walk off and say, "Great. Now I’ll never go back again."

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