Last week one of the book world’s outrages was Amazon going after independent stores by offering $5 off an order for using their price check app on a mobile phone inside an independent store. No, it’s not a very nice thing. Authors and book bloggers are almost universally pissed. But you know who isn’t pissed? Amazon customers, who are growing in number every day. Amazon offers a lot features, unprecedented selection, and best in business pricing. It’s pretty hard to compete with that.
Most of the responses to this promotion strike me as pretty unproductive. It’s not that they are wrong, it’s that the retorts aren’t going to get people back to shopping at their local brick and mortar independent book store. So, if your response is one of the following, then you ought to be ready for your business to close up shop unless you get to cracking on something better.
Amazon isn’t a good corporate citizen. This response comes courtesy of the American Bookseller’s Association. You know what? I don’t think Amazon cares what their competitors think of them. It’s not going to stop Amazon, and it’s not going to improve your profitability.
People who do this are assholes. This response comes from The Stranger’s Paul Constant. Hmm, calling potential customers assholes is sure going to endear them to you, and get them to shop at your store. People want a good deal, and they aren’t assholes for looking for it. Better answer is to offer a better deal.
Which brings me to my next answer: Local bookstores provide so many benefits! My friend Marie had this quote on Twitter:
what amazon can't provide: a place to sit for a tired mom to put down her baby & flip through some books— Marie (@bostonbibliophl) December 14, 2011
Yep. There sure are some things that Amazon can’t, won’t or doesn’t provide that brick and mortar stores could. These benefits aren’t swaying people for whatever reason. Harping on the benefits that have been there for ages isn’t going to change minds. Perhaps it’s that so many stores don’t actually provide these benefits or they don’t do so well with their attempts. Perhaps it’s because the benefits that Amazon offers outweigh the other ones. I don’t know. The numbers don’t lie. If bookstores keep doing exactly what they’ve been doing, they are going to disappear.
Related to that last response, Tom Perrota is quoted by Richard Russo as noting
People have to understand that their short-term decision to save a couple bucks undermines their long-term interest in their community and vital, real-life literary culture. That may be very true (I do actually take some exception to it, but that’s another post), but your local bookstores are going to need to do a hella better job at selling that, cause the message ain’t reaching customers. If they are telling this to their existing customers, they are preaching to the rapidly dwindling choir.
The last response I’m going to highlight today also comes from Richard Russo in that article:
if the wind shifts, Amazon’s ham-fisted strategy has the potential to morph into a genuine Occupy Amazon movement. In other words, they are just alienating everyone so if we wait them out, things will turn our way. Do I really need to explain the head in the sand approach won’t work?
If independent booksellers want to survive, they need to change how they do business. Local author Nicola Griffith proposed embracing the
showroom model of a bookstores. Other answers might be catering to collectors and sticking to a niche market. Or really embracing a performance aspect of literary life. I certainly don’t know. But for sure none of the current mess of responses, which are all talk, and talking to the wind at that, are going to stem the tide. As things currently stand, Amazon is going to win and win big. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’ll be a very different thing.