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December 9, 2011 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Amazon has recently declared that tomorrow is Price Check day. If you go into a brick and mortar retail store with Amazon’s new Price Check App on your smart phone, and scan a barcode with the location settings active, and then report back to Amazon on the price of that product, Amazon will deduct $5 from your online purchase of that product. Amazon claims it’s trying to keep prices low for consumers, but others attribute the move to a less innocuous agenda.

While the promotion doesn’t actually cover books, the independent bookseller community has been the most vocal about the promotion with several bookseller blogs suggesting alternatives, and an "Occupy Amazon" facebook event being scheduled to protest Amazon's promotion. Bookstores have begun complaining about being used as mere “showrooms” for books, with the actual purchase of the book occurring online. A recent study seems to indicate that they have a point, finding 24% of people who bought books online saying they had looked at the book in a bookstore first, and 39% of people who bought books from Amazon specifically saying they had looked at the book in brick and mortar bookstore prior to purchase.
posted by Toekneesan (143 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
The complaints of independent booksellers are bizarre. Either they're offering some combination of price and value such that enough consumers will buy from them, and keep them in business, or they aren't.

Instead of complaining about competition, maybe they should get started offering something that Amazon can't.
posted by downing street memo at 6:39 AM on December 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


Also, it is not "less innocuous" to offer a product at a lower price.
posted by downing street memo at 6:39 AM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Eight years ago, the very smart publisher of computer books, Tim O'Reilly had this to say about where you should buy.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:40 AM on December 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


maybe they should get started offering something that Amazon can't.

How about actual beatings for their employees instead of merely abusive quotas and punishingly hot warehouses?
posted by fleetmouse at 6:41 AM on December 9, 2011 [17 favorites]


downing street memo: " Either they're offering some combination of price and value such that enough consumers will buy from them, and keep them in business, or they aren't."

You mean like face to face salespeople and showroom shelving?
posted by pwnguin at 6:41 AM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Somewhat undercut by the ads for eBook versions of computer books to the right of the article.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:41 AM on December 9, 2011


While the information empowers consumers, it terrifies retailers, who increasingly are feeling like showrooms — shoppers come to to check out the merchandise but ultimately decide to walk out and buy online instead.

Information wants to be free and the fall out is the fall out. Isn't this how it works? Bookstores have no right to exist, the gotta earn it like everyone else, and when times change they had better get with it or go away. Schumpeterian replacement is as pitiless and indifferent as nature's evolution.

This app also gives Amazon information on what a particular consumer is even considering to buy: it's another step into data mining the thought process.

For five bucks off people will sell their children.
posted by three blind mice at 6:44 AM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


You mean like face to face salespeople and showroom shelving?

Which, according to the booksellers' own complaints, customers apparently don't value enough to actually pay a little more for a book in their stores.

I mean stuff like cafes, book clubs, subject matter experts ("oh, this is the best book about _____"), I'm sure plenty of other things I'm not thinking of at the moment because I don't sell books.

Kramerbooks in DC seems to have it figured out to an extent.
posted by downing street memo at 6:46 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Amazon's prices are always lower than brick and mortar stores, so trying to "keep prices low" is a weird justification for this promotion. More likely they're trying to figure out exactly how high they can raise prices while still undercutting the competition.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:51 AM on December 9, 2011 [21 favorites]


Until Tower Records closed up, I used to shop for books and CDs online and then go there to buy them. I did the same thing with Borders for a while. I hate waiting days for something I want to read immediately.

Now I just download everything. I think I've spent maybe $100 at Amazon in my life.
posted by empath at 6:51 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's what I don't fuckin' understand - my mum went to buy that new Steve Jobs book for her Kindle and it was over $20. She then found a hardcover version on sale at Costco for almost half that price. How in the hell does that even make sense? It's worse than when HMV attempted to sell digital albums online for the exact same price as their brick and mortar stores. No case, no actual CD, no cover or liner notes, and no salesperson to talk to? Yeah, fuck you.
posted by gman at 6:52 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


This has been a big problem for years with higher-end cameras. Someone goes into the local struggling camera shop, tries out all their $2000 bodies, and then goes online and buys them from B&H. They're still trying to figure out a solution other than going bankrupt.
posted by smackfu at 6:53 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


The complaints of independent booksellers are bizarre. Either they're offering some combination of price and value such that enough consumers will buy from them, and keep them in business, or they aren't. Instead of complaining about competition, maybe they should get started offering something that Amazon can't.

Oh, but they do offer "something Amazon can't." They offer an actual browsable physical inventory that lets you hold physical books and page through them, checking out the photographs or print quality in a big coffee-table book, sampling any page you like in a textbook, reading chapter after chapter of a thick novel or autobiography as you decide whether it suits you. They also curate books in a way that Amazon doesn't, selecting the right mix of volumes to fill their own shelves, and highlighting bookseller favorites and other important or attractive titles on displays so that they don't get lost elsewhere in the stacks.

Customers value this. They go out of their way to visit bookstores specifically so that they can have encounters with physical books and be hipped to titles, spotlighted by their local independent bookseller, that might never appear in an Amazon search. Unfortunately, the same people who can be spotted browsing books in the aisles at local, independent booksellers (and, true, often in their chain counterparts) can't necessarily be compelled to spend money at that store. If customers browse books at a local store but buy from Amazon to get a deep discount, the local store is no longer viable. I guess you think that local store should just close its doors quietly, but there's something to be said for raising a ruckus. If some proportion of a store's clientele is shamed into buying more books there, instead of taking sales that started there to its online competitor, it can be helpful.

Hell, I was guilty of this myself when I'd find awesome new books on display at St. Mark's Books in the East Village and occasionally end up ordering them later, from Amazon.com, at a better price. We had a scare a few months back when it looked like St. Mark's — one of the best bookstores left in Manhattan — was going to close its doors and you better believe I started making an effort to buy books in store. I hope it helps.

tl; dr: I don't think those complaints are bizarre. They seem pretty rational to me.
posted by Joey Bagels at 6:54 AM on December 9, 2011 [21 favorites]


Amazon will deduct $5 from your online purchase of that product.

Actually, it's 5% (up to $5), up to three times, for a maximum savings of $15 (on $300 of purchases).
posted by Rock Steady at 6:54 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, it is not "less innocuous" to offer a product at a lower price.

The other less innocuous thing is that this will allow Amazon to have better data about the competition and raise prices for things when the competition is significantly higher than they are.

If I was a brick and mortar bookseller, I'd be pissed too. But the marketplace changes, and people aren't going to pay for what they don't want. If they think their customers are freeloaders, shrink-wrap the books.
posted by gjc at 6:55 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


She then found a hardcover version on sale at Costco for almost half that price.

The list is $35, and Costco is selling it for $10???
posted by smackfu at 6:55 AM on December 9, 2011


The complaints of independent booksellers are bizarre. Either they're offering some combination of price and value such that enough consumers will buy from them, and keep them in business, or they aren't.

Instead of complaining about competition, maybe they should get started offering something that Amazon can't.


The problem is that the overall cost of having all books sold by a monopoly are not that great. At first it the book prices are cheaper, but then suddenly they aren't when there is no other supplier for a certain publisher. Case in point are the Tesco Towns in the UK. Tempting at first, but then suddenly the prices of your staple goods rockets up.

As an aside, how should we value the societal benefit a local bookstore brings to the neighborhood? Maybe we should be actively encouraging our local and state tax-makers, to not give tax-breaks to large companies like Amazon; and instead to give them to independent books sellers. After all, a local seller keeps a lot of money in the local economy. Amazon does not.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 6:56 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


From the Amazon description it looks like it's not really $5 off, it's 5% off the purchase price with a cap of $5. (On preview, what Rock Steady said.)

