Amazon, Local Bookstores, Me

The New York Times has a piece today by author Richard Russo about the recent Amazon stunt of encouraging people to go into bookstores, using their cell phones to read the prices of items for sale and then for their efforts receive up to $5 off things they buy at Amazon. Russo and the authors he talked to in his piece (which included Stephen King, Scott Turow and Ann Patchett) were generally not pleased with this antic, as you’ll see when you read the piece.

Nor am I, since it seems like an entirely unnecessary dick move. Yes, Amazon, you have lower prices. Point taken. But even in recessionary times such as these, not everything is about the absolute lowest price. I pay slightly higher prices for books at my local bookstore, but then I also help a local business, keep people in my community employed and make the place I live a nicer place to be. These are warm, fuzzy, altruistic things that are mockable if one lives by the creed that in business it’s not enough to win, everyone else must lose. But, you know, the hell with that. I can afford an extra couple of bucks on each book, and the return I get is worth it. Mind you, it’s not just a soft-hearted choice; it’s also a practical investment in the local economy and in a store where people can find my work.

This isn’t a reflexive hate-on for Amazon, incidentally. Amazon sells a lot of my books for me, including through their Kindle program, from which I’ve bought more than a few books myself (generally books I own but am too lazy to fish out of basement storage. Yeah, I know). I am appropriately grateful. Likewise, Amazon is, among other things, one of my publishers through its Audible Books division, and they have done an excellent job with the books I’ve done with them. I have an Amazon Prime account and I get lots of use from it, because where I live often the alternative to buying from Amazon is buying from Wal-Mart, and on that strata of retailing, I’m happy to let them go after each other, with knives and bludgeons. If there’s a locally-owned alternative, however, then I generally go there. I pay extra for what amount to intangibles for me, but what’s intangible to me means a job and a business to someone else. That matters, especially these days.

Jeff Bezos is doing fine, and lord knows he gets enough of my money. I like giving my book money to my local guys. I think they probably appreciate it more, right about now.


91 Comments on “Amazon, Local Bookstores, Me”

  1. Maybe there should be some sort of “anti-boycott” in support of local sellers.

    Go into your local store, take out your smart phone, and scan an object you want to buy. Then, take it up to the register, or talk to a manager, and tell them that you are buying this object because you support local businesses. Then buy it.

    You get the thing you want immediately, your local business knows they have a fan, and Amazon knows you scanned an object and then did not buy it.

    Just a thought.


  2. I think you can probably just buy the thing, and tell them at the counter you like supporting local businesses without adding to Amazon’s attempt to get people to do their work for them.

  3. Ack. They closed comments over there.

    I agree this is a dick move on Amazon’s part and I think one solution is to finally end the sales tax loophole Amazon currently enjoys. I see this as a state, county, and city issue though: online retailers need a _standard_ sales tax. While I don’t think it would be much of a burden for Amazon to implement the ability to calculate/distribute sales tax accurately, I do believe people who have small online businesses might be unduly burdened.

    I did have one spot of contention with the argument: Macmillan vs Amazon. The publishers colluded with Apple and one another to set their own price points, attempting to lessen Amazon’s power as a retail giant. They have promised this move will help publishers, authors, and consumers. Oddly enough, the move only guaranteed Amazon makes a profit on every single eBook sale and prices stay ridiculously high because publishers aren’t as adaptive as a retailer in setting prices and moving product. If they were, they’d be their own retailers. It was ridiculous.

  4. Bruce, LOL. Indeed.

    As to Amazon, I buy lots of stuff from there, but almost never books. Why? Because I like supporting local bookstores. My friends are baffled by this. I am baffled by them!

  5. There was an Occupy Amazon event last weekend to encourage people to go buy local.

    I’m really nauseated by this because I literally clicked over here after having to spend money at Amazon, whom I have done my best not to purchase from over the years due to repugnant political stances, censorship, and driving smaller places out of business. Unfortunately, several family members have bought into the Kindle hoopla, and as what they really want for Christmas is gift cards*, I have to suck it up and smile.

    *I also hate gift cards to large companies on the principle that they are at best a zero-interest loan, if not an outright donation.

  6. The only book stores within a 25 mile radius of my house are used bookstores, religious bookstores and chain bookstores. I would love to support a great local bookstore, but I don’t have one. That is why I support my local library and buy books through Amazon.

  7. My wife and I visited our local bookstore this weekend for a few books. Sadly, they didn’t have quite what we were looking for. The store owner, whom we’ve come to know rather well, went into the back and brought back a bunch of ARCs in the mystery, fantasy, and sci-fi genres.

    She said, “Take your pick and let me know what you think of them when you bring them back.”

    So now we’ve got half a dozen books, not yet released, that we’re in the process of reading. We’ve been introduced to a couple of new authors and when we return the books, we’ll be ordering a few more.

    Top that, Amazon.

  8. My local bookstore is a B&N which is slowly going out of business. They actually converted half of the floor space to toys a couple of months ago. Before that they cut their book inventory significantly. Still, I shop there when I can.

    I do think that Amazon should charge state sales tax at a minimum. The city sales tax seems difficult to keep straight as I live outside the city but few retailers realize that.

  9. Two points:
    1) The promotion did not include books- a technicality, to be sure, as they can add books to the next time, but this specific promotion did not harm authors at all.
    2) I’m not saying that I worked on this product as that would probably violate some agreement I’m not saying I signed when I was hired, but the original intention was that the discount would only apply if you were in specific retail chains. This was changed when we were worried that we would not have the store location database at a high enough level of accuracy to avoid problems, but since we ended up overshooting our goal for that the next round is likely to only apply when you’re in a big-box chain- specifically to avoid criticism like this that Amazon is hurting small retailers. If you use the app, you’ll notice that when it asks what store you are in there are only specific options- those were the chains that we had originally wanted to target. You weren’t supposed to get 5% off if you weren’t in a Walmart or Target or such.
    3) The app update is actually a combination of two ideas- the discount for buying through Amazon, and geolocating where you are in order to get what prices retailers are selling for in the real world. Hopefully in the next update those prices will also be shared back- you can scan a TV in Best Buy and see what the expected price for that TV in the Target down the road is. We don’t care what the price of a book in a mom-and-pop bookstore is, and we largely don’t care what the price of a book in B&N is- we want to know what the price of a TV at Best Buy is, so we can turn around and ask Sony why they claim we’re not allowed sell TVs for less than X, when Best Buy is selling for X-10. Negotiations with book publishers is a whole different kettle of fish, as Amazon isn’t likely to be undercut by stores breaking the manufacturers suggested price.
    4) A large number of people scanning items and not buying will be noticed- a lot of people do this already, using Amazon’s ratings and user comments to decide on whether to buy the item there, rather than the other way around. If a lot of people end up doing it, it forces the project managers to consider refocusing their efforts on how the app is perceived.

  10. I have never understood the idea that independent booksellers going out of business is really, really bad. Not every bookseller will disappear. This is how the world works. Technology ends one avenue, opens others. Did we despair that (many) wagon wheel repairmen went out of business when motorized cars finally took off?

