For many booksellers, tomorrow’s discounts of up to $15 for using Amazon’s price check app is the last straw. Although the app does not apply to books, it does affect bookstore sidelines like toys, music, and DVDs, and it adds to a perception that bricks-and-mortar bookstores grossly overcharge.
The app also comes on top of data that customers regularly scan books with their smart phones and then order discounted copies directly from Amazon, or even use the bookstore’s free Wi-Fi to download Kindle e-books to their devices. The latter caused Diesel Bookstore, which has stores in Oakland, Malibu, and Brentwood, to produce free Occupy Amazon buttons and coasters that picture Amazon founder Jeff Bezos wearing devil horns.
Yesterday’s open letter to Bezos from American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher was a bit more tempered. “We’re not shocked, just disappointed,” he wrote. “Despite your company’s recent pledge to be a better corporate citizen and to obey the law and collect sales tax, you created a price-check app that allows shoppers to browse Main Street stores that do collect sales tax, scan a product, ask for expertise, and walk out empty-handed in order to buy on Amazon. We suppose we should be flattered that an online sales behemoth needs a Main Street retail showroom. Forgive us if we’re not.”
Other retailers were downright angry. On New England Cable News, David Didriksen, president of Willow Books & Cafe in Acton, Mass., and a member of the board of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, called it “another in a long series of predatory practices by Amazon. You would think that a company of that size would be willing to just live and let live for small retailers who can’t possibly affect them. But, no, they want it all.”
Bookworks in Albuquerque, N.M., is fighting back with a sale to encourage people to show there are alternatives to the Amazon offer. On December 10, customers will receive 15% off their purchases of everything except event tickets, event books, and gift certificates. "We can't compete with Amazon on price, and we are not even trying, says owner Wyatt Wegryzn. "We understand though why shopping on Amazon is so tempting for people, especially in this tough economy. So we want to say 'thanks' to our customers for shopping with us."
How the price app will affect holiday sales for independents just two weeks before Christmas is anyone’s guess. As for his relationship with his colleagues on Main Street, Bezos has never been known for being interested in winning friends.