Last time it was with Macmillan, now Amazon has targeted French-owned Hachette in their latest tantrum to show who holds the power in the book industry these days. It takes a hearty publisher to stand up to bullying and in defense of Hachette, indie booksellers across the country are spotlighting their books in respect for their long history of discovering authors and publishing great books.

American business has seen this before … powerful business holds vendor hostage when the vendor challenges demands. Big business knows its strength and when having captured a sizable chunk of market share, starts using its leverage in more and more aggressive ways.

This first hold-off was Macmillan, the first publisher to stand up against Amazon. The issue was pricing of e-books. When Macmillan refused to accept Amazon’s terms, the online retailer denied customers access to Macmillan titles. Imagine if you were the author with a brand new book that week … or a customer who was searching for a book they had just read about, but couldn’t find on the site. Now, several Hachette titles are noted as “unavailable for up to three weeks” when the books are already selling in indie bookstores.

Those of us in the book business were shocked at this behavior. Never before in our industry had a retailer placed demands without room for negotiation and consideration for authors and publishers. Similar to the vendor strategies used by Wal-mart that have been widely exposed in the press, Amazon is flexing its muscle too. When their goal is to attract shoppers with above-average income, they’ve targeted the book industry. They’ll price books below their cost (legal in the U.S., but damaging to small business), squeeze publishers, and go to great lengths to get their way and dominate so they can gain even more power.

In independent bookselling, there’s a respect for the whole line of people involved in turning an idea into a book (print or electronic). For years, the industry has worked well with the win/win model. While there were bumps in the road at times, this dynamic with Amazon takes power to a whole new level. For another American corporation to operate on this level is embarrassing … and disgusting.

In Amazon’s own back yard, they worked to get the book fair business with the local school system. Yet locals asked, “what about Island Books, the indie bookseller who has supported our schools for decades?” The people voted to stay with Island Books and owners Roger and Nancy Page who have donated thousands of dollars over the years. Yay for the little guy!

Where we shop does make a difference. Let’s keep encouraging this mindfulness and giving people reasons to shop with locally owned businesses who are not on a level playing field, but persist in honest, fair work.


Occupy movement gains momentum

When I blasted my friends and neighbors about’s recent promotion, I quickly got responses like “disgusting” and “who would want to support that kind of bad corporate behavior”. One honest response was “I will never buy anything from again.” What’s the fuss? The offer encouraged customers to use the company’s smartphone price check app — essentially, go shop in a store, scan the item you want, and buy from us and you’ll receive a discount of up to $5. Customers are allowed to do this up to three times on Saturday, December 10.

Josie Leavitt, co-owner of The Flying Pig Children’s Bookstore, blogged “Honestly, I’m sick of Amazon. I’m tired of people saying, ‘But it’s so much cheaper than what you can offer.’ Yes, it’s true, the new Steve Jobs book is 49% off at Amazon, and that’s 3 to 6% more than I can buy the book for from the publisher or a wholesaler. So, yes, I’m sick of Amazon acting as its own retail distribution center and getting a far better discount than I can. I’m tired of faithfully paying sales tax and having customers tell me how much they like saving money with Amazon.”

In a letter to Jeff Bezos, Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association, stated, “We could call your $5 bounty to app-users a cheesy marketing move and leave it at that. In fact, it is the latest in a series of steps to expand your market at the expense of cities and towns nationwide, stripping them of their unique character and the financial wherewithal to pay for essential needs like schools, fire and police departments, and libraries.”

Is it legal? Absolutely. Is it ethical? Hardly.

In the United States, you can sell below your own cost. You can sell below cost on so many items as long as your stockholders are willing to wait for you to kill off your competition and then hike prices to regain your original profit margins — when you are king of the marketplace. poured millions of dollars fighting states’ efforts to get them to collect sales tax. Main Street shop keepers have never questioned the value of collecting sales tax for the greater good of their communities.

We write and share this not to make anyone feel guilty for owning a Kindle. We simply think it is important for all of us to be aware of what’s happening to make informed choices based on values.

In the book business, we’ve seen relentless pursuit by to own the entire publishing and bookstore business — from printed books to ebooks, publishing to retail. There’s tremendous danger in having one company dominate in any industry, but especially when one represents the world of ideas.

Where you choose to shop makes a statement about who you are. We hope you’ll choose to shop local.

That corporate behemoth,, is out with yet another gadget, trying to preserve their market share with a “me too” tablet. Their strategy? Just as they’ve done before, sell it as a loss leader and make money in other ways until they can dominate the market — and then raise prices. In both the short and long-term, there’s a high cost to cheap.

In a society where attention deficit disorder is rapidly becoming the norm, imagine how pop-up ads will contribute to the distractions. To sell below your own cost of materials and overhead, money has to come from somewhere; when you can promise lots of eye-balls, advertisers will be willing to pay. The high cost of cheap is that we sacrifice our quiet reading space.

And imagine the value of data-mining private information about individuals. When a corporation can collect information about what we buy, what we read, how and what we research, and then sells that data to others, our loss of privacy becomes their financial gain. So, the high cost of cheap is giving away intimate details about our lives to people we don’t even know.

From a perspective inside the book industry, we see that the more power holds, the more it will attempt to dictate to publishers everything from price to content of the literature published. The high cost of cheap now extends to one company having a disproportionate amount of power. In other industries, this has resulted in a loss of jobs, choice, and quality.

With companies specializing in technology, more flexibility (not less!) is the goal. When customers are used to being able to navigate and buy freely, there are limitations and inconveniences to exercise that freedom. The high cost of cheap means supporting a corporation that wants to limit navigation for its own advantage.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s hard to believe that after a summer of its fervent opposition to paying state sales taxes (as even the smallest retailers manage to do), this corporate goliath would imagine it to be unscathed. The high cost of cheap is rewarding bad corporate behavior.

Ultimately, our decisions about what we buy and what companies we support is a reflection of our own values — and when, in the long run, cheap becomes too costly.