My $0.02 on Amazon/Hachette

I am very late to getting up to speed on the Amazon/Hachette dispute. I apologize in advance to those for whom this post will elicit a giant Duh. Until a few months ago, I was a clueless civilian. Today, I still only have in stock approximately 100 titles and a handful of puzzles, selling at a farmers market a just a few hours a week, furiously trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing. When I heard of the dispute, I gleaned that as a bookseller I should just instinctively oppose whatever Amazon was doing, and put a moratorium on online shopping. I actually wrote “Figure out the Amazon Hachette thing” on my to-do list.

One evening, while my husband took the kids out, I watched this segment on Colbert, then this one. I read this very helpful article that broke down the whole mess into easily digested nuggets. Then I read Gawker’s series where Amazon employees wrote in what it’s like to work there. If you guessed “not awesome,” you’d be right.

I used to be a huge, I mean HUGE, fan of Amazon. For a busy middle class parent, Amazon is like a fairy godmother. When you’re raising a family in an urban area without a car (ours died when our eldest was six months old, and we didn’t buy a new one for eight months), it’s a lifesaver. I signed up for Amazon Moms and got hooked on fast deliveries of eco-friendly Swedish diapers. I did Subscribe & Save for nearly all of our household staples, a huge range of items – toilet paper, canned tomatoes, cereal, castile soap. It became my preferred site for streaming media.

In my neighborhood, we do not have a lot of retail options. For me, boycotting Amazon doesn’t mean patronizing local businesses instead. It means I have to pack up the kids and drive to Target or Staples. (I realize both Target and Staples do eCommerce as well, but their reviews are not nearly as robust as Amazon’s, so I prefer to examine my purchases in person.) Even the quickest of trips to a big box store takes an hour. That is an hour I could be preparing graphics for my social media accounts, reviewing my ledger, or (gasp!) reading. (It really is true what booksellers say, I’m reading less than ever now that I’ve gotten into the business.)

Sigh. It sucks to live Amazon-free.

However, it’s not hard to see that even if Amazon doesn’t know who I am, they are still gunning for me, the small independent bookseller. They are quite obvious about it – more than once, I have price checked a title on Amazon, and saw that their price was exactly the same as the net price from my wholesaler. For me to keep shopping at Amazon would be shooting myself in the foot.

Jack Shafer wrote in his Reuters column,

“…by essentially banishing many Hachette titles from its stock, Amazon, which ordinarily puts its customers first, has put them last, telling them they can’t buy certain titles from it for any price.”

Many good liberals I know who won’t set foot inside Wal-Mart, adore Amazon, because the customer experience is excellent. The way the dispute is playing out in the media, it is just one corporate giant battling one of its own. Publishers get about as much sympathy from the public as record companies did at the dawn of file sharing.

What can we do to co-exist in a world where Amazon isn’t going away?

In my view, our goal shouldn’t be to shame Amazon into softening its ruthless business tactics. It’s a waste of time. As a public company, their mission is to deliver profits to their shareholders. They are just doing their thing.

Our goal should be to educate the public about the consequences of letting Amazon become too powerful. If they are successful in snuffing out the indies, they will become the gatekeepers of ideas. It’s that simple. If they are successful in killing Main Street businesses, consumers will have fewer choices, higher prices, and empty business districts. If people care about vibrant communities and the free flow of ideas, then they must vote with their dollars.

I have done an embarrassingly poor job of educating my customers about why the Amazon/Hachette dispute is relevant to them. I’ve yet to even tell my friends and family not to shop there. But it will become a marketing priority from now on. Customers ask all the time, “What can I do to help get your store up and running?”. I used to tell them to like us on Facebook. Now I know what I should have been saying all along.