    I myself am nearly 100% digital. Moan all you want about the “feel” or “smell” of a book – its not a love I share or one I ever will. I see unnecessary weight, clutter, and trees chopped down.

    The only dead tree books I buy are special editions, illustrated, or in some way, beautiful. You want me to buy your book printed on paper, it has to be something that not only reads well but looks good on my shelf. If I’m just going to bury you in my basement, forget it. This is not the majority of the books I read. I’d be bankrupt.

  11. I mostly agree, however…I’m a poor dude who has a pregnant wife, goes to school, and works full time. If it comes down to me paying a significant amount more if I buy locally, I won’t do it. I know that some people will say that books are luxary items that I should cut out if I low on money. That is a bit of a valid point, however I have money. I just don’t have a lot of money. For example, I went to buy a hardback novel at Barnes and Noble last month, I didn’t want to pay that much so I went home and looked it up on Amazon. It was only ten dollars there.

    That said, if there isn’t a significant price difference, I’ll buy locally because I like instant gratification. Saving twenty bucks and saving a dollar ninety-nine are two different leagues for me. Also, because I do work and go to school full time, I get an insane amount of use from I’ve purchased dozens of audiobooks, including all of the Old Man’s War series.

    Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that I get it. But local book stores have to understand that I’m broke too.

  12. “I think one solution is to finally end the sales tax loophole Amazon currently enjoys. I see this as a state, county, and city issue though: online retailers need a _standard_ sales tax.”

    45 states have all sorts of sales taxes (it’s estimated there are 7500 sales taxes in those states). 5 states do not have a sales tax. The “loophole” is predicated on the idea that sales taxes are not a Federal concern – it’s all local. And Amazon isn’t the only retailer making use of this loophole – your local non-chain bookstore does not have collect sales tax on sales to out of state customers. As for a standard sales tax…pick a number and see how many states object to such a low number.

    “My local bookstore is a B&N which is slowly going out of business. They actually converted half of the floor space to toys a couple of months ago. ”

    Er … no, B&N is not going out of business. They changing what’s in their stores, trying to attract more people. I am saddened by the loss of book space tho.

  13. @Michael Walsh

    You seemed to ignore I pointed out that it is a state, county, and city issue. I realize it. The states need to accept a _standard_ rate of sales tax for online goods, ie: it needs to be solved at a Federal level.

  14. Can someone please tell me when B&N will wake up to the notion of “customer friendly” on their website? Whatever the evils of Amazon, they are definitely doing everything right to make it easy to separate consumers from their money.

    I don’t buy books from Amazon anymore, on the principle that I work in the publishing industry and I don’t feel a need to support an outfit that is actively destroying my job. But I still use Amazon as a database, search engine, and review site. I find the book I want, copy the ISBN, and then go to B&N online and find the book. B&N’s site is just that clunky, that this asinine workaround is easier for me.

    Yes, B&N is not as good as going to a local bookstore or even ordering online from Abe or Powell’s. But at least I feel confident that B&N has a vested interest in keeping the publishing industry alive.

    illmunkeys@2:12: “If they were, they’d be their own retailers.”

    –>No they wouldn’t. That would be called a “vertical monopoly” and would be illegal.

    Also, the economies of scale are such that the cost of setting up the retail end is almost exactly the same for a retailer who sells books from many publishers as for a retailer who sells books from only one publisher. While I’m sure HarperCollins (for example) could set up an online store for their books, why would people shop there where they can go to B&N/Amazon/whoever and browse the books of everyone?

    If Harper and Penguin and S&S and RandomHouse all started a store together, then you would really have the issue of a cartel undercutting everyone else.

    illmunkeys@2:36: “I have never understood the idea that independent booksellers going out of business is really, really bad.”

    –>Because then the remaining giant is a de facto monopoly. Amazon is powerfully close to that right now. So far they have been inclined to be laissez faire regarding what is sold on their site, but that could change at any time. I really don’t want to be dependent on the goodwill and tolerance of one giant retailer to tell me what is available for purchase. What a dull world that would be.

  15. I just wanted to say THANK YOU to John and all of you who support local bookstores.

    In addition to all the paying-sales-tax-and-creating-jobs arguments, buying local is buying
    green: the stock has already been shipped to your local shop (whether it’s books, hardware
    or whatever). You aren’t spending money on gas to ship a new item into the state. For many
    local shops, we’ll deliver to your door on our way home – if you ask nicely.

    (Disclaimer- I am an indie bookstore owner)

  16. AmazonEmployee123:

    “The promotion did not include books- a technicality, to be sure, as they can add books to the next time, but this specific promotion did not harm authors at all.”

    However, the harm to authors is not on point here; the harm to bookstores is (which quite obviously has issues for authors in the long term).

    I would in fact be happy to have Amazon have its app make a distinction about when it’s fighting in its own weight class. But inasmuch as it didn’t this time around, it’s got a bit of a PR problem at the moment.

  17. I can buy *ebooks* via my local bookstore, Broadside Books (via Google Books). This pleases me.

    Also, Amazon isn’t the only online dead-tree bookseller. doesn’t seem to be run by dicks.

    Finally, I’d pay good money (and a yearly subscription fee) for an app that allowed me to take a photo of a piece of merch and instantly find out:

    1) How much the people who actually physically made the merch were paid for their work
    2) How much the CEO and other top-level execs were paid, counting bonuses
    3) Who the parent company is … and the grandparent company, etc, and any media companies anywhere in the family tree
    4) Recent and pending legal cases against the company, including but not limited to financial dealings, environmental issues, labor relations issues

  18. Stay classy, Amazon.

    And you can go to and find countless independent booksellers with websites (and maybe signed books!) that will ship to you, if you don’t have a local bookstore.

    And I understand hard times, but you should understand also that most independent bookstores operate on a 2% profit margin if they’re doing _well_. That’s why they don’t discount as much or as heavily. It’s not a loss leader to them; it’s their business.

  19. But even in recessionary times such as these, not everything is about the absolute lowest price. I pay slightly higher prices for books at my local bookstore, but then I also help a local business, keep people in my community employed and make the place I live a nicer place to be.

    Sure, but while stipulating that Amazon are being corporate cocks (again) but I’ve been put off by the “comparison shopping makes you an enemy of book culture” tone of a lot of the discussion. Yeah, I do it – books are cheap, and my discretionary income is a lot thinner than it used to be.

    Frankly, I don’t patronise local books out of a warm fuzzy sense of community spirit. Indie bookstores, at least the best of them, work damn hard at the basics of customer service and knowing their market because they have to. It’s exasperating how many retailers think it’s best practise to hire staff who don’t know their stock, care even less and treat customers like dog crap on the heel of their shoes.

  20. I understand the argument if you want to limit it to the effect on local/small bookstores. However in the broader sense, if I save $5 buying something at Amazon (or Wal-Mart, Target) that is $5 that I can spend locally on something else. Saving money in one area allows me to be more spend thrift in others.

    Side Note: I have found noticed that except in the case of hard backs and computer language books, my local bookstore is competitive with Amazon, especially when you factor in everything else (ambience, scan through a bunch of books quickly)

  21. Question: If someone wrote an app that let you scan a book barcode and would then tell you if that book was available in the local library and let you either check it out or be added to the wait list, would you be against that app?

