One Bookseller’s Modest Proposal: Amazon Pay Bookstores an Affiliate Fee

In News by Rachel Aydt

Editorial by Rachel Aydt

Social networking sites exploded last week as Amazon rolled out a new promotion whereby you download a new barcode scanning app from them, walk into a store, scan the book/toy/electronic item that you’re planning on purchasing, and then exit the store, go home and purchase it online through Amazon for a 5% discount of up to $15. Retailers, many of them indie bookstore owners, are seeing red, including Roxanne Coady of, who wrote a widely circulating open letter to Amazon citing “a modest proposal”:

I have a proposition for Amazon.

Whereas a recent survey by Codex reported that 28% of purchases done online result from information gathered at a bricks-and-mortar stores.

Whereas Amazon totally understands that this is occurring and is offering $5 to gather competitive price information while customers are in aforementioned stores.

Whereas bricks and mortar bookstores spend countless hours writing emails and newsletters and giving speeches and appearing on radio and TV promoting books they love and those books are then purchased at Amazon.

Whereas Amazon defacto sells based on our information and staffing.

Therefore, beginning immediately, we suggest that Amazon pay an affiliate fee to such bricks and mortar stores.  The calculation for such fee shall be equal to 33% of the sales from Amazon customers whose zip codes are within a 20-mile radius of aforementioned bricks and mortar store.

Of her open letter, Coady wrote in an email to me, “The Codex survey confirmed to me what has been general knowledge in the industry. Bookstores are still the best source of discovery. In the past, bookstores have discussed that publishers should pay us for being their marketing arm, but seeing the results of the survey made me think maybe we’re really an affiliate of Amazon; they’re the ones getting the retail sale. On second thought, maybe they can both pay us. If indie bookstores go away, is there something lost in how people discover books and broaden their reading? Naturally, I think so, but that will be the great debate.”

Her thoughtful response could be found online bumping into the ether space of more sarcastic takes on the topic. Novelist Garth Stein (@garthstein) had a tweet retweeted over 100 times:  “I like to do the Reverse Amazon: hear about a book, read about it on Amazon, then go buy it at my local bookstore! It’s fun! #ReadLocal.” Other coverage was painfully straight to the point; one Christian Science Monitor piece was titled “Amazon app will pay you $15 to walk out on retailers.”

Obviously, the savings on Amazon are substantial, as is the convenience. When my kid was in diapers, I ordered giant boxes of Pampers to be shipped directly to my apartment in Manhattan. These cost less than Wal-Mart prices, without a torturous Wal-Mart schlep. Tack onto that the scanning bonus, and you’re potentially looking at premium products being delivered at a near 50% savings.

On Thursday, I dropped by Three Lives & Company bookstore in New York City to pick up a couple of gift copies of P.D. James latest mystery Death Comes to Pemberley (I waited for the release of this Austen/ James mashup for months). My purchase came to about $25.95 per copy, before tax, which felt like quite a dent in this freelancer’s wallet right before the holiday. To research this piece, I decided to go onto Amazon and see what they were charging for this newly minted hardback: $15.57. Amazon’s home page also informed me that I still have “6 days left to order for Christmas with FREE Super Saver Shipping.” Here’s my silver lining, though. When the kind bookstore employee asked me if would like it wrapped, I said “Yes, Please.” It came back beautiful in a burgundy paper with a pretty “Three Lives” sticker anchoring a classy sliver of ribbon. It dawned on me that my particular recipient, my mother, would appreciate that part of the gift is that it was purchased in my little indie store. Perhaps there should be an instantly recognizable wrapping paper printed for the holidays that says “Occupy Bookstores!” Or, perhaps Amazon should cede to Coady’s idea and pay bookstores a premium for doing their marketing legwork. Yeah, right– when Amazon freezes over.

About the Author

Rachel Aydt

Rachel Aydt is a full-time writer, editor and researcher in New York City. She worked on the staff at American Heritage Magazine, YM, Cosmopolitan and CosmoGirl. Rachel has also contributed to Time International and Inked magazines. Since 2001, she has taught writing classes at the New School University.