Also if people are manually entering the prices I can't imagine that the data will be that great - human error + people fucking with Amazon seems like it would add up to something pretty unreliable.
posted by yarrow at 6:57 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


$5
Perhaps Amazon is beginning to calculate the lowest possible wages for its private army of postal carriers.
posted by obscurator at 6:57 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm willing to pay a convenience fee to get a book from a local bookseller. I'm not willing to pay a 50% markup on the title over Amazon's prices for the privilege of getting it right now.
posted by bfranklin at 6:58 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


(Melville House also had a decent post on this.)

I now live in a rural area where the shopping options are basically Wal-Mart (30 miles away) or going online to Amazon or Zappos for a lot of things.

I'd like there to be options for actual browsing and shopping within 4 or 5 hours' drive, but increasingly I'm afraid that's not going to be available for much longer.
posted by rewil at 6:58 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Customers may value the physical stores, but not quite enough to actually pay for it. Apparently.
posted by gjc at 6:58 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Either they're offering some combination of price and value... or they aren't.

People obviously value the ability to check out a product in-hand. They're going into the store. They're taking advantage of that complimentary "service" of being able to handle the product and then buying from a retailer that doesn't offer that "service". Are you suggesting that these stores charge some kind of admission fee or charge people to handle the items in order to make that value explicit?
posted by the jam at 6:59 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


This has been a big problem for years with higher-end cameras. Someone goes into the local struggling camera shop, tries out all their $2000 bodies, and then goes online and buys them from B&H. They're still trying to figure out a solution other than going bankrupt.

In Nikon's case the solution has been to force everyone, online and off, to sell cameras and lenses for the MSRP. So far it seems to have worked. You'll pay the same at a brick & mortar store as on Amazon as of a few weeks ago. Canon and the other major camera manufacturers have not followed suit, at least so far. We'll see how successful the strategy is.
posted by jedicus at 6:59 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


After all, a local seller keeps a lot of money in the local economy. Amazon does not.

But large companies in general put a lot of money in the local economy. Someone who creates full time jobs and residents is also creating new customers for that local seller.

And if you aren't talking about large companies in general, but just Amazon, then it's not like my state is giving them tax breaks... in fact they are trying to get them to pay more taxes.
posted by smackfu at 7:00 AM on December 9, 2011


Sorry about that. Seems I some how deleted the "up to" before my $5.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:00 AM on December 9, 2011


If Amazon uses this plus customer addresses to offer regional pricing, I will get angry. And maybe shop elsewhere.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:01 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, back when I worked at/ran a branch of an independent specialty bookstore, I couldn't fault the people who didn't shop at my store for not wanting to buy my product because, well -- specialty. The people who pissed me off were the people who bought the items they could only get in my store in my store and then went to a big chain bookstore to get 20% off what they could buy there. Since, often enough, booksellers like me had built the market for those authors and carried the small-press items that the big boxes wouldn't carry.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:01 AM on December 9, 2011


smackfu: The list is $35, and Costco is selling it for $10???

Well, now you've done it; you made me call my mother to confirm. Apparently she paid $16.99, but that's still almost $5 cheaper for a hardcover book than an e-book.
posted by gman at 7:02 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Guys, if customers aren't paying the premium for the privilege of looking at a book in a store, talking to the owner, sitting in the comfortable chairs, etc. - they do not value that experience. At least, they value it less than the difference in price between the indy bookstore and Amazon.

Please don't misunderstand me, I love bookstores (Kramer's, which I linked to above, is my local shop), but it is pretty saddening for indy bookstore owners to embrace quasi-political protest tactics (which will not work) over something that is, in the end, a business challenge that they have to solve.
posted by downing street memo at 7:04 AM on December 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


"Also if people are manually entering the prices I can't imagine that the data will be that great - human error + people fucking with Amazon seems like it would add up to something pretty unreliable."

As far as I'm aware Amazon Pricecheck app on iOS doesn't let you enter the price of the item you found. You just scan the barcode (or search for the item manually) and it shows you the Amazon price. Not sure about Android.
posted by schwa at 7:05 AM on December 9, 2011


If they think their customers are freeloaders, shrink-wrap the books.

I used to buy books on the street in NYC from questionable and not-so-questionable book stands. One woman, who seemingly specialized in literature aimed like a gosh-darn laser at young men in their early 20s -- Bret Easton Ellis and Irvine Welsh and PKD and so on -- would shrink wrap all of her books. Either that, or she got them that way. I'll never figure out why.
posted by griphus at 7:07 AM on December 9, 2011


Guys, if customers aren't paying the premium for the privilege of looking at a book in a store, talking to the owner, sitting in the comfortable chairs, etc. - they do not value that experience. At least, they value it less than the difference in price between the indy bookstore and Amazon.

There is a difference between "valuing it when you can pretend it's free" and "valuing it when it is no longer there." It's kind of like the way we are told repeatedly by facebook that "kids don't value privacy; they don't care if we collect and sell their information" when the reality is "kids don't realize how much of their information is being collected and sold."
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:07 AM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Not to mention, even Amazon sells the hardcover book for a couple bucks less than their own e-book. So, tell me, how the fuck does that even makes sense?
posted by gman at 7:10 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


How in the hell does that even make sense?

I'm happy to pay full price for the ebook version. It's irrelevant to me that ebooks are cheaper to "manufacture" than physical books. The price I'm willing to pay for something is based on its value to me not how much it costs the manufacturer to produce.

Personally ebooks are more valuable to me than physical books (for various reasons, mostly to do with convenience and less clutter).
posted by schwa at 7:11 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


As far as I'm aware Amazon Pricecheck app on iOS doesn't let you enter the price of the item you found.

Looks like they added it. Now the app has a little bar at the top that says "Share in-store price us" and a Submit Price button. You press Submit Price and it shows a list of Major Retailers Near You. You select one and then either type in the price or take a photo.
posted by smackfu at 7:12 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Guys, if customers aren't paying the premium for the privilege of looking at a book in a store, talking to the owner, sitting in the comfortable chairs, etc. - they do not value that experience. At least, they value it less than the difference in price between the indy bookstore and Amazon.

I need a pithy word for people who apply half of economic and rational actor theory to a situation, while neatly skirting around the other half. I'll have to settle for 'Libertarian.' Why would a rational customer who values the experience buy books from the local store when they can browse at the local store then buy from Amazon?

I don't buy books often, I don't shop in bookstores, and I frequently buy from Amazon. I don't particularly care about indy bookstores. But I can completely see why Amazon's customers freeriding on their complimentary services grates on them. One thing I can imagine maybe working for these people is membership cards, ala Sam's Club. But I suspect they just don't do enough revenue in the pre amazon days to justify enforcing it.
posted by pwnguin at 7:13 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Looks like they added it

Ah my bad. Should have double checked first.

I'm sure it's pretty easy for them to filter out "bad" data once they get enough prices from the field.
posted by schwa at 7:15 AM on December 9, 2011


Not to mention, even Amazon sells the hardcover book for a couple bucks less than their own e-book.

I'm not sure what you're seeing, but in the US store, I see the Kindle version for $14.99 and the hardcover for $17.87. Not as good as when the Kindle versions were $9.99, but still saving a few bucks.
posted by smackfu at 7:15 AM on December 9, 2011


>Guys, if customers aren't paying the premium for the privilege of looking at a book in a store, talking to the owner, sitting in the comfortable chairs, etc. - they do not value that experience. At least, they value it less than the difference in price between the indy bookstore and Amazon.<

No, they’re willing to take it for free. If they didn’t value it they wouldn’t be there. It’s like saying people who don’t tip wait staff are OK, they just don’t value the service.
posted by bongo_x at 7:15 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure it's pretty easy for them to filter out "bad" data once they get enough prices from the field.

