About a week ago, JB Dickey, proprietor of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, posted on his blog about an email exchange he’d had with an author being published with Amazon’s new mystery-publishing imprint, Thomas & Mercer, who wanted to come in and do a signing. Dickey declined, explaining that he did not want to support Amazon, “the enemy of independent bookshops,” in any way.
Although the author replied explaining that Amazon’s signings were promoting independent bookshops, getting more people to show up at them and shop there, Dickey explained that he had both moral and practical objections to helping to support a company with Amazon’s history of shady practices and censorship.
Even if I were to consider it, I haven’t heard enough about their policies: what is the discount structure? are returns allowed and in what time frame? are they selling the same book at a discount that I can’t/won’t match or are they selling the books at the same price as I would?
I heard about this via self-publishing writer Jeff Kirvin’s blog. Kirvin thinks that Dickey is going to drive himself out of business in his refusal to work with the company that is “setting [itself] up to be the world’s biggest publisher.” He writes:
He’s a sole proprietor, so at least he’ll only take himself and any employees dumb enough to stick around with him when he falls. But he’s refusing to carry the biggest publisher of the 20-teens, because they’re “the enemy.”
He suggests that bookshops in the know will shift their business model, setting themselves up as “community-oriented service businesses, focusing on discovery and recommendation.” But has anyone figured out yet exactly how a bookstore can make a living that way? (Actually, as I rediscovered while doing some back-trawling in TeleRead, I reported in May that J.A. Konrath had some ideas on that score. It remains to be seen how workable they would be in practice, however.)
People like Dickey are between a rock and a hard place. There’s no way that they can hope to match the discounts Amazon offers on new books, and Amazon’s much-larger selection of used books (many as cheap as one penny plus shipping!) is a long tail that no print bookshop can hope to match. Many of them are already folding—a friend of mine who lives in Kansas City tells me that there are no more second-hand bookstores at all in the entire metro area.
It may not make any difference in the end whether indie bookshops decide to work with Amazon or not. Their ship is already leaking, and the only choice they have is whether to go down fighting.