Iowa Booksellers Speak Out Regarding Link on State Web Site

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On June 20, the owners and managers of nine American Booksellers Association member stores in Iowa mailed a letter to Governor Tom Vilsack and Iowa’s Information Technology Department (ITD) expressing their concern over an exclusive link on the official state Web site,

"As owners/managers of independently owned bookstores in the state of Iowa, we are writing to express our concern over the apparent partnership that has been created by the State of Iowa and," the booksellers stated in the letter to the governor and ITD. "In a time when we need to maximize the revenues generated by our state sales tax, it is ironic that our state government would partner with an out-of-state entity that does not collect tax. In fact, there are several alternative Iowan-based companies that both collect the appropriate sales tax and can provide virtually identical products and services. For the state government of Iowa to send business out of state is bad enough, but to then compound the problem by further draining state sales tax revenues is unconscionable."

The link to, placed prominently at the top of the Iowa home page, states "Looking for books about Iowa? Click Here Now," though it does not mention the online retailing giant by name. The link has existed on Iowa’s homepage since March, but an Iowa bookseller came across it in mid-May and brought it to the attention of Susan Walker, executive director for the Upper Midwest Booksellers Association (UMBA). Walker checked out the Iowa Web site and then brought the matter to the attention of ABA and UMBA member bookstores in Iowa, she told BTW.

Walker said the link to Amazon is ironic on two levels. First, instead of sending people looking for books on Iowa to Iowa bookstores, the state is sending them out-of-state. Secondly, "rather than … selling to a consumer in Iowa and getting the tax," the site links to a bookseller that does not collect sales tax, she explained. "The state is undercutting the viability of its own retailers and losing an opportunity to collect the sales tax," she said.

John Heitzman, owner of The Book Store in Des Moines, one of the letter’s signators, said that, after UMBA informed him of the link in late May, he "thought it was an oversight." Nonetheless, Heitzman was surprised and disappointed. "It’s myopic and short-sighted [of the state]," he said.

Regardless as to how ITD responds to the letter, bringing publicity to the importance of supporting local businesses -- and how it will benefit everyone in the community to do so -- is always positive, said Walker. "This is a good opportunity to do that," she added.

Aside from The Book Store, other Iowa booksellers who signed the letter to the governor and ITD include: Tanica Washington, B.L.A.C.K. Ink Bookstore, Waterloo; Carrie Arp and Jason Duranceau, Bookends & Beans, LLC, Decorah; Carolyn Frakes, Enchanted Forest Books & Coffee, Forest City; Donna Henrich, The Bookseller, Cherokee; Joyce O'Donnell, University Book Store, Iowa State University, Ames; Lisa Baudoin, Main Street Books, Pella; Juanita J. Loven, Books, Etc., Guttenberg; and Bobbie McLane and Donna Young, Basically Books, Cedar Rapids. -- David Grogan