My question is what is my motivation to type in prices if I don't get a coupon? I get all the benefits of the price check app anyways. It seems like they need to make the coupon offer permanent to get much data for this.
posted by smackfu at 7:16 AM on December 9, 2011


You know, I sell vintage and antique books at Eastern Market in DC. I swear, every time I go out there, I get at least two or three customers asking me about Amazon or ebooks, wondering if they're going to make me redundant. And then they buy some books. So I don't even know.
posted by nonasuch at 7:17 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally?
posted by magstheaxe at 7:17 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


smackfu: I'm not sure what you're seeing, but in the US store, I see the Kindle version for $14.99 and the hardcover for $17.87. Not as good as when the Kindle versions were $9.99, but still saving a few bucks.

I take it my .ca link redirected you to the US store. I guess they like to fuck us harder up here.
posted by gman at 7:18 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally?

Judging by who's making the profits, I would say a very small minority. Why would you do all the work yourself and then go buy a product that's more expensive? It doesn't make sense.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 7:18 AM on December 9, 2011


I rarely bother to go to bookstores. The employees there don't know more than I do, the prices are much higher, and the selection is smaller. If I don't want to wait for the book to be delivered, sure, I will go to a bookstore and pick up a book (there is one that will be out just around Christmas, and I will probably pick it up in store because I tend towards impatience), but there's very little value add for me in bookstores. And I love books.
posted by jeather at 7:20 AM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


The big book stores killed most of the little book stores, and Amazon is killing the big book stores. I really couldn't care less that the Borders and Waterstones of this world can't compete.
posted by seanyboy at 7:20 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


My question is what is my motivation to type in prices if I don't get a coupon?

Achievement unlocked! 10 prices entered!
posted by schwa at 7:20 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


maybe they should get started offering something that Amazon can't.

In combination with the "camera stores" comment above, how about if somebody opens "Touchy Feelie" stores, where you go to play with the gadgets, browse the books, and so on. But they won't sell to you; you have to go online or get it somewhere else.

How to pay for this? The manufacturers, whose interest it is in to have their products in people's hands. Apple does the same thing, fer crissake; they can't be making tons of money on their stores (at least in comparison to their margins for online sales). But they fund the stores because they know that if you touch the iPad, you'll buy something
posted by spacewrench at 7:20 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Apple's not a great example since they make bank on their stores.

Some of the other manufacturers like Sony have tried making showcases like that in bigger cities. It always seemed rather odd, but maybe it works.
posted by smackfu at 7:22 AM on December 9, 2011


The Amazon page for this program doesn't define what's an "eligible product" for the discount. I guess one has to get the app to find out? If it's $5 off stuff I don't want, then I don't care.
posted by exogenous at 7:24 AM on December 9, 2011


I need a pithy word for people who apply half of economic and rational actor theory to a situation, while neatly skirting around the other half. I'll have to settle for 'Libertarian.' Why would a rational customer who values the experience buy books from the local store when they can browse at the local store then buy from Amazon?

I'm not a libertarian, and I'm "applying half of economic and rational actor theory" because the post (and the linked articles) are written from the perspective of book sellers, not book buyers.

Of course customers will take advantage of opportunities to free ride if they're provided. I'm not disputing that. The problem is when free riding eats into profitability, that's the point that a lot of booksellers are at, and they should either shut down or figure out a way to reduce the free riding.
posted by downing street memo at 7:25 AM on December 9, 2011


Apple prices are (basically) the same in store or online.

And they control 3rd party retailers prices pretty heavily too. It's hard to find a good discount on Apple hardware.
posted by schwa at 7:25 AM on December 9, 2011


While I still do go to my local bookstores and peruse through their selection, I only go there as a passive shopper, e.g., not looking for anything specific. If I need something somewhat urgently (e.g. an O'Reilly book for some new language I've been assigned to learn for my job), I'll use either the local library, Safari Books Online or Amazon for that get-the-book-now feature.

A good example is just a couple of days ago, I needed a book for some research. Library didn't have it, so I called my nearest bookstore and asked if they had it in stock. They said no, but they could get it to me in a week. Unfortunately with work, a week is not acceptable. I ended up purchasing from Amazon and got the book literally the next day. If local bookstores (even large chains like Barnes and Noble) can get the book within a short period of time, I would prefer to get books within my city than to order online, for the extra benefit that I can browse the full content (Amazon only reveal partial content) before I buy.

Amazon has worked out a great deal with UPS in order to ship from any of their depot around the United States to anywhere at very low costs (especially if you're a Prime member) for a very short delivery period. If the local bookstore can work something out with mail carriers, maybe that will solve part of the problem?
posted by vnvlain at 7:31 AM on December 9, 2011


Are you suggesting that these stores charge some kind of admission fee or charge people to handle the items in order to make that value explicit?

If the indy bookstores I visit had a guilt box saying something like "Enjoyed browsing but not ready to buy? Please contribute to help us stay open!" I would very happily put a dollar in every single time I went through the door without making a purchase. I do value browsing and staff recommendations and all that, and would rather pass that value directly to the store than do it indirectly by always paying cover price on books when most of that additional money is going to the publisher, not the store.

I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally?

I do buy from Amazon, but I also keep their mobile app on my phone primarily so I can check my wish list while at brick-and-mortar shops to remind me what to look for. In the old days, I had to print out the list before leaving my house.
posted by unsub at 7:32 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


If some proportion of a store's clientele is shamed into buying more books there, instead of taking sales that started there to its online competitor, it can be helpful.

Has this ever been a successful strategy for anyone?
posted by empath at 7:34 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally?

I do that sometimes when I am impatient to get my hands on a book (this is usually because it will be a present and I have procrastinated). Mostly at the Strand because I can look up their inventory online as well.

I did a similar thing recently where I found a bag on Zappos but wanted to see it in person before I bought it. Tracked it down in a store (by calling around to see who had in stock) and then bought it from the store even though it was more expensive because I felt like a jerk otherwise - although in that case it was mostly because I was pretty sure the actual salesperson who helped me would get a commission whereas nobody at Zappos would have. So I guess functionally I was basically tipping the salesperson.

Really on some level this is functioning as lead generation - Amazon is acknowledging that there is a value to the lead generation function of bricks and mortar stores but they are compensating the customers rather than the stores for that value.
posted by yarrow at 7:35 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


In Nikon's case the solution has been to force everyone, online and off, to sell cameras and lenses for the MSRP. So far it seems to have worked. You'll pay the same at a brick & mortar store as on Amazon as of a few weeks ago. Canon and the other major camera manufacturers have not followed suit, at least so far. We'll see how successful the strategy is.

This does seem to be working in that my local camera store no longer stocks Canon equipment because they simply cannot afford to match prices with online retailers. In my case this was another reason to buy Nikon because I much prefer to purchase my camera equipment from an actual person. On the other hand, to someone who isn't bothered where they buy their equipment from, all this tactic does is make Nikon look more expensive (and poorer value for money) than its rivals. I too will be interested to see how this plays out in the longer term.
posted by jonnyploy at 7:39 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally?

I do this. I love my local indy bookstore and I want them to stick around. I'm happy to pay the higher book price if it means I can keep on visiting their amazing used book section, browsing their shelves while waiting for friends, finding unusual reads and recommendations, and attending their author and community events.
posted by cadge at 7:40 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally?

I browse on Amazon and then pick the book up from the library.

