Just moments after Amazon announced late yesterday afternoon that it is buying Marshall Cavendish's U.S. book titles, Twitter and Facebook were buzzing not just with the news, but with reactions from booksellers like Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck and Millerton, N.Y., who tweeted that she was “excited” to be returning her Marshall Cavendish stock in the morning. Todd Dickinson, co-owner of Aaron's Books in Lititz, Pa. commented: “We’ll treat them the same as self-published authors that use Amazon, only on consignment if they are local and link to our store.”
But booksellers had even more to worry about because yesterday Amazon also announced a promotion slated for December 10, during the heart of the holiday selling season, that encourages shoppers to use its price check app. By simply checking a price while in a bricks-and-mortar store, Amazon customers get an additional 5% discount (up to $5) off Amazon's price for a total of three items (or $15) in qualifying categories, which include toys, music, DVDs, electronics and sporting goods. While books aren't specifically included, a number of sidelines typically found in bookstores are.
Speaking to the Cavendish purchase, Cynthia Compton, owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Indianapolis, told PW. “I will miss them. While I wish the best for our friends at Marshall Cavendish, and I know how difficult the publishing market has become, it makes me sad that this sale to Amazon seemed to be their best business option going forward.” She is also concerned about the reps who sold their line, especially in the Midwest, where rep groups also lost Borders.
Some booksellers have become resigned that Amazon wants them gone. “Nothing really surprises us much anymore,” says Leslie Reiner, co-owner of Inkwood Books in Tampa, Fla. “A few wonderful California booksellers, Green Apple with their videos and Diesel with the Occupy Amazon buttons, manage to amuse and educate simultaneously. We try to follow that example.” Others are less worried about customer loyalty. “I really don’t think my customers are paying so much attention to all the [Amazon] hype. They are still coming in and seeking human advice and a friendly conversation. So far, Amazon has not been able to do this,” says Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.
Still others like Kenny Brechner of Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Me., are angry. He calls Amazon’s new price check app “the virtual equivalent of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil gas station strategy” and regards its acquisition of Marshall Cavendish as “a naked move toward vertical monopoly.” For Christine Onorati, owner of WORD Books in Brooklyn, “It’s very hard not to constantly rail against Amazon as the enemy. I believe they are killing small business by undercutting everyone and constantly drilling home the point that price is all that matters. I have never ordered much from Marshall Cavendish in the past, but I will definitely not order anything from them in the future. We have to take a stand however we can. I will also not order any books published by Amazon right now.”
Chris Morrow, general manager of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., takes a broader view of the issues regarding Amazon’s latest moves. “We are moving into an era of exclusivity, where customers can only find certain titles at certain stores. I don’t care about Marshall Cavendish Books. I want a more fundamental re-examination of the industry dynamics by publishers before we’ve reached a tipping point of power and control being ceded to Amazon.”
As for the mobile phone app and the $5 off that Amazon customers can get who use it on Saturday, Morrow adds, “This only highlights why we need some version of minimal retail pricing. Why should a customer be in my store and compare Playmobil to Amazon and see the same price, but see that the Steve Jobs book is half price? The book has been substantially devalued in the last decade.”