    Curious because I use my local library a lot too, and unless I really liked a book I am unlikely to buy it, either from Amazon or a local bookstore.

  22. @-E:

    You definition of monopoly is lacking.

    All the publishers going into the business together to open a bookshop would be collusion, however a publisher selling its own books is not a monopoly unless they prevent others from somehow selling books.

    Retail is risky and difficult (Walmart makes it all look sooooooo easy). By taking a percentage cut and setting the prices themselves, publishers willingly took on the retail risk of eBook. It was a poor move.

  23. Amazon is just plain too convenient and cheap to be entirely ignored or used….I confess to using it, particularly the Amazon stores to get used hardbacks of books I want. But that said, for all the reasons John stated, I also go to our local indie bookstore, and I buy stuff there on a very regular basis. I like that the store is there, I appreciate they need to make money, so I buy books there. It’s something to keep in mind and something I need to do more of considering that I live in a city of 380,000 people and we currently have a Barnes and Noble, one indie bookstore, and no used bookstores other than a Goodwill outlet. Amazon is cheap and easy, but we’ve killed the bookstore experience, and I really have to ask myself whether it’s worth the $2 off a book to do that. I liked the world a lot better when we had more bookstores.

  24. We do most of our book purchasing at the local BAM, and did so even when my sister-in-law worked for Amazon. While they may be a chain, the local store not only hosts our D&D group (yes, I’m 48 and still play D&D) but has a really friendly and helpful staff; though they do joke that we save the cost of our Millionaires club card on a monthly basis.

    (We buy a lot of books).

  25. @Bearpaw:

    Have any idea how this works? I’m assuming Broadside Books gets a cut of each sale… but it seems like a weird relationship to me.

    They need to work on the webpage. I know its probably a minor source of income, but that’s difficult to navigate.

  26. @-E:

    I haven’t been to an “independent” book store in ages. B&Ns and Borders put those guys down a long time ago.

    I have a half-price book store. Course, that sends zilch to the publisher or author.

  27. @ Luke – I think that most people (especially here) wouldn’t ever be mad at someone for using their local library. The issue that people have with Amazon is they are trying to become a monopoly juggernaut and run local business out. Libraries do not do this. They are a fantastic community resource for people like you and me who want to read many books but only buy the ones we really like. The libraries pay a fair market price for their books. They’re not trying to oust local business, but serve a function in the community.

  28. I work for an online small business. When my boss started the company in 1998, it was to supplement his brick-and-mortar art gallery income. Five years later the gallery business slumped, he sold the store, hired me and we went to work in his attic, selling on several websites and on eBay. About three years ago we started selling on Amazon, since our website sales died after one of Google’s PageRank algorithm updates. At the same time, due to a perception that the market for mid- to high-end art was dying out, we started selling cheap posters. Today, we do about 70% of our business through and We ship a few hundred orders per day to over eighty countries (in the past year). Our business is growing, at a time when other businesses are struggling, because we continually adapt to the changing market. (I’m learning Mandarin so that we can sell on Amazon China next year.) We have three full-time employees, and we currently have four seasonal employees to get us through the holidays.

    My point is this: Amazon actually helps many small businesses stay in business. Without them, I would have probably lost my job two years ago. I love my local independent bookstore–but he also sells on Amazon, because it’s a great way to move stagnant product and to get top dollar for rare publications.

  29. The whole thing (not just this, but the KDP “Select” exclusivity power play) is making me re-think where I spend the majority of my book dollars. For print books? It’s nearly all my local bookstore. But the majority of my “book” dollars go to Audible, where I am a raving zealout of audiobooks are awesome.

    re: standardized sales tax: I’m also an occasional bookseller (more often magazine, but at conventions, etc.) so I have had to learn quite a bit about sales tax. Just working within my own state, there are several different county-specific tax rates, and the tax rate depends on where I’m mailing the item, not where I’m selling the item. Sometimes. Depending on the item. And then the rates change fairly frequently. I’m such a low-volume seller, that it costs me far more in compliance time and cost than I actually collect or pay in sales tax. I’d rather pay more sales tax, to cut out the headaches and compliance cost of just dealing within one single state.

  30. I am all for going to my local independent bookseller. Right now, the only kind we have in our are second hand bookstores, which don’t really help authors, do they?

    According to the article, and also mentioned in the comments, this particular promotion by Amazon did not include books….so… does this hurt the local independent BOOKsellers? Did I miss something? No, seriously, did I?

  31. I’m not sure that Amazon’s trying to do anything here other than draw attention to their price check app, which frankly I find quite useful. I don’t think people are going to price check things in their local small retailer, generally; if you’re buying from a small retailer, you’re probably aware that it costs a bit more, but prefer the service/local economy/etc. I buy games from a game store in town knowing I could get them cheaper on Amazon.

    However, when I’m in Target/Costco/Best Buy, and buying things there because I want to pay less money, I find it helpful to identify whether I’m getting a good deal or not. Often ‘sales’ are actually not significant savings, and having something to check against is useful. The market economy after all is more efficient when everyone has more information, and that’s what their app does. I often have no intention of buying it from Amazon when I use it – sort of like the reverse of browsing a store to find things to buy on Amazon I guess – I just want to know if the price is fair, or if I’m likely to find better elsewhere, particularly at Costco where it’s horribly difficult to judge value when the sizes are so much larger than usual.

    So while I understand it’s fairly easy to poke at Amazon for hurting the ‘little guy’, I genuinely don’t think that’s what they’re trying to do, and I don’t think it’s really fair to assume this will have a significant effect on small retailers, nor that it was intended to.

  32. I prefer to buy my books from a “local” independant science fiction bookshop or book seller in an attempt to look after the small guy. However sometimes they do not have what I want or are just too expensive so its a chain bookshop, at least this is keeping jobs locally and supporting somewhere I can browse and look at books. Final choice is on line.

    Recently though I seem to have ended up on line more often than not. Lack of choice seems to be the main reason. Are the chains cutting down on the selection they have in store, so if you want something obscure you have to buy from their online store?

  33. Joe:
    “I genuinely don’t think that’s what they’re trying to do, and I don’t think it’s really fair to assume this will have a significant effect on small retailers, nor that it was intended to.”

    Then before they sent the app into the world, they should have designed it so it didn’t. Intent doesn’t mean much without that.

  34. I see everyone’s point. It was a dick move by Amazon, but they exist for the sole purpose of maximizing profit. I can’t fault them for that. Local bookstores exist for the very same purpose. It’s business and sometimes it’s cutthroat. That said, Amazon is being unnecessarily dickish. Still, I’m an avowed Amazon-phile and can’t see that changing over something like this.

  35. @illmunkey:

    I haven’t a clue how it works, but it’s a good bet that they divvy up the profit somehow. Agreed the the interface is lacking, to put it politely. Not sure if that’s Google’s fault or Broadside’s. I usually go there with one (or more) specific books in mind, so I can put up with it. But the browsing thing sucks, badly.

    I mean, I understand that it’s hard to implement a browsing-the-shelves interface gracefully. For all I know, it’s impossible …. I’ve certainly never seen it done. But still, there’s bad and then there’s very bad.

