President Obama is traveling the country over the next several weeks on a tour called “A Better Bargain for the Middle Class," during which he will make a series of speeches outlining his vision for the economy and the creation of new jobs. One stop on the tour, at Amazon's Chattanooga, Tenn., fulfillment warehouse, is causing an uproar among independent booksellers who say the stop proves that the current administration is pro-big corporations, and anti-small business.
Obama is scheduled to speak about boosting U.S. manufacturing and high-wage jobs at the Amazon plant, which employs roughly 1,700 workers, but indies feel the visit is a slap in the face to an industry still reeling from a federal court’s ruling less than three weeks ago on e-book pricing. That Obama's Amazon warehouse visit dovetails with news of the discount war between Overstock and Amazon, is not helping the administration's image with the independent bookselling community.
"The Amazon facility in Chattanooga is a perfect example of the company that is investing in American workers and creating good, high-wage jobs," Amy Brundage, deputy press secretary at the White House told Tenn. media outlets on Friday. "What the president wants to do is to highlight Amazon and the Chattanooga facility as an example of a company that is spurring job growth and keeping our country competitive."
Andrea Vuleta, the executive director of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, tweeted from her account: “Pretty sure that Amazon warehouse appearance confirms why Justice went after publishers. Also not supportive of SBA.” Author Garth Stein tweeted: “When Obama's favorite indie on the Vineyard goes under, where will they get the First Family's summer books? An Amazon locker at 7-Eleven?”
"The president speaking at the Amazon warehouse is a perfect companion to the Justice Department's lawsuit. This administration's behavior, coupled with the Justice Department suit would suggest that this is a presidency very much in favor of supporting the growth of monopoly," Roxanne Coady, owner, RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn. told PW, "As a bookseller it's annoying to be in an industry where I'm a pawn in someone's multibillion dollar campaign. We're just collateral damage to Amazon's big gain."
And David Didriksen, president of Willow Books & Cafe in Acton, Mass. said, "Him going there amounts to be an endorsement, whether he means to or not. It's reminiscent of the christening scene in The Godfather. For him to give his blessing to Jeff Bezos when Overstock and Amazon are trying to drive everyone out of the business, is ironic at best."
In an open letter emailed Sunday to the American Booksellers Association and to the executive directors of the regional booksellers associations, Bruce Joshua Miller, a commission sales rep in Chicago who was PW’s 2013 sales rep of the year, urged the ABA and the regionals to “speak out against Amazon's business practices, and the President's likely endorsement of them, whether this endorsement is tacit or explicit.” He also sent an email to dozens of independent booksellers, urging them to contact the White House and demand that the president not speak about “middle-class jobs” at Amazon.
Miller, who was instrumental last year in forcing the University of Missouri leaders to reverse their decision to close the university’s press, told PW he was “shocked that our president, an accomplished writer and fan of independent bookstores, would pick an Amazon warehouse as a place to speak about the need to create jobs.”
“I believe the ABA has failed to take on Amazon in an effective manner,” he added in an email to PW. “The ABA, over the last 10 to 15 years, ought to have approached Amazon as if they were environmental activists fighting a clear threat to our air or water. I am hoping the letter leads to more discussion and stronger action against the monopsony we call Amazon.com.”
In preparation for Obama’s visit to its Tenn. warehouse, Amazon.com announced this morning that they are creating 5,000 new full-time jobs with benefits in 17 warehouses in 11 states in its U.S. fulfillment network and 2,000 full-time, part-time, and seasonal jobs in its customer service network in four different locations. In a prepared statement posted on Amazon.com’s website, the company claims that “median pay inside Amazon fulfillment centers is 30 percent higher than that of people who work in traditional retail stores—and that doesn't even include the stock grants that full-time employees receive, which over the past five years have added an average of 9% to base pay annually.” While Amazon.com representatives did not respond to PW’s request for confirmation of salaries for the company’s warehouse workers, Glassdoor.com reports that Amazon.com warehouse employees make an average of $11.69/hour or $23, 852/year. Amazon.com reported last week that its sales are up 22%, to $15.70 billion.
ABA CEO Oren Teicher was unavailable for comment by press time.