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.


  1. It would be a pity for the bookstore to go out of business because the owner is unwilling to look for a way to thrive in the new environment. Good business practice is to look for ways to make things work and feed the bottom line rather than go on a personal crusade. I have stores I won’t shop at because I don’t like their business practices, but that is clearly my personal issue. For business I look at the opportunity not the moral ground – high or otherwise.

  2. Think for a moment about what being an author will be like if the largest online bookstore and the world’s largest seller of ebooks is successful at “setting [itself] up to be the world’s biggest publisher.” The fool in this tale isn’t this bookstore owner. Win or lose, he at least understands what is happening. The fool is this mystery author for thinking he can come out ahead in such a scenario. As Lord Acton put it in 1887, “”Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

  3. The fact is that the power of the web will allow anyone to publish, so being the “world’s largest publisher” isn’t the be-all and end-all it might seem. As for the bookseller, I’ve said for years that bookstores could have leveraged their storefronts and web access into a new type of bookstore, that would promote books at the store, have customers buy through the store’s portal, and the store would get a cut of the sale (or a modest fee on top of the sale). Alas, no bookstore had the foresight (or desire) to set up such a system, and now all of them are suffering. But they can’t blame Amazon for all of their problems; they didn’t want to evolve with the business, and now the business is evolving beyond them.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.