Amazon Offer Met With Chilly Reaction From Indies

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    On Wednesday, Amazon announced a program that would allow bricks-and-mortar retailers, including independent bookstores, to sell Kindle devices and accessories in their stores and in some states, earn a commission on e-book sales. However, as various media outlets have reported, the reaction from independent booksellers has been strongly negative, with some going as far as calling the program a Trojan Horse.

    “It appears that Amazon.com has again fashioned a program that benefits the retailer it cares about most — that is, Amazon,” said ABA CEO Oren Teicher in a statement. While noting that “all ABA member bookstores always make their own decisions regarding their businesses after careful consideration and analysis,” Teicher said, “Given Amazon’s aggressive corporate tactics and their long-standing strategy to avoid the collection of sales tax, we don’t see this new program as being at all credible.”

    The Amazon Source program offers retailers two choices:

    • The Bookseller Program allows retailers to purchase Kindle devices at six percent off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and Kindle accessories at a 35 percent discount. For e-book purchases made on devices purchased from the store, a retailer will receive a 10 percent commission for two years from the date of the device’s purchase; however, according to Amazon’s terms, retailers in more than half the country — 26 states — are ineligible to receive commissions for e-book sales.
    • The General Retailer Program provides a retailer with a nine percent discount off the MSRP on Kindle devices and 35 percent off accessories.

    States where retailers are ineligible to participate in the Bookseller Program and, therefore, would not receive a commission on e-book sales are: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Vermont.

    The New York Times reported that Kinley Pearsall, an Amazon spokesperson, said on Wednesday, “I can tell you anecdotally that the interest we’ve seen since announcing this morning has been very strong.” Based on media coverage and online reaction, there was, indeed, a strong response, though very little of it among independent booksellers was positive.

    MobyLives, Melville House’s blog, collected bookseller reactions to Amazon’s offer that ranged from apathy for the program to utter disdain for the company.

    “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,” said Lissa Muscatine of Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.

    “Getting 10 percent 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,” said Colin McDonald of Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minnesota.

    Teicher, too, reiterated the strong Kobo program that has been developed for ABA’s independent bookstore members. “Currently, through ABA’s partnership with Kobo, hundreds of independent booksellers nationwide are offering their customers the ability to purchase either e-readers or e-books from them whenever they want to read digitally,” he said. “The Kobo program allows these booksellers to stay connected with their customers, who are supporting their locally owned bookstores — independent businesses whose diversity and economic contributions maintain the character and vitality of their communities.”

    In his bimonthly letter to members in today’s BTW, ABA President Steve Bercu and co-owner of BookPeople in Austin, Texas, said of Amazon: “I admire their nerve in offering another demonstration of their interest in using indie relationships to capture market share. Of course, the failure of the ‘offer’ to include 26 sales tax jurisdictions might just be a coincidence, and setting a two-year term for commissions before taking our customers was a considerate touch. I think I will just stay with Kobo.”

    Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, New York, was quoted in Publishers Weekly, saying, “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.”