  36. @Joe:

    Judging from past behavior, by Amazon specifically and major corporations in general, it strikes me as absolutely reasonable to assume that behavior like this is either intended to hurt small retailers or that it’s at least an understood and welcome side effect.

  37. The last real bookstore in our area closed last year because the owner retired. As a librarian, I once went to Barnes and Noble and selected a lot of books to buy, handing the checkout clerk an educator’s discount card. “This doesn’t apply to you,” she said. “This is for classroom teachers only, for items they’re using in the classroom” (she knew I am a librarian). I purchased the items anyway, but I’ve never gone back to B&N. Amazon has generally treated me well; I have no other local options. This is just a marketing ploy, so really, who cares? After all, I don’t have enough money to purchase a smart phone.

  38. With all due respect, it’s disappointing to see so many intelligent people bandwagoning on the latest Official Internet Two Minutes Hate.

    First, as the employee points out above — Books weren’t included. Local Bookstores weren’t the target, even remotely.

    Second, it was fairly obvious that the intent was directed against other big-box stores, which represent more direct competition. Local Mom&Pops aren’t a threat, bluntly.

    Third (and this is the biggest elephant in the room): This is absolutely no different than “We will beat any advertised price”, which has been going on in retail since the 19th century. And yet, there is no NetRage or hand-wringing concern about that practice, which appears regularly in local circulars and TV ads in every part of this country.

    Sorry, folks — this is nothing more than the latest tempest in a teapot.

  39. Near where I am, almost in one fell swoop, all the large chains went bust (Borders Australia, Readers Feast, Angus & Robertson). It was good to see the smaller independent and specialist book stores suddenly flourishing (there was heavy media speculation that customers would go online), despite a slight price increase. I like to think they (indepedents) tapped the customer loyalty vein and have finally made some sort of peace with their online counterparts.

  40. Gareth:

    “With all due respect, it’s disappointing to see so many intelligent people bandwagoning on the latest Official Internet Two Minutes Hate.”

    Thus proving that when someone says “with all due respect” the very often mean “you all are fucking morons” and they mean it as condescendingly as possible.

    “Books weren’t included” is a rationalization that works really well unless you go into an actual bookstore these days, in which case you discover that bookstores these days sell a range of items. So the suggestion that bookstores can’t be hurt by this sort of thing suggests, at best, a sort of genial obliviousness to the real world.

    Likewise saying “mom and pop bookstores weren’t the target” doesn’t mean a whole lot when in fact one could walk into a mom and pop bookstore and get credit for scanning the merchandise on the shelves. Arguing intent is stupid when in the real world the app was not designed to match intent with actual use.

    As to your final point, well, no. There’s a qualitative difference between saying “we will match any advertised price” and directing people to go into a store, scan the competitor’s price and offering an instant discount while still in the competitor’s store. That’s some high octane retail ball-cutting right there, and despite yours and others protestations otherwise, there’s a fine argument to be made that if Amazon, an organization with exceptional resources, didn’t intend for the app to be used against mom-and-pop bookstores (and other locally owned and operated stores), they could have chosen to implement those restrictions from the start.

    With all due respect, Gareth, the next time you want to blunder into some place and attempt to marry smug condescension with bad rhetoric and poor argument, feel free to do it elsewhere. That sort of obnoxious shitspraying doesn’t work here.

    Done with you. Off you go.

  41. @Gareth:

    – Everybody knows “with all due respect” is the Internet version of “bless your heart”.

    – The fact that many people are angry about X does not mean they are automatically wrong and mindless. It’s disappointing to see otherwise-intelligent people think that on any issue, the smart money lies in figuring out where the majority opinion is, running hard in the opposite direction and playing Condescending Contrarian.

    – Yes, this is very different than “we will beat any advertised price”. If it were, then Amazon would in fact say “we will beat any advertised price”. Assuming everything our commenter above says is true, this is not price-matchIng; it’s data-mining. Oh, and “largely don’t care” != “don’t care.”

  42. Darn you, Scalzi, and your speedy typings!

    Real-life anecdote: during a court hearing, I once observed a fellow on the losing side of a ruling try to claim that the judge’s ruling was wrong by starting off his argument saying “With all due respect…”

    The judge cut him off mid-sentence and asked “I’d be very interested to know what respect you believe isn’t due the Court.”

  43. No worries, Mythago. Cross-posting happens.

    That said, for other folks, as I’ve excused Gareth from further contributions to this thread, don’t feel as if you need to respond to him.

  44. I’ll be filtered, I know — but wanted to apologize to you directly. It wasn’t my intention to come off as smug and condescending, but obviously I did. Genuinely sorry for that.

  45. With all due respect, Amazon is at least as evil as Walmart. I don’t do business with either.

    That said, it is Amazon’s interest – it is their duty – to destroy, marginalize, or otherwise break the balls of every company, publisher, author, distributor . . . . . that it can. That’s their job.

  46. My local book store is a Barnes & Noble, so I’m not sure I really see that as buying local. Nearly all of the new bookstores I’ve been in near where I live and work for the last 20 years have been large chains of one sort or another.

    We used to have The Stars Our Destination in Chicago which offered the kind of service and a domain specific niche that really did make them worth visiting and they had used books too, but I still had to go into the city to get there and it was a pain in the neck. I didn’t go often enough and I guess no one else did either. I do regret that.

    The good local game store is at least two gallons of fuel from my house, round trip, and I have to make time to go there. I do buy there sometimes and I’m happy to support them, but the I have bought a game online since I’ve been there last. When you have to cross half the burbs in a metro area to go somewhere, Amazon Prime IS the path of instant gratification, and quite possibly greener too. The delivery truck is making lots of stops per gallon. If green is a consideration then every book that crosses the country and then gets returned or stripped is an environmental negative.

    What are the odds that there will even be books published on paper in 15 years, with the exception of special editions, and collectibles, and art books, etc? Yes, it will be a bad time for all of the other special places like The Stars our Destination that are still left and that sucks, but I’m not sure what to do about it. I expect that I’ll be buying mostly e-books soon, and I’m already a big fan of Audible. The E-book acceptance rate seems to be faster than Bezos’ wildest dreams. If Amazon decides to flex it’s muscle with respect to what is sold on its site, that may be a problem for many products, but the barriers to entry for selling Ebooks aren’t high.

  47. Those who are interested may want to check out this response/rebuttal/rant from the Three Percent blog (they publish literature in translation):
    Here’s my problem: Richard Russo and everyone he mentions in here are corporate authors. They are published by the largest media conglomerates in the world, who have used their power and money and influence to shape the book retail world to their advantage.

    Who was the target of the last Robinson-Patman anti-trust ruling? Penguin and the other members of the Big Six. They were giving unfair discounts to B&N and Borders at the expense of indie bookstores? Why? Because they could make more money by aligning themselves with the big box stores. (Death to Big Box Stores!)

