Getting Kindles into Indie Bookstores Isn’t Going to Be Easy

In News by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams

Kindle PaperwhiteYou’ve probably heard by now that Amazon has made what Time magazine calls an “intriguing pitch” to independent bookstores: add Kindles to your shelves and “receive a 10% cut of the price of each digital book sale for two years from the date each device is sold.”

As Amazon told bookstore owners, “Now your customers don’t have to choose between e-books and their favorite bookstore.”

Here’s more of what Amazon had to say:

“We created Amazon Source to empower independent bookstores and other small retailers to sell Kindle e-readers and tablets in their stores. We crafted two unique programs with two different kinds of stores in mind, but retailers in select states can choose whichever program they prefer. Through the Amazon Source portal you can order inventory at wholesale prices, communicate with our account management team and download professional-designed marketing and merchandising assets to help drive your sales.”

As Amazons VP of Amazon Kindle Russ Grandinetti told USA Today, “If you run a bookseller, or any retail store today, many people walking through doors are interested in buying print books and digital versions. This makes stores more relevant to customers.”

Perhaps. But over at Wired.com, Marcus Wohlsen quoted several booksellers who were not exactly enthused over Amazon’s idea.

Jeremy Ellis, manager at Houston’s Brazos Bookstore told him that while he can see “how a store that feels a need to be in the ebook market could see a Kindle in their store as a benefit,” ultimately, he thought, the notion is “a lie.”

By doing that, he said, “you are putting your competition inside your store and selling their books for them. That ultimately will not lead to a successful business model.”

Michael Tucker, president and CEO of Books Inc., an independent 12-store chain based in San Francisco added, “In the long term, for anyone who gets into it, they would be losing their customers for what would end up a very small return.”

And Becky Anderson, owner of Anderson’s Bookshop outside Chicago and past president of the American Booksellers Association, who argues that Amazon in fact owes indies for what she describes as it’s “free-riding” on the “marketing and community engagement provided by small brick-and-mortar shops,” told Wired, “I could not imagine partnering with them on anything. They try to undercut everything we do. To me, this is insulting.”

Of course, Amazon did include testimonials in its press release from stores that plan to take advantage of Amazon’s offer. “Teaming up with Amazon to bridge the move to electronic books will help us find a means of long-term viability for our independent bookstore,” said Jason Bailey’s co-owner of Bothell, Washington’s JJ Books, who was also quoted in The New York Times. “I have people coming in with their e-book readers to look at my books and then buy them online. I may have helped sell the book, but I generated income for someone else. Now I have a chip in the game.”

But as Marcus Wohlsen wrote, “it’s hard to imagine that the long-term viability of independent bookstores is the first thing on Amazon’s mind.”

“More likely,” he writes, “Amazon is thinking about Apple and Android. Because Amazon competes not just with bookstores but just about every other brick-and-mortar retailer, many physical stores won’t stock the Kindle at all. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, conspicuously dropped the Kindle last year, as did Target. Both chains, meanwhile, are happy to sell iPads and Galaxy Tabs.”

“Trying to overcome that brick-and-mortar deficit by getting its tablets into indie bookshops doesn’t seem like much of a winning strategy. But as with its in-store delivery lockers, which themselves have had a rocky reception, Amazon seems willing to experiment in all kinds of ways to overcome its most serious retail weakness: its lack of presence in the non-digital world, which is where people still do the vast majority of their shopping.”

But Wohlsen remains skeptical of Amazon’s chances of success with their strategic reach to indies. “They’re attempting to acquire independent bookstores’ customers for two years of commission,” says Steve Bercu, co-owner of BookPeople in Austin, Texas, and current president of the ABA. “This is simply in general not aligned with the interests of most independents.”

And as you might expect, the ABA has rejected the idea outright.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.