Saturday, December 10, 2011

BOYCOTTING AMAZON - What's the Point?

Right at the height of holiday shopping, independent store owners (mostly indie bookstore owners) have launched or jumped on the bandwagon of a boycott TODAY to get people to NOT shop at Amazon.

We're sitting here wondering what is the point of it, and what real effects will it have on the online retail corporate giganticus, AMAZON? Let's try analyzing this from a logical standpoint with some given knowledge or experience-based facts...



Supposedly Amazon doesn't charge sales tax to its customers. HOWEVER, from personal experience, both as a buying customer and a business that drop-ships through Amazon distribution services, we can wholeheartedly say that WE ARE CHARGED SALES TAX BY AMAZON. Is the question really that Amazon is collecting the tax and then not ponying it up to the appropriate states? Maybe. Don't know. Here's a link for you to read more about it at Huffington Post if you wish. CLICK HERE.

2. WHY ARE INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES JUMPING ON THE BOYCOTT AMAZON BANDWAGON? Independent bookstore owners are having a hard time staying in business, just like chain bookstores Barnes and Noble and the now defunct Borders/WaldenBooks. They see Amazon as the great online retail giant threat to their existence. Amazon gives discounts on popular titles bookstore owners can't afford to offer. Amazon gives free shipping on eligible items - buy $25 worth and get shipping free. Bookstore owners have to charge enough to cover the shipping they pay to get books to their store for resale. Amazon is seen as a destroyer of customer loyalty and decimator of the locally owned store system. For the independent bookstore owner, it is not so much about charging sales tax as it is about preserving a way of commerce - local and face-to-face.

3. WHAT DOES A BOYCOTT MEAN FOR AMAZON? Amazon takes heat from the government, big publishers, and other entities with real clout and the money to back it up. Are the movers and shakers within Amazon going to be trembling in their boots when a cluster of indie bookstore owners goes on a ONE-DAY campaign to decrease their sales? We think not. Why?

If you look at Amazon's business plan, you will see why. Yes, they employ cutthroat tactics to gain more customers. They offer free shipping on eligible purchases - which, by the way, includes all the titles we sell through Amazon. If you buy $25 worth of eligible stuff, you get free shipping. You can download free ebooks from them FOR FREE - no strings and no fees attached. Are they gaining a lot of customers with these tactics? Yeah. Are they making money at it? Who knows? We don't have access to their books, but yeah, they gotta be making money, or pretty quick they would quit what they are doing.

So ... is a one-day boycott sponsored by a small group of indie bookstore owners going to bother them in any real way? We think not.

What does the online proliferation of this boycott actually mean for Amazon? FREE ADVERTISING. Yep, even if it is negative, it is still free advertising, because Amazon's name is being shotgunned all over the internet WITH the added bonus of telling potential customers exactly how they can save money buying books and other stuff through Amazon.

Is this a good thing for the sponsors of the boycott? Um ... don't think so.

Is this a good thing for Amazon? DUH!

Maybe Amazon started the whole thing. Think about it.


First, for most indie authors and small publishers (like us), Amazon is one of only a few online outlets where we can sell our books without paying huge upfront fees just for the privilege of publishing.

No chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble will carry print indie titles or small-publisher titles (our titles). However, we usually can get listed online if these retail corporations have an online presence.

Most indie bookstores don't carry print titles of unknown indie authors or even small publishers (like us). To get one of our titles shelved in an indie bookstore, we'd have to contact each indie bookstore individually and negotiate sales terms and then get the books to each of those stores individually. However, through Amazon we have the ability to offer the books at wholesale prices to these stores and get them shipped there at reasonable rates. We pay sales tax to Amazon to do this if we make wholesale distribution deals with indie bookstores through our web site. If indie bookstores want to order our books, they can do so directly at the same prices and (probably) not pay sales tax. The sad fact is, WE haven't received any orders or inquiries personally from indie bookstores for our titles. However, we do have wholesale distribution sales through Amazon to resellers like indie bookstores. So we do know this system through Amazon works.

Does it make sense for us to research the contact information for all known indie bookstores and contact each of them individually to sell our books wholesale to them so they can resell them at a profit when we are LITERALLY making less than fifty cents per unit through wholesale distribution? Realistically speaking, NO. It would be a total waste of time and effort for us to do that, when we have so much other stuff to do, and so little time and so few people to do it all. Maybe if we were just one author with a couple titles, we'd have the time and energy to do it. But not when we are handling over fifty titles from fifteen authors, with more being added all the time.

So, back to the boycott of Amazon issue...

Suppose there were some people who were, by some stroke of insane luck, planning on buying a book or two by an indie author or from an indie publisher (like us). And let's say those potential customers decided NOT to buy our books on December 10th in honor of the boycott. NO SALE for you! Boohoo. But how about tomorrow or the next day, when the boycott's over? Is it OK to buy from Amazon then? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on the individual person and what each thinks about Amazon as a company. If the big bad corporation is truly evil, then maybe they'll decide NOT to patronize these indie authors and publishers because they are selling their stuff on Amazon.

