It’s not even Amazon vs. the independent bookstores anymore; now it’s Amazon against any physical bricks-and-mortar bookstore that offers browsability, serendipity, and (hopefully) knowledgeable, informed, helpful staff who can make personalized suggestions tailored to your needs, likes, and dislikes.
Author Richard Russo wrote an op-ed in The New York Times on December 11 about Amazon’s competitive strategy of encouraging buyers to use its price check app in stores by offering credits to consumers, who then buy from Amazon instead of from stores. (It should be noted that while book prices can be checked with the app, they do not qualify for the promotion.)
Russo sent this news on to a number of other authors, including Scott Turow (president of the Authors Guild), Stephen King, and Ann Patchett. King called the strategy “invasive and unfair”; Turow suggested that it might not be “lawful” for Amazon to encourage consumers to go to a store solely to obtain pricing information without any intention of buying; and Patchett said, “I do think it’s worthwhile explaining to customers that the lowest price point does not always represent the best deal. If you like going to a bookstore then it’s up to you to support it. If you like seeing the people in your community employed, if you think your city needs a tax base, if you want to buy books from a person who reads, don’t use Amazon.”
Authors and bookstore owners and employees aren’t the only ones who object to Amazon’s price check promotion; Maine Senator Olympia Snowe said, “Amazon’s promotion – paying consumers to visit small businesses and leave empty-handed – is an attack on Main Street businesses that employ workers in our communities.”
Fortunately, it is not all bad news for bookstores. An “unusually vibrant selection” of books this season seems to have helped bookstore foot traffic and sales, which are up from this time last year. Former Borders customers are finding other bookstores, too. One bookstore owner in Seattle said, “What’s extraordinary about the books that are out there is that they’ve been so well written and such a pleasure to read. Maybe people have an appetite for nonfiction right now, just for some sort of grounding in reality.”
The book business is, as much as book lovers would like to deny it, a business, but Amazon’s price check app and promotion are “bare-knuckles” enough to leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. Before doing ordering all your holiday presents on Amazon, consider what you get for a few extra dollars at the bookstore: personal recommendations from people who read. Of course, the level of service stores offer varies, but if you’re in the Cambridge/Somerville area, I can recommend the excellent Porter Square Books in good faith.
And if you aren’t looking to buy, just looking to read, another great place to get a recommendation is your local library. :-)