Suck it, people trying to make money off me.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:47 AM on December 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


Apple does the same thing, fer crissake; they can't be making tons of money on their stores (at least in comparison to their margins for online sales)

Apple stores make more money per square foot than any other retail chain, almost twice as much as the second place company (Tiffany & Co). They also sell a high-margin product and keep a tight leash on resellers. It's not really comparable to book stores or other low-margin competitive markets.
posted by jedicus at 7:47 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


And they control 3rd party retailers prices pretty heavily too. It's hard to find a good discount on Apple hardware.

I don't think Apple controls prices the same way other manufacturers do. Apple just gives the retailer very little in way of margins, selling an iPad to Best Buy for $470 or something when the retail is $499, and Best Buy is just not willing to sell that for much less than $499. But Best Buy still wants to sell the iPad regardless, because they make 50% profit margins on the accessories they can cross-sell with the purchase.
posted by smackfu at 7:48 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine used to run an independent music store. A lot of times there'd be kids who would come in and talk openly about all the albums they saw that they were going to torrent when they got home. Now, you can talk about failing business models, or economic theory, and maybe it is completely legal, and how much of a "fool" my friend was for daring to open his dream store in a post iPod world, but it struck me as a dick move, and so does this app.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:48 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


The best of both worlds is a good quality used bookstore. Prices that are below Amazon, and the experience of a bookstore.
posted by smackfu at 7:52 AM on December 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wouldn't worry about the effect on independent bookstores. That game is already lost in 98% of the US. I live in the Twin Cities, an area with 3.3 million people with a very high average education level and plenty of money, and there's basically one or two independent general-purpose bookstores depending on how you count. (There are plenty of used bookstores and chain bookstores.) I've been to Elliot Bay Books, City Lights, Kramerbooks, and Powell's, but they're basically tourist attractions at this point.
posted by miyabo at 8:00 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


This sort of downward spiral is why deflationary depressions are homeostatic. Concentrating the economy shrinks the overall market, even as a few of the big players do better.

Networked communications may broaden access, but they also dramatically increase the freeloader problem. Amazon is forcing costs onto third parties. That's freeloading.

Talk free market theory to your heart's content, but it takes socialized credit creation to end financial depressions. WWII didn't end the Great Depression, the Marshall Plan did.
posted by warbaby at 8:01 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


The best of both worlds is a good quality used bookstore. Prices that are below Amazon, and the experience of a bookstore.

Not such a good deal for the authors, unfortunately.
posted by Umami Dearest at 8:01 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think many people just don't make the connection when browsing locally and buying online. It doesn't occur to them that they are taking advantage of the local store in a way, or that their actions will put the local store out of business. Of course, sometimes the local store is unnecessarily overpriced, but that's sort of a different case. Likewise, I know someone who always buys stuff as cheap as possible on whatever super-discount internet sites she can find, and is continually surprised when they mess stuff up or have bad customer service.
posted by snofoam at 8:13 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are imho far too many "show rooms" in our overly consumerist culture. Amazon culling that herd might help reduce our consumption overall, making our lifestyle more sustainable.

I've always enjoyed independent bookstores of course, but most already got smeared by big box book stores, which suck. And used book stores sell oodles through amazon.com, alibris.com, etc. themselves.

I almost always buy my books from online used book resellers, after first skimming the ebook from library.nu or gen.lib.rus.ec, of course.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:18 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kramerbooks in DC seems to have it figured out to an extent.

Kramerbooks is the best bookstore in the world. Hands down, bar none. When it was my neighborhood bookstore I could walk in there at 2 am and within five minutes have a pile of six or seven books I wanted to buy and read, which were, not coincidentally, the first six or seven books I looked at. It never would have even occurred to me to go and buy them online, since I was already holding them in my hands, and I wanted to read them all right this second.

Kramerbooks did at least two things right. It diversified its income with the cafe and non-book stuff they sell. And more importantly, they selected their stock very carefully. It's not a big bookstore, but it is nevertheless extremely easy to find something you need to buy and read right now. You cannot compete with amazon on either price or selection, and those who try will go out of business, and deserve to. You can easily compete with them in curation of your stock and increasing the purchaseworthy density of your books, and stores that do that will always be fine.

Anecdotally, more and more new bookstores, started after the age of Amazon, know this and do it well.
posted by rusty at 8:25 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


My one complaint about Kramer's is that it's way, way too focused on the political and economic for my liking. But hey, it's DC.
posted by downing street memo at 8:29 AM on December 9, 2011


If it's $5 off stuff I don't want, then I don't care.

The (if I may say so rather obvious) solution to this would be not to go around scanning the bar codes on things you don't want.
posted by biffa at 8:30 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Amazon page for this program doesn't define what's an "eligible product" for the discount. I guess one has to get the app to find out? If it's $5 off stuff I don't want, then I don't care.

It says right on the page:

Electronics, Toys, Sports, Music, and DVDs
posted by empath at 8:32 AM on December 9, 2011


Why not just do a reverse special, if you see a price on Amazon, come into the bookstore and get it at that price plus 5% off. Fuck Amazon Special Day.
posted by stbalbach at 8:34 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


If Amazon uses this plus customer addresses to offer regional pricing, I will get angry. And maybe shop elsewhere.

And if the software developer comes to my house, strips naked, oils himself up and makes beautiful love with my lawn ornaments - in full view of the kiddies - I will be livid.
posted by biffa at 8:34 AM on December 9, 2011


I suspect that secondhand bookstores are going to do okay in the age of Amazon, because those have always been places you go because you want to have a serendipitous meeting with the books you didn't know you wanted.

I never would have found a copy of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (a totally gorgeous facsimile of a real turn-of-the-century diary filled with lovely watercolors, for the record) on Amazon, but there it was on the shelf at my local used bookstore, waiting for me to stumble across it the other week.
posted by nonasuch at 8:34 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


gman: "no salesperson to talk to"
This is a major selling point for online shopping for me.
posted by brokkr at 8:35 AM on December 9, 2011 [21 favorites]


jedicus: "In Nikon's case the solution has been to force everyone, online and off, to sell cameras and lenses for the MSRP. So far it seems to have worked. You'll pay the same at a brick & mortar store as on Amazon as of a few weeks ago. Canon and the other major camera manufacturers have not followed suit, at least so far. We'll see how successful the strategy is."
Especially in jurisdictions where this is illegal. Like Europe.
posted by brokkr at 8:39 AM on December 9, 2011


Publishers and authors need to decide if brick and mortar bookstores are useful showcases for their businesses, and, if so, subsidize them. Record labels as well to the extent of listening stations. Heck, even Amazon might find that subsidization useful if bookstores function as a (de facto) selling tool. Failing this, the next upswing in the commercial real estate market will put a huge percentage of the remaining new bookstores out of business. (Right now, landlords are very concessionary to bookstores because there are few competing bids for that kind of square footage, and they generate lots of good traffic and curb appeal for other properties in malls and plazas.)

This is hardly without precedent -- in fashion, lots of the "flagship" brand stores don't generate anywhere near the merchandise margin necessary to cover their rent; those stores are effectively marketing vehicles.
posted by MattD at 8:44 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


"If it's $5 off stuff I don't want, then I don't care."

The (if I may say so rather obvious) solution to this would be not to go around scanning the bar codes on things you don't want.

Sure, but it's still a waste of my time if the stuff I do want is not "eligible" according to Amazon. I'm not going to download the app the find out, much less go around scanning stuff for them.
posted by exogenous at 8:47 AM on December 9, 2011


I use Amazon's wishlist to make a very convenient and portable universal list of books, music, games, etc. I want. I then take that list with me on my smartphone and buy the books and other media used as I find them at the Strand, from the street vendors, wherever it is cheapest. I'll show myself out.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:48 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


magstheaxe: "I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally?"

I have an extensive Amazon wishlist. I buy elsewhere if possible. (there's a couple affiliates whose online storefronts are through Amazon, but other than that...)
posted by notsnot at 8:51 AM on December 9, 2011


Bulgaroktonos: "I browse on Amazon and then pick the book up from the library."

