Because Amazon Can’t Keep You Warm on a Friday Night”

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Last week, American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher wrote an open letter to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in response to the company’s announced promotion of its price comparison app. A mini Twitter groundswell with a dearjeffbezos hashtag emerged. Booksellers blogged, tweeted, and posted their reactions on Facebook, and some included counter-offers of their own. Everyone from Galleycat and Publishers Weekly to the New York Times and Time magazine picked up on the story of the Amazon app and the backlash on Main Street.

The hubbub seemed to get going with the New York Times article “Book Shopping in Stores, Then Buying Online.” The phenomenon is not a new one, but the Times cited proof, a survey conducted in October by the Codex Group. In that survey, 24 percent of people who said they had bought books from an online retailer in the last month had first discovered the book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Then came the announcement of Amazon’s price-check app and the articles, Facebook posts, and tweets haven’t stopped. Bookselling This Week put together a partial compendium of what’s been said.

Media Coverage

The Times Bits Blogs reported on Amazon’s effort to pay shoppers to scorn physical stores, followed up with a report on the backlash, and then looked at some of backlash to the backlash.

The Times also ran Richard Russo’s op-ed “Amazon’s Jungle Logic,” in which he shared comments from authors Scott Turow (president of the Authors Guild), Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, Andre Dubus III, Anita Shreve, Tom Perrotta, and Ann Patchett. While his friends make much of their income via sales on Amazon, Russo observed that no one defended Amazon’s predatory promotion and one called it “scorched-earth capitalism.” 

There was a different kind of reaction in Slate’s indie-unfriendly piece by Farhad Manjoo, but on Thursday Salon responded, saying Manjoo’s argument that bookstores don’t really foster a local literary culture wildly misses the point. They foster a local culture, period.” 

The Huffington Post pointed out that some of Amazon’s recent actions, including its book loan program and its sales tax policy, have led many retailers, publishers, and politicians (one of those was Maine Senator Olympia Snowe who slammed Amazon’s app promo as an “attack on Main Street businesses”) to question whether the company is capable of being a good corporate citizen.

The Huff Post article mentioned indie bookstores, including California’s Diesel, a bookstore, which created and distributed “Occupy Amazon” buttons and coasters, and Third Street Books in McMinnville, Oregon, which offered customers 15-percent off their purchases and a $5 gift certificate if they showed they had canceled their Amazon account.

The Dallas Business Journal noted that Amazon’s new app could hurt local businesses and included quotes from local retailers, including Steve Bercu, co-owner of Austin’s BookPeople. “[Customers] are being encouraged to destroy the place they go to get valuable information from a trained and knowledgeable staff,” Bercu told the paper. “If they don’t patronize these businesses, they will possibly fold.”

Publishers Weekly’s story on the growing ire of merchants, Amazon Backlash Continues to Build, covered California’s Diesel, a bookstore, and other indie bookseller responses.

The American Independent Business Alliance created a page with ideas merchants have developed to respond to the Amazon App.

Galleycat ran the letter from ABA’s Teicher to Bezos, and the New York Observer linked to it.

Bookseller Responses

It seemed that as soon as news of the Amazon app was released, booksellers flooded social media with a collective “oy!”

Jarek Steele of Left Bank Books responded cleverly to the app announcement in the blog post “This is the Part Where Amazon Jumps the Shark” or “Go Forth and Destroy Your Community Sayeth Amazon”and then again to the negative Slate article with Them’s Fightin’ Words: Slate Magazine’s Misguided Rant Against Bookstores.

Another clever bookseller retort came from Roxanne Coady of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut. Her “A Modest Proposal for Amazon“ ran in Publishers Weekly.

Sue Kowalski of The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, invited readers to “Come to The Bookstore and enjoy free cup of coffee when you pledge not to support a #bully. #dearjeffbezos@justbooks.”

Kowalski retweeted this from Sherman Alexie: “If I wrote a book titled ‘F*ck,’ how many digital copies would it sell?”

Constellation Books in Reisterstown, Maryland, tweeted, “It’s not just me — see the ABA’s feisty response to Amazon —…#DearJeffBezos#ShopLocal#ReadLocal#OccupyAmazon

On the Seattle Mystery Bookshop blog, JB Dickey said supporting Amazon is like cheering for the Empire and Lord Vader when the Death Star destroys Alderan.

In his blog post Leveling the Playing Field With Amazon, Bob Spear noted that “Amazon seems to always choose the underhanded way in their business model.”

Andrea Vuleta listed “what I love and what I cannot get from my Internet experience“ on the Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop blog. 

Janet Blevins of Knight Equestrian Books in Edgecomb, Maine, sent a letter of complaint to Marketplace at American Public Media, which invited listeners to browse information about music selections and then buy them via Amazon, and she included Teicher’s letter.

Writer and bookseller Emma Straub of Brooklyn’s Book Court wrote about the bad business of using a bricks-and-mortar store to buy online for Time in “Browse at a Bookstore, Buy at Amazon: The Evil of Showrooming.”

In a letter to customers of Eagle Eye Bookshop in Decatur, Georgia, Charles Robinson points readers to the Occupy Amazon Facebook page and answers the question: “What can we do for you that Amazon can’t?” with a long list, including “We have real, live people that you can interact with (try talking to an online Amazon rep about the books you love).”

On her blog, Books in Northport, Pamela Grath of Dog Ears Books in Northport, Michigan, said that in the indie bookselling world, “we believe every town deserves a bookstore, and we want all county bookstores to succeed.”

The San Francisco Chronicle picked up a blog posting by Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Executive Director Hut Landon in which he explained: “This is Amazon's latest effort to expand its market at the expense of local businesses that nurture and support neighborhoods and communities throughout the state — the same businesses that collect sales taxes that fund our schools, police and firefighters, state and local services and more.”

In Letter to the Editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, featured in this week’s BTW, Betsy Burton, co-owner of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, wrote: “Amazon has become positively cartoonish in its attempts to take over the book industry.”  

And finally, in addition to creating wonderful Occupy Amazon swag, Diesel offered a resounding reason why so many love to love their local: Because Amazon can’t keep you warm on a Friday night.

Follow Bookselling This Week Sr. Editor Karen Schechner on Twitter @KSchechner