    I work in (not-for-profit) publishing. Amazon is, because they are smart, taking advantage of the fact that publishing has in large part been a genteel industry run by a (relatively small) bunch of people who knew and trusted each other and generally did not screw each other over. I don’t buy books at amazon, though I do buy other things there. They are extremely unpleasant to do business with. But let’s not pretend that the Big Six publishers (and I am speaking here of the Big Six as corporate entities, not the individuals within the companies, those of whom I’ve met have been smart, passionate, bookish folk, to the extreme) are concerned with anything other than making money.

    I love Richard Russo, by the way, and I think he’s extremely gifted as a writer. But his piece really rubbed me the wrong way.

  48. I use Amazon in stores all the time. As described above by AmazonEmployee123, I check reviews and product specs, and then usually make a purchase from the brick-and-mortar rather than Amazon.

    In the big boxes, specifically including Barnes & Noble, I price check against their own websites. Last night I went to buy a few gift books from B&N and found them charging over 40% more in the store than on their own website. It’s hard to care about Amazon going for these guys’ balls when they are trying to charge me almost double for the privilege of locating and transporting my own order.

  49. There is a specific and unique condition in this promotion that isn’t just comparison shopping: Amazon is *explicitly* externalizing costs onto someone else’s business. Sure, I buy an offensive amount of stuff from Amazon because I think going into stores sucks. But this promotion required going into a store and consuming their resources with the deliberate intent of not buying there.

    On another tack:
    “the sales tax loophole Amazon currently enjoys”
    Is this the loophole where Amazon is going to charge me sales tax to send a gift to another state even though the state where I come from doesn’t have sales tax? ;-)
    A detail about sales tax is that it involves not just an obligation to pay it but also permission to collect it. My father has a paper that said he was allowed to collect sales tax in the state of NY that he had to post.

  50. For those of us without a local independent book dealer, I’m perfectly fine with cutting $5 out of Barnes & Nobles’ profits.

  51. I’m more than happy to patronize local businesses (I don’t buy used books online without a call to my local used bookstore to check if they have it first and I only buy comics from the local shop) and while I agree the way they’ve gone about this app is a dick move I’m also not that up in arms about it. If I’m in a store because I like the owners/employees/ambiance/whatever I’m not going to be comparing prices for the items they sell anyway.

  52. Can’t FAULT them for that??? What?

    I’m never buying anything from Amazon again, unless they’re the ONLY ones who sell it. And no, I won’t be getting a Kindle any time soon, because if I buy a book I like to actually, you know, own it…and Amazon feels they have the right to delete any book from your Kindle if they decide you shouldn’t have it.

    I stopped buying books from them after the MacMillan fiasco, if only because it hurt friends of mine. But I was already mad at them for that time they decided all gay books were Adult.

    They’re shitheads. This is the final coffin that broke the camel’s nails, as someone said the other day. I’m done with Amazon.

  53. It seems to me that saying, “I really appreciate the fact that Amazon does a bang-up job selling my books, but I prefer to buy my books at a local bookstore”, is kind of like saying, “I really love the Five Guys burger, but I eat humanely processed beef when I can.”

    Maybe that’s okay…? Or not…?

  54. I’m really not following your analogy at all, Lisa.

    In any event, my appreciation for Amazon’s skill in selling my books does not suggest that as a consumer I am obliged to buy all my books from them.

  55. Mia Culpa – I buy books from Amazon, in bulk, pretty much monthly.
    But – I live in Australia where at any book store, chain or otherwise, it’s virtually impossible to get a hardcover edition of just about anything – they charge around $35 for large format soft covers instead. I’m a collector so I want hardcovers – I also want books as soon as they are released not months/years later when they are released here. Also, apart from genre specific stores, it’s hard to find a wide range of scifi at the chain stores, and as I commonly work seven days, visiting the genre stores is usually impratical. That said I find the decline in bookstores here very sad, be they chain or mom and pop as you say. In a nutshell I don’t like the concept of amazon much, but when I can buy 5 or so hardcovers for Approx $120 inc deliv without leaving my desk, or even much interfering with work, well I’m going to do it.
    The chain stores in aus lost me when they insisted on carrying every james patterson book in existance and sod all else. But I do miss the local bookstores of my childhood.

  56. So, this thing from Amazon is… interesting in the mechanism that it triggers offensiveness. It *requires* a brick and mortar store to use it. But Amazon doesn’t have any brick and mortar stores itself. Amazon is playing a game that operates on a non-quid-pro-quo basis. It is using someone else’s brick and mortar store to *act as a standin* for Amazon’s nonexistent brick and mortar store.

    This app gives amazon all the benefits of a brick and mortar store, without amazon having to pay for a brick and mortar store, pay property taxes, property insurance, pay for lights, pay someone to shovel snow, etc. And just as important, it does this without giving *any* benefit to the stores it is using as proxies.

    Ye gods, I can see how this triggers “NO FAIR!” at a visceral level.

    Sure, it triggers the “buy local” thing, and it triggers the “big chain versus little store” thing, and it triggers a kind of rule that boils down to “hyper efficient capitalism doesn’t actually employ a lot of people, so don’t support hyper-efficient capitalism”. The last being a part of the reasoning that was used to argue against WalMart’s versus the local Mom&Pop store. And the first two are forms of tribalism of local versus national companies.

    But, those kinds of arguments have already been made agaisnt WalMarts and other kinds of big chain stores. The thing about this Amazon app that triggers a new kind of “NO FAIR!” judgement, is how it takes a physical store that Amazon doesn’t own and doesn’t pay for, and Amazon created an app that ENABLES people to walk into that non Amazon store, and USE IT as a proxy for Amazon products. People can BROWSE THE SHELVES OF PHYSICAL products which is something otherwise IMPOSSIBLE when buying from Amazon. And this app enables this browsing-by-proxy with absolutely ZERO benefit to the store being proxied. It actually costs the brick and mortar store some money for people to use this app that has them end up buying something from Amazon instead. Lighting, heating, cooling, customer service, maintenance, snow plowing, parking lot maintenance, all those expenses are paid for by the brick and mortar store, and the additional customers who use the store as a proxy, but buy the product at Amazon, cost the brick and mortar store MORE money, with zero benefit for the store itself.

    This app changes Amazon from being a *competitor* of the brick and mortar store, and turns it into an actual *parasite* of the store. Amazon uses the store at the store’s expense and the store gets zero benefit from this relationship. The App actually inflicts some costs on Amazon’s brick and mortar COMPETITION by causing people to go to those stores but buy the product from Amazon instead.

    This is phenomenally and amazingly evil app. It is stunning in its simple but calculated brutality.


  57. Pardon the clumsy analogy, John. I’m simply trying to say that be it a burger or a book, we’re often willing to overlook the pain and suffering our consumption causes — to either beef cattle or booksellers — if the alternative is cheap, convenient or more lucrative.

    I did not suggest that you are obliged to buy books from Amazon. I do wonder why you stopped short of suggesting that the rest of us buy from local booksellers like you, though…? You (and others in Russo’s piece) make a strong case for supporting the local economy and the services these bookstores provide. Russo does tell Lucy to “hang in there”. But why not a call to arms…? “Fans! Faithful readers! Swarm Lucy’s bookstore this holiday season!” His concern for Lucy just doesn’t seem genuine to me.