It's also great for rating things and letting the recommendation engine find other things you should read, watch or listen to. I assume they're fine with it, on the "we'll get you one day" principal.
posted by pwnguin at 8:53 AM on December 9, 2011


My experience with independent book stores/music stores is that invariably they have a small inventory of books that don't interest me at all, or they're so horrifically unorganized it's impossible to find anything.

(either that or they have a dog wandering around the store.)

Maybe I'm just going to the wrong places.
posted by Lucinda at 8:57 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


You gotta ask the dude up front.
posted by kingbenny at 9:05 AM on December 9, 2011


Oh, also I have a free idea for reviving the independent book market. Here it is: pick out 10 or 20 authors who are good writers, but not quite good enough to make it in traditional publishing. People who'd be willing to write a book for $2000, like local micro-celebrities and college creative writing students. Get their books printed in very small runs, and sell them at a network of local independent coffee shops. Then -- this is the magic part -- have the authors do frequent readings and events at the same coffee shops where you're selling the books. So you avoid the #1 problem of small publishers, which is paying for marketing and distribution, and you also avoid the #1 problem of bookstores, which is paying for rent and staffing on a very low sales volume. The authors get some money, and they also get an official Non-Self-Published Book to put on their resumes. I think it would be perfect.
posted by miyabo at 9:07 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The main problem with new books is not the stores, but the books. Most times I'm in a bookstore I will assess the "meh" factor and invariably end up not buying anything. Suckered onto the Amazon website I will invariably buy one more book than I should.
posted by chavenet at 9:09 AM on December 9, 2011


People who'd be willing to write a book for $2000

While I like that idea in theory, I have a hard time believing very many small shops would be willing, or able, to risk that kinda cash on considerable odds the book wouldn't be so great and they wouldn't recoup the expense.
posted by kingbenny at 9:09 AM on December 9, 2011


Maybe they should be charging for entrance. Even a dollar, credited towards any purchase, would go a long way toward taking advantage of the sunk cost fallacy and discouraging this kind of exploitation.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:11 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


For five bucks off people will sell their children.

With the collapse of capitalism, one of the tenets I also hope dies is that it's always better to pay less.

I'm not very optimistic, but I admit OWS has cheered my soul a bit.

That said, I browse in bookstores (more accurately, I sit and read whole chapters), then either buy it used or check the library, then download the epub for free if the library doesn't have it.

That said, I still buy new hardcover books, a pretty significant sum $ total considering my salary.

The problem is that the overall cost of having all books sold by a monopoly are not that great.

In terms of the books they sell, I'd bet Powell's has 99% of what Amazon does (though probably not for as cheap.) B&N is not insignificant. Monopoly is a big stretch by any def.

I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally?

I've done this. It's usually when the book is discounted for $5 or something though. Or it's an art book I actually want to look at (or again, find used and cheaper.) The discount pile at indy bookstores always seems LOADED with great stuff (for me at least)...

I don't really know what I'm trying to say other than it seems like a pretty brilliant business move by Amazon if only to dent the consumer phone market. That phone appspace is valuable territory. Smart smart smart.

Kudos, capitalist swine!

Why not just do a reverse special, if you see a price on Amazon, come into the bookstore and get it at that price plus 5% off. Fuck Amazon Special Day.

This would be smart. Make the money back on magazines maybe.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:16 AM on December 9, 2011


Especially in jurisdictions where this is illegal. Like Europe.

Vertical price restraints were also a per se violation of the antitrust laws in the United States up until 2007.
posted by jedicus at 9:21 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


>I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally?<

I do, but I didn’t want to say because I know it’s hypocritical. But I like screwing Amazon, so it works out. I’m/we’re recovering obsessive bargain shoppers until we realized we were ruining the world. It was killing my wife to pay more for something, but she’s into it now.
posted by bongo_x at 9:25 AM on December 9, 2011


To garner a little goodwill it would be nice if the stores could act as affiliates whereby if a user pricescans at your store and then buys at Amazon the store gets the affiliate cut.
posted by zeoslap at 9:42 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


This just seems...not terribly ethical to me. But business is almost always about sticking it to your competitors, and that's not going to change.

And I'm guilty of using bookstores as showrooms as well. I guess if you're just buying the latest Harry Potter or Twilight or whatever, there will be plenty of shiny, brand new books to choose from. However, with my admittedly obscure taste, there is usually only one copy of the book I'm interested in on the shelves, and that copy will inevitably suffer from a bent cover, broken spine, or other evidence of the several people that read it in the store while enjoying their coffee. Why would I pay full price for what is essentially a used book (yes, I know that I can ask for a discount from the cashier), when I can have a pristine copy delivered to my door, and at a substantial discount?

I won't miss the bookstores as much as I miss the record stores, but I do hate to see them go.
posted by malocchio at 9:44 AM on December 9, 2011


From Amazon's point of view, this has probably a twofold objective: intelligence gathering on their major competitors (and here I'm betting it's more electronics and media than books, so we're talking the other big boxes); and stealing some immediate market share from those same big boxes (although this is likely secondary). Amazon sees there main challengers as being the Barnes and Nobles, Best Buys and Wal Marts, and the better pricing detail they can get from them, the more they can adjust their tactics accordingly. At this point, the independent retailer is likely below their gaze, and may just wind up being collateral damage.

Sadly, you see a similar phenomenon in cycling as you do in the world of cameras. People going to independent retailers, kicking the tires and chatting up the salespeople, then buying everything from Competitive Cyclist or Nashbar. Recently, on a lot of cycling forums, there has started to be more of a vocal movement exhorting people to shop locally. Velominati, which comes across as a bit pretentious (and is frankly on the verge of becoming some sort of cycling Taliban), is very emphatic about supporting local retailers. You'll also see retailers at the higher end refusing to service or repair bikes that they did not build. This is directly related to online sales, especially when one of the main areas of value that independent retailers can add is the expertise of their mechanics.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:46 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


If they're upset about freeloading, they should borrow a trick from the Manga Cafe model and charge for admission, allow you to read as much as you like within the time you've paid for and refund those charges if you buy actual merchandise on your visit.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:48 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


How long until Amazon just outright buys the US Post Office? It's practically a subsidiary now.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:48 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Missing from this conversation about competition between brick and mortar stores and Amazon is the sales tax; it's meaningless to talk about fair competition in a context where Amazon simply avoids collecting sales tax from customers and the brick and mortar stores don't have that option. Luckily it looks as though that's going to get sorted out--which should certainly help even the playing field to some extent.

That said, I think there's a lot of wishful thinking and romanticism in discussions of independent bookstores vs. Amazon. I've lived in big cities with some great bookstores, but never, ever, have I found one with anything like the range and selection of Amazon. I'm sure there are special-purpose, narrow-interest bookstores that stock material Amazon doesn't, and I'm sure that it's a great thing to be able to talk to the owner of that bookstore who will put you onto the latest developments in that special-interest field. But by definition, that doesn't apply to the vast majority of people in the book-buying market as a whole. For most people the choice is not between a brilliantly curated, narrow-interest bookstore stocked by deeply knowledgeable specialists and Amazon. The choice is between the local Barnes and Noble big box and Amazon. And the local Barnes and Noble big box has customer service people who, for the most part, have no particular depth or breadth of literary interests and in any case it stocks only the most plain vanilla mass market dreck.