But what about all the other big publishers and best-selling authors whose books are also on Amazon? Will they ignore them too and go to their local INDIE bookstore to buy those titles? Who knows? Maybe a few loyalists will do just that, and deliberately pass up whatever savings they might have garnered by buying from Amazon. But they'll also NOT be buying any of those indie titles that are NOT available on the shelves at chain and independent bookstores.

So, really, who is this boycott going to hurt - if anyone? It sure isn't going to put much of a dent in Amazon's profits. Maybe a few customers will end up paying more than they could have if they'd bought from Amazon instead of a local store. And maybe they will feel like that is a fair tradeoff to keep that local store in business a little longer.

But the real loser in the boycott game will be the indie or small-publisher author whose books won't be shelved in local bookstores. They are the only ones that will be affected by the misplaced anger of the independent business owner.


First of all, it is better to promote your own business positively than to attack your competitors with negative rhetoric. Why? Because the negative rhetoric is coming from YOU and has a good chance of making YOU LOOK BAD. Do you really want that kind of reputation - as a whiner - because you didn't think of the Amazon business model first, and now it is too darn late for you to play catch-up?

Instead, why don't all you independent store owners do what you can do best - what Amazon CAN'T do. Talk to your customers. Get to know them personally. Sure, Amazon has some program analytics to guess what similar books their customer might like, based on what they bought before. But you, dear store owner, can actually TALK to your customers to find out what they are looking for. You can provide a pleasant and uniquely comfortable atmosphere for your customers to enjoy while they are shopping. So what if they can't sit at home in their jammies and not have to drive to your store? Make getting cleaned up and going to your store a treat, a real pleasure they enjoy more than slouching at home with their computer.

You have the unique opportunity to showcase unusual and little-known books that you have personally read and would recommend wholeheartedly, instead of pushing just the bestsellers, because you figure they'll have a better chance of garnering you a sale than that unknown author you enjoyed reading. Look at your store displays. What books are you actively promoting? If it's just bestsellers, add a few unknown authors' titles too - titles that you've read and could truly recommend.

You can put your money where your mouth is and research and support INDEPENDENT authors who deserve recognition either by their writing skill or story vision. You can do your business homework by READING unusual or little-known titles that appeal to you and would therefore probably appeal to your customers.

Instead of complaining that Amazon is stealing all your customers and putting you out of business, fight back by offering your own online presence and building your reading recommendations with a blog that customers - who've never visited your physical store and never will because they live a thousand miles away - can actually visit to get a feel for you and your store and what you have to offer them. Even if you don't make a sale in your bookstore, find a way to make a sale online too. WORK WITH INDEPENDENT AUTHORS willing to cut you a break on the pricing of their books just to get them in your store. JOIN WITH OTHER INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE OWNERS and create a real online presence that matters to customers who don't know you but would benefit from making a connection, even if it is not in person. PUT YOUR PERSONALITY AND YOUR FACE OUT THERE like independent authors are having to do in order to find new customers. You might find that you really can broaden your horizons and meet new people that way.

Amazon is a machine that pretends to be a store. You are a person running your store. Offer your personable touch in a way that Amazon won't ever be able to. Think of a clever and effective way to do THAT, and you'll become something Amazon never will ... a real person doing business with real customers that you really know, even if you never meet them face-to-face.

Oh, and don't forget to start checking out titles of indie books to stock your shelves. LOOK HERE.  Let us know you're out there, and we'll help let other people know you're out there! CONTACT US HERE. And thanks for your support! We look forward to working with you.


  1. Now is a Golden Age for books and reading because Amazon is taking its business model to the world. Like satellite TV and the internet, books are going to be available to everyone through Kindle and other eReaders, and it's a good thing.

    As with all change, some business cannot, or will not, adapt and grow. Too bad, so sad. The big East Publishers and their bookstore distributors outlets are being pressed by Amazon, but it's a steam roller they can not stop.

    A boycott is silly, like a mouse giving the one-fingered salute to the owl just before being scooped up and eaten.

  2. That's one way to look at it Walt, but I like to think there's enough business for everyone to enjoy reading books in paperback and ebook.

    There are still book lovers who enjoy the feel and sensation of having a real book in hand. Hopefully print books will not completely disappear for a long time. But as the business model changes, maybe it will make more sense to move toward a print on demand model instead of a mass print model - and save a few trees along the way.

    There is something to be said for being able to go into a real bookstore and sit down to enjoy the ambience of the books and the shelves filled with those books, and the joy of discovering a new author from a chance pick off the shelf. It would be even better if bookstores out there realized that books should have a longer shelf life than a month, and shelves should be filled with a larger variety of books by different authors, instead of just the handful of bestselling authors people have already heard of.

    Yes it is hard to sift the wheat from the chaff, but readers are savvy at finding what they want to read. Now it is the bookstore owner's turn to figure that out. The whole system - publishers as gatekeepers, critical and respected reviewers, and bookstores as exclusive reading outlets - has gone up in flames. Amazon was instrumental in the demise of that system, but perhaps it was really time for a change. A whole lot of great authors who couldn't beg, borrow, or steal the time of day from NYC publishers sure think so. And we agree.

    It is an exciting and scary and puzzling time to be in the book industry. We're just glad to be a tiny part of it.


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