    I’m of the opinion that good bookstores (and libraries) have nothing to fear from Amazon. If Lucy provides quality services, programming, reader advisory, etc., she’ll be okay. But some of the comments from authors in Russo’s piece just ring hollow. Lehane is clearly pissed at Amazon, not only for this move, but for other “scorched earth policies” Amazon employs. At what point will Dennis Lehane and others simply say, “Screw it folks. Don’t buy my books from Amazon.”

  58. I do wonder why you stopped short of suggesting that the rest of us buy from local booksellers like you, though…?

    Probably because a) as noted in the comments above, not everybody lives a short ride in the bike-line away from an indie bookstore, and b) Scalzi would prefer to say “this is why I do X” and let others consider whether they, too, should do X for the same reasons, vs. lecturing everybody about how they all ought to do X lest they be selfish and immoral. Oh, sorry, for that last I meant, “willing to overlook the pain and suffering our consumption causes if the alternative is cheap, convenient or more lucrative.”

  59. I can certainly see that, given a choice between supporting a Friendly Neighbourhood Locally Owned Bookstore and giving more money to Amazon, the former is easily justified even if the prices are higher, because there’s likely to be some value added in a local store of that kind — mostly of the kind that comes with a personal relationship with the store employees/owner and the experience/knowledge about the sort of books I like that comes with it. That’s worth the investment, and if I had a Jay and Mary’s, I would probably shop there.

    I don’t have a store like that. I have a Chapters (Canada’s version of B&N), and since nobody in there actually knows anything about books, there is no value added. Does the Chapters give local people jobs? Well, jobs, yes, but not good ones. Not careers that represent any meaningful investment in the local community. The “local” bookstore is just one big box sample of the national chain and it offers me, and the community, nothing of real substance. Amazon is cheaper than local Chapters (or online Chapters), local Chapters offers me nothing Amazon doesn’t (indeed, less, since info at Amazon is more useful than employees at Chapters), so I buy books at Amazon.

    In the absence of that knowledgeable and personal relationship, I’m increasingly uncertain about the argument that promotes some moral need to support your local economy simply *because* it’s the local economy. The world’s too small for that kind of thinking now — maybe your local economy needs to stop being so damn local. My local economy benefits when people in the UK buy our wines, or when some Germans get off the plane for a ski holiday, or when a kid in Brazil logs onto Club Penguin, or when a student from Hong Kong comes to our destination university. My local economy’s biggest successes *aren’t* local. It succeeds without me.

    But, yes: dick move by Amazon.

  60. Granted, I bear the emotional scars of a former Amazon employee, but I have been wondering if there was anything that kept one from pranking the app? I haven’t downloaded it and don’t intend to, but it seems like an appropriate response would be to just make sure the database of competing sales prices they are accumulating is as dirty and unreliable as possible. My first response would be to merrily go about scanning items and randomly entering prices that bore no resemblance to what the actual sale price was. Seriously, if they think they can get me to do their market research for a mere $5, they have severely underestimated my hourly wage. And it seems like the appropriate response to their asking me to do their market research for them is to make sure the result of that research is as unreliable as possible. They can take the cost of cleaning up their pricing database out of the money they save by not maintaining a brick-and-mortar storefront in my neighborhood.

  61. Even buying from Barnes & Noble supports local jobs. They may not be the best, but in the current economy who can afford to be picky. I assure you that my brother who worked at the local Borders was not complaining about having a job. Now he is unemployed. So even big box brick-and-mortar stores affect local economies. As does the collection of sales taxes which pay for local infrastructure, police, etc. The problem with Amazon is the pattern of behavior. We can no longer afford to support a business philosophy that is designed to drive everyone else out of business. When local jobs dry up, no one will be able to buy from Amazon. They are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. It is just a very slow death and all of us are going with it.

  62. John,

    Your comment shamed me because I wasn’t aware of locally owned bookstores near me. I had to use google maps to find the nearest one,, in Arlington. I live about 15 miles away in Fairfax, VA. You know the NOVA area well enough to know I will pass thousands of retail establishments on the way to get to it. I’m glad I did the search though, because the shop has a great site and a calendar with booksignings, which I love, but seem hard to find without constant effort. So thank you for reminding me about locally owned shops.


  63. I’m of the opinion that good bookstores (and libraries) have nothing to fear from Amazon. If Lucy provides quality services, programming, reader advisory, etc., she’ll be okay

    I notice how well that theory has worked in other areas of the economy. The airlines that continued to offer good service at a higher price are flourishing, the local supermarkets that really get to know their customers are all over the place, the family-owned department stores that dot the landscape everywhere…

  64. @Greg 11:15pm –

    So, if I go into a brick-and-mortar store of some sort, browse through the selection, see something I like and desire, check the price of said item on Amazon using my smartphone and then buy the item from Amazon using my smartphone while standing right there, am I evil? Or is it only evil if I use an app that saves me 15 seconds?

    general comment –
    I don’t get it. Why is it so bad to buy stuff – books, cars, underwear, whatever (see what I did there?) from a large retailer that sells cheap? I have no complaints if you want to pay extra for the warm fuzzy feeling you get for buying from a small retailer, but why should I do so? I prefer the warm fuzzies I get from saving a few dollars of my too-small salary that I can then save to pay for my kids’ college and for my retirement (should I live that long).

    The word “evil” is way, way overused out here on the intertubes. Amazon, Wal-Mart, Nike, Gap, Apple, Dell and so on are not evil. I see and work with evil in my job (I’m in law enforcement) and capitalism isn’t evil. The smartphone app under discussion isn’t evil either – and it most especially isn’t “phenomenally and amazingly evil.” Spend some time with a 6-year-old rape victim and then we can talk about what is and isn’t evil.

  65. Randall:

    “I have no complaints if you want to pay extra for the warm fuzzy feeling you get for buying from a small retailer, but why should I do so?”

    If you don’t want to, don’t. I’m not sure how you’re the victim here, Randall.

  66. @John –
    I wasn’t claiming to be a victim by any stretch – I was espousing a live-and-let-live position.

  67. Hi, Mythago.

    a) Of course, if one doesn’t live within a reasonable car ride of an independent bookseller, one can’t buy from them. That’s a given. Although my independent bookseller does get a small cut from Google ebook sales that go through their store website, so almost any of us could shop virtually with indies who provide these services, I suppose…? But of course, one has to be practical.

    b) I’m guessing few of us want to be “lectured” by John. But I appreciate his point of view and respect his opinions. I wouldn’t visit John’s blog if I didn’t expect him to take a stand on important social issues

    For the record, if I view someone’s actions as “selfish” or “immoral”, I will say so. I don’t believe I said so. I said that sometimes we’re willing to overlook the pain our consumption causes if we can find a cheaper alternative. I think this is an honest observation.

  68. then buy the item from Amazon using my smartphone while standing right there, am I evil?

    Yes. This has been another entry in Easy Answers To Easy Questions.