If I go browse around on Amazon, I can often find in-depth reviews written by genuinely interested and interesting readers, I can get "people who bought this also bought..." recommendations that, by and large, actually do lead me logically enough to related texts in a field. Given that I'm at my computer anyway I can look up reviews on other sites in any case and get a wider range of more informed opinion than I could hope to get from any one bookstore owner or employee. I can usually read around a little inside the work to see if it's what I'm looking for, etc. etc. etc. And if the book is in print it's probably available--and if it's not in print I'll probably be able to find it second hand. That's an awful lot of actual value that even the best of my local brick-and-mortar stores just can't compete with.

Yeah, Amazon have done some nasty things and yeah we need regulations to force them to treat their warehouse staff better and we need to subject them to state sales taxes and so forth. But even if we do that, they'll still prevail in the end--because they're just providing a better service overall than traditional bookstores do.
posted by yoink at 9:53 AM on December 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


I can see where this is going:

Like store-specific variants of flat screen TV's and mattressess, we're now going to see store-specific bar code numbering systems that are only used in that store.

Getting to work on my new business right now - a database service bureau that translates "custom" bar codes into "universal" bar codes.
posted by de void at 9:59 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's totally unfair of Amazon to do this because it's not like the local merchants can just open a browser and see what prices Amazon is offering.
posted by straight at 9:59 AM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


but it struck me as a dick move, and so does this app.

In my biased opinion (I've worked in three different bookstores, currently doing a seasonal job in one), it's definitely rude, and double so if you actively have an employee help you out.

Don't bother complaining to employees about the prices, or telling them how awesome e-books are, or that it's cheaper online. Or that we're in a dying industry and should find a new job. We know. We know. We know. It's debatable, but we know.

Many of the people I know who work at bookstores love books and actively (for little pay) spend time trying to learn about the latest and greatest books to help find the right readers for them. I've seen booksellers do everything they could to sell a thousand copies of an otherwise unknown book because they loved it so much.

It's hard to keep up that enthusiasm when people gleefully tell you how they don't plan on buying from you, but many of us still do because we love books.
posted by drezdn at 10:17 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


That said, if you find something you like, I think it's more acceptable to just quietly jot down the ISBN in notebook than to make a show of ordering online from a different store, inside our store.
posted by drezdn at 10:20 AM on December 9, 2011


The best of both worlds is a good quality used bookstore. Prices that are below Amazon, and the experience of a bookstore.

Well, except for the lack of control over the stock, which will get worse as e-books develop, and the staff? that seriously depends on the store. Most of the used-book staff in my town would never have survived in my store -- they have neither the knowledge nor the customer service skills.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:31 AM on December 9, 2011


Even if 20% of people clearly see this as crowdsourced datamining, that means 80% of people see fuzzy bunnies. There's only one winner in that equation.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:33 AM on December 9, 2011


horrifically unorganized

That's where you really lost me. I've been in 1-2 "horrifically unorganized" *used* bookstores (what's that one in Upper Haight?), but they are rare creatures. And independent new bookstores? No.

Subjects/categories are pretty established, and there's you know the alphabet. It's not rocket science (it's library science!).

So I do declare shenanigans.

It was killing my wife to pay more for something, but she’s into it now.

I think it's a pretty remarkable epiphany for anyone (at least anyone lower or middle class) born in the last century--where your money goes or the effect the product has on your environment/community is more important than how much you pay. It was for me.

It certainly does take some getting used to. For me, I use that extra money I pay for certain things as incentive not to "waste" money elsewhere (eating lunch out, cab fare, fees of any sort, etc), which cushions that inherited and extremely strong "bargain shopper" gene (thanks, mom).
posted by mrgrimm at 10:39 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Warbaby: citation please.
posted by toastchee at 10:50 AM on December 9, 2011


Physical bookstores shouldn't be worried about people who come in, scan the books, then buy them on Amazon. After all, stores still have an opportunity to make money off those customers. Maybe they can be convinced to buy a coffee, or a magazine, or sign up for a mailing list.

No, physical bookstores should be worried about people like me. I love books, and I read a lot. But I haven't been into a physical bookstore in months. I buy all my books from Amazon because bookstores don't have a value to offer me that outweighs the benefits of shopping online (open 24/7, don't have to get dressed and drive there, huge catalog available).

Frankly, it wouldn't take too much to convince me to come into a bookstore. A punch card for a free latte every time you buy 10 books would probably do it.
posted by ErikaB at 11:01 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like store-specific variants of flat screen TV's and mattressess, we're now going to see store-specific bar code numbering systems that are only used in that store.

We now *do* see it. I spent some time over the weekend scanning about 100 book barcodes into Delicious Library so I could sell them to Powell's via their online book buying tool (you upload a list of UPCs via a Web form) instead of lugging them to a store. Any book I had bought from Powell's had a new barcode sticker precisely where the publisher bar code had been, and Delicious Library couldn't make sense of it.
posted by mph at 11:22 AM on December 9, 2011


Frankly, it wouldn't take too much to convince me to come into a bookstore. A punch card for a free latte every time you buy 10 books would probably do it.

Pretty much all independent new bookstores (not used bookstores) already do this already, I believe. In addition to providing bonus for customers, some like it b/c they can sell your (collective or individual) data and/or spam you. But that's America. I reject all such clubs and frequent shopper programs for religious reasons.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:43 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just bought a copy of Super Dungeon Explore, a boardgame designed to play like an 8-bit Nintendo dungeon crawler. I preordered it from my friendly local game store, where I buy all my new releases. I like the owner and the staff, I like the service I get from them (free promo items, invited to the wine & cheese party they held for their fifth anniversary, etc.) I seldom drop less than $100 whenever I go in there, which is at least twice a month.

Anyhow. I preordered the game. But they didn't get it in stock until a full month after it arrived in some other stores, including my favourite online retailers. And the game cost me $96.50 + HST. Had I bought it from coolstuffinc.com, it would have cost me $58.00. No HST, and about $18 shipping.

So for the privilege of getting it a month late, I paid an extra 48%.

That's not my local shop's fault. He's got a big storefront and bills to pay -- he needs to keep a retail margin. He can't justify having overnight shipping from small publishers for a couple of games.

But, y'know, outstanding customer service, a beautiful store, a sense of community and a wide assortment of open boxes to peek at? That only goes so far. And it's not his fault for not being able to compete on price or delivery date. And it's not CSI's fault for being able to survive on 5% margins. And it's not my fault for wanting to save $35 the next time around.

It's just the way things are.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:52 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Protecting mom and pop stores is always going to tug on the heartstrings. On the other hand, what keeps people ordering coffee at Starbucks when they could just order Sumatra beans in bulk on Amazon and cook them at home? Convenience, I suppose. It's more convenient to shop in your pajamas than to stand in line at a brick and mortar store. I imagine that most sellers are losing most of their customers before they even walk in the door. This is Amazon's grab at that portion of consumers that are comparison shoppers.
posted by deathpanels at 12:06 PM on December 9, 2011


Retail shops are the heart and soul of neighborhoods and of cities. Without cities you have no civilization. When your retail shops disappear, your civilization disappears with it. America's retail culture is already in dire enough straits, with few options for most people besides the Walmart out by the freeway, but now even the centers of commerce that make America valuable are disappearing. If you want to live in a world with all the charm and idiosyncrasy of a beige cubicle farm or the corporate cafeteria next to it, fine. I don't. And I guarantee it: you will regret it. The rest of the world will defeat you. Shop local or die.
posted by Fnarf at 12:08 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]



Oh, also I have a free idea for reviving the independent book market. Here it is: pick out 10 or 20 authors who are good writers, but not quite good enough to make it in traditional publishing. People who'd be willing to write a book for $2000, like local micro-celebrities and college creative writing students. Get their books printed in very small runs, and sell them at a network of local independent coffee shops. Then -- this is the magic part -- have the authors do frequent readings and events at the same coffee shops where you're selling the books. So you avoid the #1 problem of small publishers, which is paying for marketing and distribution, and you also avoid the #1 problem of bookstores, which is paying for rent and staffing on a very low sales volume. The authors get some money, and they also get an official Non-Self-Published Book to put on their resumes. I think it would be perfect.

