Indie booksellers mock Amazon for asking them to hawk Kindles

A new program from the retail giant has the publishing industry piling on.


Miles Klee


Published Nov 7, 2013   Updated Jun 1, 2021, 2:23 am CDT

If Amazon sometimes seems deaf to the ongoing controversies that have attended the shift from print to e-readers, that’s probably because its technologies and predatory pricing put it on the winning side of the publishing industry as it stands today.

But, not content to sell its popular Kindle device online and at a number of big-box stores, the company made an offer to independent booksellers: carry the Kindle (which we’ll sell to you at a 6 percent discount) and we’ll cut you in for 10 percent of whatever the user buys on it—for the first two years, anyway. They’re calling the new program Amazon Source.

With the exception of two pilot vendors in Washington state, booksellers, a cash-strapped though naturally skeptical bunch, replied with a collective scoff. Publishers Weekly collected some testy feedback from indie retailers who noted that Source was not designed with any input from their side, nor any form of deal negotiation—it’s more of a take-it-or-leave it proposition, and almost every eligible business has already opted to do the latter.

“If Amazon thinks indie bookstores will become agents for the Kindle, they are sorely mistaken,” said Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and president of the New England Independent Booksellers Association. “There is no way I will promote Amazon products in my stores after the havoc they have wreaked on our industry as a whole. Sorry, Jeff [Bezos]. I’m not buying it.”

The New York Times quoted J.B. Dickey at Seattle Mystery Bookshop as saying: “We help Amazon grow its business and, in return, get a thin slice of the sale? That’s not cooperation. That’s being complicit in your execution.”

“I was kind of wondering if it was April Fools’ Day,” quipped Karen Hayes, co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, but Amazon is dead serious. With major partners like Walmart and Target announcing that they’ll no longer sell the Kindle—no doubt as they begin to realize that Amazon has become their main competition—the company is looking to get its device out of warehouses and onto more shelves. That they’re coming off a bit desperate made the mockery that much more fun. Take, for example, this GIF post from the Tumblr account of downtown Manhattan’s McNally Jackson, titled “Oh, Amazon, you want us to sell Kindles?”

Boutique publisher Melville House Books, based across the river in Brooklyn, did a bang-up job aggregating every bookseller screed about Amazon Source—no mean feat. The message was crystal clear: indie bookstores “are not Amazon franchises,” and they’d rather go down fighting than cozy up to the company trying to take them down. For Bezos et al., looks like it’s back to the drawing board.

Photo by alienratt/Flickr

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*First Published: Nov 7, 2013, 7:03 pm CST