  69. Now a days I buy mostly ebooks. As far as I know the local bookstore does not do this so they still pretty much fill the role they had for me when I did buy physical books. That role being a great place to browse and get ideas. Once I know what I want then I almost exclusively buy from Amazon.
    The reason for this is simple, price. Why on earth would I pay more just to support the local bookstore? The concern over this is nothing new, it came up with cheap electronics and cars a long time ago. American workers and our american lifestyle in general demands a higher standard of living. You cannot have a higher standard of living and cheaply priced/produced goods at the same time. Even with all the concern over outsourcing/off-shoring we somehow have managed to adapt and survive. If local brick and mortar bookstores want to survive they should find a way to complete.

  70. It seems like there’s two prongs to the argument here: “Support your local bookstore” and “Amazon made a dick move that should be opposed.”

    I can understand not agreeing with the first prong, especially if there are no local bookstores, or if the local is B&N/Hastings/. But I don’t think that invalidates the second prong.

    Because yes, I’m convinced this *was* a dick move, and that it *needs* to be opposed. Comparison shopping has been around for a long time, and the issue of ‘consumer uses local store for comparison shopping and buys mail order’ has been around for as long as there’s been mail order, I agree. But this promotion crosses the line from ‘make parasitic behavior possible’ to ‘actively encourages parasitic behavior.’ If the Amazon app just did neutral price comparisons, it’d be in the same category as RedLaser and SnapTell; kinda sucks for the local store, but what can you do? But actively offering discounts to consumers for doing so – especially if, as the commenter above suggested, it’s for the purposes of datamining – puts it firmly into Bad Actor territory.

    Beyond that, this issue serves as an example of why I’m shifting into opposing Amazon as an organization. I do honestly believe that many of the AmazonFail’s over the last few years, such as the LGBT delisting and the 1984 Kindle revocation, were genuine mistakes and not evil conspiracies – but they highlight why I think concentrating too much of the book market (or indeed, the online shopping market) in one company is a Bad Thing. And some of Amazon’s other actions over that time have convinced me that Amazon is, indeed, trying to take over as much of the market as they can: selling Kindle books below their cost (prior to the Macmillan fight) to try and own the ebook market, their behavior in the Macmillan fight and the Hachette fight, their insistence on using a format they own and control in the Kindle instead of ePub.

  71. Randall, I am going to answer your question in the form of a fable.

    Scene: Amazon Lair

    Amazon Exec: Damn it. Since we don’t have to spend money on maintaining brick and mortar stores, or prices are generally lower than a brick and mortar store.

    Amazon Programmer: I fail to see the problem.

    Amazon Exec: The problem is people often buy stuff only after they have held it in their hands. They peruse shelves and look at physical objects, not knowing what they are looking for until they see it on the shelf.

    Amazon Programmer: But we have a ‘search’ function on our website.

    Amazon Exec: But you have to know the keyword to search for. With a physical store, customers might get some coffee and just wander around until they find something. They dont get the same exxperience sitting in fromt of the computer staring at the “search” entry. But if we open a brick and mortar store to provide customers with that kind of experience, our prices will have to go up.

    Amazon Programmer: I have an idea.

    Amazon Exec: Is it sufficiently evil to justify funding?

    Amazon Programmer: Oh yes, we design an app so that people who are drinking coffee browsing at a brick and mortar store can use that store to discover the thing they want to buy, and then the app lets them scan the barcode instantly and check to see if the same product can be purchased cheaper at our website.

    Amazon Exec: We get all the benefit of a brick and mortar store, but we dont have to pay for the bricks.

    Amazon Programmer: Or the mortar.

    Amazon Exec: So we use the brick and mortar store to provide our customers with the coffee/browsing experience, but someone else pays for it.

    Amazon Programmer: And the extra traffic the store gets actually creates an additional burden our competition bears that we don’t pay for. They do.

    Amazon Exec: So we get a free brick and mortar store, and we inflict additional costs on our competion.

    Amazon Programmer: Yep. That about sums it up.

    Amazon Exec: Let us make love and bring forth a hoarde of evil amazon minions with which to rule the world.

    Amazon Programmer: Uh but we are both guys.

    Amazon Exec: What’s your point?

  72. The fable is a fair point. I have no problem buying stuff I know I want from a mail-order house (since Amazon really is, when you get down to it, just the searchable version of the Sears Catalog), but I do get twitchy when I see people suggest hanging out in a specialized stereo store to learn what they need to know and then buy mail order.

    Once, before cell phones were affordable, I did stand in one furniture store and borrow their phone call another furniture store to tell them what the latest price offer was from the one I was standing in. Perhaps that was moderately evil, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt I’ve been remote in danger of out evilling a furniture store or a car dealership.

  73. We could all solve the unemployment problem real quick if we destroyed all of the tractors and put a hoe in everyone’s hand, but it wouldn’t make is richer, it would make us poorer. The reason that 95% of us aren’t all working in agriculture with the remaining 5% being blacksmiths or working in a few other trades or working in the feudal lord’s kitchen is because of technological change and “hyper-efficient capitalism”. For a very long time, everyone who left the field found something else productive to do and we got richer.

    Now we seem to be having trouble with the part about finding something else productive. In a way, it’s almost like we are almost the dimmest shadow of Bank’s Culture, except that we don’t actually have the ability for our machines to make us materially wealthy beyond avarice. It’s a big problem, but is the solution to just decide that we should shun developments that make us more productive? A friend recently pointed out that every time someone mourns the loss of products that are repaired rather than replaced, that he is glad that people’s time is considered too valuable to spending fixing broken stuff. Of course if it really is too valuable, we ought be having less trouble finding something else to spend it on.

  74. Mike, the measure of evilness MUST account for who is doing what, who it benefits, who it harms, and so on.

    Which means that if Amazon creates the app which helps them and actually harms the competition, thats super evil. If you go into a store, look at some furniture, then call a different store to check their price on the same thing, the benefit is for you, but the cost you are inflicting is much smaller. You are not INTENDING to drive the first store out of business, you just want the lowest price and will buy it from whichever store has it cheapest.

    Amazon doesnt have brick and mortar stores, but this app leverages amazons competition to provide the in store experience but get the customer to buy the product at amazon. Amazon has no intention of ever having a brick and mortar store. But they are using existing stores to provide amazon customers with the brick and mortar experience. And it creates a burden that amazons competition has to bear.

    If you go to a furniture store and then check another store for the price on the same thing, you are not targeting one store over another. the population will tend to randomly split between the two stores and both split the cost of foot traffic. It becomes a wash.

    Amazon doesnt have a brick and mortar store, so the only way this app works is if the customer goes to the competition. and the competition bears all the costs of the foot traffic but gets no benefit from the traffic because amazon underbids them.

  75. Check out Amazon’s “Privacy Policy” such as it is: effectively, you have NO privacy, because they claim Amazon “owns” any customer information you supply (like your reading tastes) and is free to “share” it however they like.

    Powell’s has a much more customer-protective privacy policy. They don’t sell you down the river to any marketeer who’s willing to grease their palms as Amazon claims they have the right to do.

  76. Mike I dont think the evilness ultimately traces back to “technology is bad”. Or even “technology that does the same thing with fewer people is bad”.

    The evilness behing this app really comes down to the scenario you mentioned of encouraging people to go to a specialty stereo store to learn what they need to buy, then buy it online where it is cheaper because the onlune store doesnt have to have smart employees that know the equipment.