Sounds remarkably similar to how local music scenes work. Indie venues support local bands by giving them a place to play to crowds, handling promotion for shows and a place to sell merchandise after a show. Sign me up!
posted by deathpanels at 12:12 PM on December 9, 2011


mrgrimm, none of the (very few) physical bookstores in my area offer any such perks. Then again, I live in a rural area, about halfway between Seattle and the Canadian border.
posted by ErikaB at 12:41 PM on December 9, 2011


On the other hand, what keeps people ordering coffee at Starbucks when they could just order Sumatra beans in bulk on Amazon and cook them at home? Convenience, I suppose.

That doesn't explain why people in my office go out to buy coffee from Starbuck's when there is perfectly good coffee at work for free.

Then -- this is the magic part -- have the authors do frequent readings and events at the same coffee shops where you're selling the books.

Yeah, get those lazy authors to work for free. ;) But seriously, readings are huge for indy bookstores.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:44 PM on December 9, 2011


That doesn't explain why people in my office go out to buy coffee from Starbuck's when there is perfectly good coffee at work for free.

It's nice to get out of the office briefly?
posted by jeather at 12:47 PM on December 9, 2011


So I do declare shenanigans.

That part of it ("horrifically unorganized") actually referred to music stores. House of Guitars in Rochester is notorious for it.

And I have been in bookstores where things aren't alphabetized, or haphazardly stacked in piles on chairs and whatnot.

I do admit, however, that I really am probably not the audience they have in mind. I'd never ask a bookstore employee for a recommendation. I usually go into a bookstore with a fairly decent idea of what I want, with my own recommendations.
posted by Lucinda at 12:50 PM on December 9, 2011


What office do you work in where there's good coffee?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:50 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


If some proportion of a store's clientele is shamed into buying more books there, instead of taking sales that started there to its online competitor, it can be helpful.

Has this ever been a successful strategy for anyone?

Well, St. Marks Books says it saw an increase of about 25 percent in sales in September and October, after news broke that the store might be closing down due to high rents and low sales. A petition drive helped convince the store's landlord to give it a break on its rent, which means the store remains open for now.

Readings are huge for indy bookstores.

Wasn't there a thread here in the last year or so on the subject of bookstores starting to sell tickets to readings? I can't find it right now. I know the (awesome) Tattered Cover in Denver has started doing this. Basically, they want to make sure they're actually selling books at these events, since it's the profits from increased book sales that make it worthwhile for the store to put money and resources into hosting author events ...

That doesn't explain why people in my office go out to buy coffee from Starbuck's when there is perfectly good coffee at work for free.

Starbucks has better coffee than the kitchen at the office where I work, but I wouldn't describe either of them as good. In fact, they're both markedly inferior to the independent coffee shops that used to be in the neighborhood ... but went out of business as Starbucks opened up third and fourth locations in the area. (Oh, Sicaffe and Zibetto, we hardly knew ye.)
posted by Joey Bagels at 12:54 PM on December 9, 2011


Community has value. Shoppping in small locally-owned stores returns much more value to yourself and the community than the little bit extra you pay there. I'm reading a lot of excuses and reasons for buying from Amazon, but what profits a man to save a dollar or a minute but lose his soul?

My friend runs the local independent book store. He knows his books, tells me about them, discusses politics and anthropology, listens to my rants and raves, laughs at my jokes, buys his coffee at the cafe my brother's girlfriend owns, reads the newspaper I write for, recommends the best cheese at the deli on the corner.

Amazon does none of that.
posted by tommyD at 1:17 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


When your retail shops disappear, your civilization disappears with it.

Christ, you really drunk the capitalist cool-aid, didn't you. Surely we can do better than shops as the apotheosis of civilisation?

More generally, Amazon has just as much right to go broke and out of business like local bookstores do, if they're selling something people don't want. Also Amazon might be easier to hate, being a big multinational and all, but they and local bookstores want exactly the same thing: to make money. You can dress it up in all the fairyfloss you like, but at heart that what it comes to, and I think the idea that local bookstores represent some kind of net social good, and amazon and other online merchants a net social negative is a really specious one, imho, that is based largely on nostalgia and other fuzzy things.

For people with no access to bookstores, mobility issues, having-money issues, needing obscure books, and more, Amazon and Better World Books and all the others, are a boon.
posted by smoke at 2:50 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shoppping in small locally-owned stores returns much more value to yourself and the community than the little bit extra you pay there.

That's highly debatable. Moreover TommyD, that's true for you, but manifestly not for everyone.
posted by smoke at 2:57 PM on December 9, 2011


I just quit a retail sales job so bear with me.

No one cares about the convenience, knowledge of product or the fact there is a physical location to touch and feel the product.

You can spend an hour with someone and tell them everything they need to know. You can tell them honestly why the one they saw online won't work and give them a suggestion of what will work. You can print spec pages, email links, set up installers and put in the work.

But if you are 1% higher than some rookie douchebag at a chain store it's over.

And I get it. I really do. It's tough out there.
posted by Staples at 3:25 PM on December 9, 2011


Christ, you really drunk the capitalist cool-aid, didn't you. Surely we can do better than shops as the apotheosis of civilisation?

Have you ever been in a "city" that didn't have shops? I have. One's called "Redmond", and it is a personality-free dead zone. Everyone drives down the featureless six-lane boulevard from vast parking lot to vast parking lot, alone in their cars, from their beige cubicle job to their beige thousand-unit apartment complex. Every city has them, these bland, featureless suburbs with no street life. That's what street life IS: shops.

Capitalism? Kool-Aid? I don't think so. Commerce is the lifeblood of every civilization. Ever been to China? Shops everywhere. You can't name a vibrant city in the world -- in the HISTORY of the world -- that wasn't stuffed to the gills with shops. Mexico City? Melbourne? Manila? Montreal? Marrakesh? The marketplace, the bazaar, the souk, whatever you want to call it -- that's where more than money and goods are traded, it's where IDEAS are traded, and it's where people come together and meet in real life.

Mrgrimm above said That doesn't explain why people in my office go out to buy coffee from Starbuck's when there is perfectly good coffee at work for free. I'll tell you why people do that: because they need to be out in the world, rubbing shoulders with strangers, being alive and not just a pointer-mover on a screen.

The question isn't "does Amazon have utility?" Of course it does. I use it myself, to get things I can't get at home. But as reliance on Amazon goes further -- and now they are actively encouraging you to use the tools they provide to destroy physical shops -- communities are being destroyed. And when that happens America is being destroyed.

Look at what's happening in this country: the retail environment, by which I also mean the NEIGHBORHOOD ENVIRONMENT, is being starved to death. All that's left in many places is big box stores; in others, various sorts of vanity shops selling useless trinkets fill the storefronts that used to carry stuff people actually want. The culture, the essence of these places is being destroyed, deracinated. What left is an online environment that commands attention (and dollars) in the midst of a physical wasteland. I seriously believe this leads to deracinated people. Look at the face on Jeff Bezos if you don't believe me. We are becoming a nation of animatronic dolls.
posted by Fnarf at 3:29 PM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Unless a real-world bookstore has a book I can't get on amazon at all, why would I shop there? The content of the book is going to be the same either way, and Amazon is going to charge a fraction of the price. What's even more important, though, is that Amazon is going to involve a fraction of the amount of time. Why would I waste an hour of precious free time on some shopping errand when I can click and order in a minute, and get on with whatever it was I actually wanted to do with my day? Like, for example, actually reading books?
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:31 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


fnarf: Redmond is a soul-sucking wasteland and you need to get out of there before it makes you crazy. Life is better over here on the west side - come join us!
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2011


Seattle is slightly bizarre in that there are a lot of people who made a lot of money (much of it in Redmond) and want to spend it at small funky quirky shops. And the owners of those shops often have completely separate sources of wealth (a spouse or a previous career in software) so they don't really worry too much about silly things like profits.

The number of ice cream outlets, for example, is far in excess of the number required by a typical medium-sized continent. It's fake in its own way of course, but I love it.
I hope as the rest of the country gets richer it can get the same variety of retail and restaurant establishments Seattle has, but I'm not holding my breath.
posted by miyabo at 3:50 PM on December 9, 2011


Street-front commerce isn't just shops. It's restaurants, cafes, gyms, laundromats, clubs, dance studios, bakeries, etc. These places aren't going away. Maybe laundromats would if everyone had a washer/dryer in their home, but that kind of business can't go online. And people still want to walk to their yoga class, go to the local pub, and eat at places that aren't Chili's by the Walmart. Also, while you can order groceries online, not many people want to do it.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:00 PM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


screw your local retailer day,

but then you may be sorry someday when they are gone
posted by caddis at 4:03 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally?


Me. I'm impatient.
posted by Stu-Pendous at 6:20 PM on December 9, 2011


Unless a real-world bookstore has a book I can't get on amazon at all, why would I shop there?

Oh, there's all kinds of reasons. Maybe you want to check out the art monographs and see if there's anything interesting about a painter you had never heard of before. Maybe you want to flip through fashion magazines looking for ideas you can steal for your next design project. Maybe you're curious what large-print books are available that might suit your ailing grandmother. Maybe you want to flirt with the cute girl who works at the coffee shop in the basement of the store. Maybe you're in the mood to audition picture books that might make suitable gifts on your niece's upcoming birthday. Maybe, just maybe, you're interested in selecting a book, based solely on its cover, its heft in your hands, or the shelf-talker designating it as an all-time favorite of the store manager, that you never in a million years would have been inspired to pick up of your own volition.

I guess there's a lot to be said about doggedly planning your days around things that you know you want to do, and I wouldn't dissuade you from your own pursuit of happiness. But me, I plan my days around a lot of wandering, browsing, and searching. Sure, I spend a lot of my time in seek-and-destroy mode. But I don't want to spend all my time there, and I cherish the hours I can afford to spend making it up as I go along. I like to spend a lot of those hours wandering in bookstores, because I find them intellectually rewarding and conducive to my personal growth in a way that Amazon, no matter how convenient its deliveries or felicitous its machine-driven recommendations, never quite matches.

It's possible that it's just a generational thing, and nobody under 30 will be said to see the independent bookstores go. That doesn't mean I can't mourn their disappearance, or that the booksellers themselves have no legitimate gripes about the way book-lovers took advantage of them.
posted by Joey Bagels at 6:22 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why not just put up a sign saying "If you scan the barcode, you bought it." Not very customer friendly, but people who are doing this are not your customers.
posted by chemoboy at 7:20 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally

Me. Amazon is near useless for me to buy books; even with shipping optimizations (basically using a freight forwarder instead of Amazon's default international shipping options), buying books from Amazon is expensive for me.

Amazon, though, is amazing for tech shopping these days for me. The SGD has been looking rather strong against the USD, and most tech firms play the currency game; they price their stuff in USD and use conversion rates from years ago for their Singapore prices. What that means is that, as long as you optimize your shipping costs, it might actually be cheaper to ship a laptop or a DSLR from across the world than to buy it in a local store.

(I suppose it is a similar thing for Europe/ Australia too)
posted by the cydonian at 7:36 PM on December 9, 2011


I wonder how many people browse and research online at Amazon, and then go buy the book of their choice locally

I don't know about elsewhere, but any decent independent bookshop in the UK can generally get books you order overnight, for no extra charge. The same on Amazon consistently costs more than the list price, much more in the case of the US Amazon who want to charge me $17 for "next-day"* delivery in the US , for a single book, doubling list price in some cases (and I could get a taxi to my local book stores for less than that). UK Amazon is more reasonable, at 4.20 GBP for UK delivery, but the total is still more than list price. I've never bothered actually browsing on Amazon as their recommendations only ever tell me about things I already know about and often don't care about, but I used to use a lot for ISBN numbers when people linked there and emailing or phone the book shop was/is just as quick as the multiple pages Amazon makes you step through.

* Its a Friday so next day is actually Monday.
posted by tallus at 8:06 PM on December 9, 2011


chemoboy: Why not just put up a sign saying "If you scan the barcode, you bought it." Not very customer friendly, but people who are doing this are not your customers.

I'm not planning on doing the barcode thing, but if I ever see a sign like that, I'm turning around and leaving with an incredibly negative impression of your store. The kind of impression that leads to hostile reviews online and badmouthing it to friends.

Also, I'm pretty sure that's unenforceable, and you might actually get in legal trouble for trying to enforce it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:44 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don’t understand, do none of you Amazon loving, bookshop hating people ever browse books? Buying books online is only slightly easier than buying clothes online. I need to pick that book up and flip through it and read a little to know if I want it. And oh, what’s this one next to it…

I understand if there is a specific book that you know you want, and want it right now, and it’s not very common. That never happens to me.
posted by bongo_x at 10:30 PM on December 9, 2011


Moreover TommyD, that's true for you, but manifestly not for everyone.

That's too bad. It could be true for many, though, if they make the connection, patronize their neighbors, and live in a world of people, like people are supposed to.

Hey, I understand - I live in a small town where there are many things I could never buy without the Internet, but the things I can, I buy local. And I have ordered books though my friend's store, and from Amazon, and Amazon is no great advantage, unless I'm in a great hurry (rare) and then the shipping fee means the price differential favors the local store.

And my friend doesn't lock his help in the store room. That's just not neighborly.
posted by tommyD at 5:56 AM on December 10, 2011


I used to browse bookstores. But I get excerpts and suggestions and reviews online, and I pretty much know what the book will look like. Maybe if I bought art books, and I do actually go to bookstores for cookbooks, but otherwise? No, I don't need to flip through a book to decide if I want to buy it.
posted by jeather at 8:13 AM on December 10, 2011




smackfu: The list is $35, and Costco is selling it for $10???

Well, now you've done it; you made me call my mother to confirm. Apparently she paid $16.99, but that's still almost $5 cheaper for a hardcover book than an e-book.


According to your link, the Kindle book is $15. Did it go down?

I happen to think a lot of ebooks are priced too high, compared to the hardcover. But the comparison with Costco doesn't prove much. They offer very few books. You can't just look at the Kindle price and go, "I'll get it cheaper at Costco." Most of the time, they won't have it.
posted by BibiRose at 8:44 AM on December 10, 2011


TheWhiteSkull writes "You'll also see retailers at the higher end refusing to service or repair bikes that they did not build. "

So good luck getting your bike serviced if you are on a cross country trip or have the nerve to move?

Staples writes "No one cares about the convenience, knowledge of product or the fact there is a physical location to touch and feel the product. "

I sure do. I was so happy when Princess Auto came to town; if Lee Valley set up shop here life would be good.
posted by Mitheral at 10:23 PM on December 10, 2011


Shelf Awareness has a round up of some of the reaction to the promotion, including a rebuke from Senator Olympia Snowe.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:26 AM on December 12, 2011


Author (and my old English prof.) Richard Russo has a great op-ed in the New York Times about the promotion.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:43 AM on December 14, 2011


And Slate weighs in saying that, okay, this promotion is tacky but Amazon is better for authors and readers than indie bookshops.
posted by jeather at 8:03 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


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