    This amazon app is evil because amazon isnt playing fair. It really doesnt have anything to do with the general evolution from small local stores to gigantic online stores. Using your competition to provide a service you dont provide, and having your competition foot the bill, is just evil.

    If i go into a specialty atore and ask the aales people for advice, I generally try to make a point of buying the product there. If they gave me the answer that works for me, I try to reward that by purchasing the thing at their store. This can be a small local mom and pop or a big box atore. I had some home improvement questions last summer for a project I was working on and got the answers I neeeded at Home Depot, so I bought the neccessary supplies at Home Depot.

    Amazon’s app uses the competition to provide the hands on experience that Amazon does not provide, but by not providing that service, Amazon can underbid the very store it is using.

    Really it is such an evil applicatiin that it just boggles the mind.

  77. Amazon does not have lower prices because it doesn’t have brick and mortar stores. It has lower prices because it buys things at wholesale prices from its suppliers, just like Costco which has lots of brick and mortar stores and just like Barnes & Noble does for their online store, which is why prices are sometimes lower there than in their stores. A couple of years ago, WalMart and Target decided to increase their share of the U.S. online retail market and in particular challenged Amazon’s dominance in movies, music and books. They started a three-way price war, with prices dropping in the brick and mortar shops too. WalMart frequently had lower prices on lead titles online over Amazon. I thought the war had more or less ended but I guess it’s still going on and this is, as someone said, Amazon getting customers to do market research for them in exchange for some coupons and thus build some brand loyalty to themselves. Which I would assume means that they’re still really worried about WalMart particularly breathing down their necks. We’re going to see this more and more on the Web; it’s part of the show us brand loyalty and we’ll give you goodies marketing strategy that retailers have always used, from the points card systems on down. What will be interesting to see is if this really helps Amazon hold on to online sales dominance or not. WalMart has expanded about as far as it can in the U.S., so now it’s looking online and internationally. Amazon has had a lot of the non-U.S. part of the Web to itself; that will be less the case in the next decade.

  78. Kat Goodwin, I think maybe you are saying that they buy things at manufacturer prices rather than wholesale prices. The little guy is paying wholesale prices.

  79. One more time- you can order books online from independent booksellers. They have websites, too. They have ordering platforms, too. They have e-books, too.

    So don’t let that keep you from buying books from indies, if you really want to.

    If you don’t really want to, that’s another story. And it’s okay, really it is. I use the library too. But the convenience of online is not a valid argument because it’s right there for independent booksellers too.

    And the “well, those booksellers should just get with the program and DO SOMETHING if they want to stay competitive” argument doesn’t fly. They are doing something. They’ve been doing something. It’s not a level playing field, because of the expense of running brick-and-mortar. It’s not level because they must charge sales tax, which Amazon doesn’t have to. It’s not level because Amazon can and does demand deeper discounts from publishers than a single store can. It’s not level because Amazon doesn’t actually care much about making a profit on books, it wants repeat business.

    Spoken as one who used to work in an indie but no longer does because I was worried about having a job in 10 years, but who still buys from mine (and uses the library).

  80. Something I’ve never seen mentioned on the local versus web debate
    is time: I go to the store, buy it, and bang. I got it.
    I buy it from a place that’s ten states away? Well….
    (rhetorical) Does anyone remember lounging around not watching bad TV and
    leafing through heavy christmas sale catalogs? From stores that are ten states

  81. I’m torn on the whole issue, because of course I have been a small business owner and know what it is to not be in the black, ever. I do buy stuff from Amazon, though it’s usually not books. I don’t have a local indie book store that I’m aware of. I searched on IndieBound and it led to stores up in Austin (which means driving out my gas AND paying more for the books). So I get the money factor as impetus for using Amazon for book buying. Like I said, I don’t usually buy books through them; I’ve been reading through the books I already have on my shelf (gifts from other people) and free epubs from Project Gutenburg (on my Nook, also a gift), since I don’t have the disposable income for new books. But when I need some filters for my vaccuum cleaner, or a very specific electronics cable, I check Amazon to see if it’s available 1) cheaper than elsewhere AND 2) eligible for Free Shipping. Because none of the stores near me stock these items.

    But I do get it, why it’s a dick move to stand there in a physical store and do the price comparison on your smartphone. (I don’t have one of those either) But, you know, Amazon isn’t the first to do this kind of thing.

    Best Buy launched their app a while back:

    And Lowes has always guaranteed the lowest price, and will go 10% lower than their competitors to keep your business, and will simply do the price comparison on *their* computers for you:

    Walmart also will match the price of competitors:

    I don’t think it’s any different than what Amazon does, and it’s not a new practice (sorry to any Amazon workers who thought it was an original idea). Hell, I remember working at a store called Ames, back in the early 90s, that would honor prices advertised by other stores for the same products. Way before there was an

  82. I’ve learned that in the Chicago area, Games Plus in Mt. Prospect, which is the gaming equivalent of the sort of book store that we have been discussing, does offer mail order.

  83. Lunamoth: But, you know, Amazon isn’t the first to do this kind of thing.

    Except all your other examples: Best Buy, Lowes, Walmart, Ames, they all have brick and mortar stores.

    Imagine a store that sells stereo equipment but has no experts on staff to answer questions. Now imagine if that store came out with some kind of program that encouraged and monetarily rewarded people to go to a competing store, ask the audio experts there a bunch of questions, then come back and buy at the other store.

    Like, a 5$ off coupon at Amazon-Audio, but you only get it if you ask an audio expert at a non-amazon store some questions and use them to figure out what stereo to buy.

  84. Because then the remaining giant is a de facto monopoly. Amazon is powerfully close to that right now. So far they have been inclined to be laissez faire regarding what is sold on their site, but that could change at any time. I really don’t want to be dependent on the goodwill and tolerance of one giant retailer to tell me what is available for purchase. What a dull world that would be.

    Indie bookstores, at least the best of them, work damn hard at the basics of customer service and knowing their market because they have to.

    I think this actually gets to the same point. Basically, I find the value of any individual small boutique, whether it be a bookstore, clothing store or a gift shop, to be the taste of the owner of said store. I go to certain stores because I know when I go there that I will probably find something unique that I like that I would have never found on my own in the wide world of the Internet. How books and other media are different from clothing or gifts is that they are intellectually stimulating and present specific points of view about the world. They guide our national and in many cases, international conversations and dialogue. (Some people can argue clothes do too, but most people don’t see them that way.) As such, if one company has a monopoly over all books, they essentially have control over what information and viewpoints we see, and as a result, our collective dialogue. Even if they don’t outright ban any books, they certainly choose to emphasize some books and media over others on their website and advertising. Now, if this was merely a manner of taste, that would be unfortunate. But as Amazon and so many corporate retailers like it are driven by profits, it makes it much more likely that the conversation they guide will be oriented to making them more profits. In contrast, having many independent booksellers creates a multiplicity of selections of books and voices available for consumption.

  85. This sounds like the “Broken Window Fallacy”. If your window is broken and you hire a glazier (locally of course) to fix it, you’ve “saved” his job. What would you have done with the money if you didn’t spend it fixing the window? What would you have done with the extra money you spent at a local business and who would have benefited from doing that?

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