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Dec 13, 2011 5:55 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Booksellers Deplore Amazon 'Poaching' Ploy

Dec 13, 2011 6:31 PM

Independent booksellers on the South Fork had harsh words this week about a “price-check” promotion offered by Amazon on Saturday, December 10, to pump up online sales.

In what many considered a shot across the bow, Amazon offered a bounty that day to shoppers who used their mobile phones to scan the prices of items in brick-and-mortar stores and then order those items through Amazon online. “Now, we are enabling customers to use the Price Check app to share in-store prices while they search for the best deals,” said a press release from Amazon, which offered a 5-percent discount of up to $5 on up to three qualifying items. Amazon’s media hotline did not return phone calls.

While books were technically not among those items, bookstores sell merchandise like CDs that were, and they have already been opening their doors—and their hardcovers—to consumers who leaf through books on the premises, then take photos of the jackets to order or download them from Amazon. Partly for that reason, perhaps, booksellers were front and center among merchants who protested that the online giant was not only poaching customers but using them as spies and using physical stores as showrooms for Amazon’s merchandise.

“Even if it were true that they excluded us, so what?” said Jack McKeown, who co-owns Books and Books in Westhampton Beach with his wife, Denise Berthiaume, on Monday. “They could do it next weekend, or the weekend after that.”

“It really stripped away the veil in terms of what Amazon was capable of doing in terms of business practices,” Mr. McKeown said.

The promotion prompted an outraged letter from the chief of the American Booksellers Association, Oren Teicher, to the chief of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. In it, Mr. Teicher called Amazon’s offer “the latest in a series of steps to expand your market at the expense of cities and towns nationwide, stripping them of their unique character and the financial wherewithal to pay for essential needs like schools, fire and police departments and libraries.”

Not only does it not have overhead like rent and utilities, but Amazon does not collect sales tax as brick-and-mortar merchants do.

That was a point taken up by Charline Spektor, who with Jeremy Nussbaum, owns three independent BookHampton stores in East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Southampton. Ms. Spektor sent out an email blast of her 
own late last week; it asked neighbors and readers to join BookHampton in fighting back, to consider “how serious this threat is” and “to keep in mind the simple joy of going to BookHampton.”

“Our customers pay sales tax always,” she said, adding that she objected to “using the community to sustain a corporation that plays no part in the community; they give nothing back.”

“Everyone bemoans the fact, she said, that Main Street stores “are being bowdlerized” to the point that “there’s nothing unique” except, in East Hampton, a couple of independently owned stores like White’s Pharmacy or BookHampton. “The thing that keeps people there is people,” she said. “If you want the store to be there in June, you have to shop in it in September and February.”

“We say it’s a little bit skeevy,” Ms. Spektor said. “It’s a very slick-dude thing to come into our stores” and use “the knowledge, advice, kindness of our booksellers and then turn around and shop somewhere else. It’s not nice.”

She said a man “said to my face” that he likes to hold a book in his hand before he goes home and orders a copy online. “I’m also entitled to ask him to put his phone away.” When she did so, he responded that if he had to put his phone away he would leave.

“It’s arrogant but it’s also in a way really short-sighted,” she said.

However, she’s had a lot of support from her customers, both since sending out the email and in general, she said. Business has been good this season, and in contrast to a dwindling number of bookstores nationwide, “we are in lot better shape simply because we’re in a reading-supportive community,” Ms. Spektor said. “People read ... people are always astonished by how much they enjoy reading once they get back to reading.”

“If you really want to take a vacation you just sit on the couch and read a book. You read a novel ... buy a book. It’s like $35 instead of $3,500 to go to an island.”

Ms. Spektor and Mr. McKeown both said they saw recent online challenges as an opportunity to educate customers.

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"Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth..."

Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 1
By Mr. Z (11376), North Sea on Dec 13, 11 6:39 PM

I deplore that type of shopping behavior. Just go buy it online right off the bat! It takes a real a hole to waste the time of a brick and mortar retailer and then go buy online. It takes an even bigger a hole to suggest that their customers go ahead and take part in such behavior.

The article is incorrect though. Amazon does collect sales tax in NY.
By C Law (342), Water Mill on Dec 13, 11 6:39 PM
The government should step in and bailout any bookstores that fail as a result of amazon's approach.

I believe that will save jobs, create new ones, and lower taxes just as other bailouts have.
By ridiculous (214), hampton bays on Dec 13, 11 6:52 PM
Oh I see when Steve Jobs does it its OK, LOL you people crack me up Long live competition long live AMAZON
By They call me (2696), southampton on Dec 14, 11 12:30 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By C Law (342), Water Mill on Dec 14, 11 6:04 PM
I agree with TCM. Screw I tunes and the Apple business model.They want to control everything you do. open source and free enterprise forever! It makes no difference if it is on Black Friday or Cyber Monday Competition is king. Its what made this country great. Certainly not the corrupt union way of doing things, or the east end mom and pop protectionist way of doing things. Just good old free market unregulated private sector competition. If Barnes & Noble has a better experience then Book Hampton ...more
By Undocumented Democrat (1939), southampton on Dec 14, 11 10:10 PM
Not to go all Constitutional on you, BUT, wasn't it our own Founding Fathers who DEPLORED an abundance of power, in the hands of just a few?

I seem to recall that version of history being fairly accurate.

I shudder to think of a world where the tactile fellowship that comes with the printed (that means ink) book is lost. But, that seems to be the way we are headed, isn't it. Maybe coffee, and a discount download in a museum dedicated to "this is how we used to read" as the motif.
By Mr. Z (11376), North Sea on Dec 14, 11 11:59 PM
I despise an abundance of power just as much as you do. That is why I deplore the unions. Also companies like Apple who want to hold the keys to everything you do, and google who wants to know and track every move you make, They are the dangerous ones at the moment. and like the utilities and oil companies must be watched in the courts. You cant stop the winds of change my friend. Something tells me there will always be a place for the intimate book store cafe experience in some form or another, ...more
By Undocumented Democrat (1939), southampton on Dec 15, 11 2:19 PM
You need to remember that without Oligarchy, unions would not have come to be. Unfortunately, in so many ways they (unions) have become what they were founded to battle against.
By Mr. Z (11376), North Sea on Dec 16, 11 2:07 PM
Z, you may be right but I'll defend unions to my dying breath. Think about it with out it we would have no middle class. Think about this, ... in a corporation every time the union workers got a raise or benefits the white collar workers got the same. Maybe some demands got out of hand but the union still protects the honest worker.
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Dec 19, 11 8:08 PM
I know unions need to exist. Most retail workers could really use one, considering their California counterparts get $10/hr minimum wage, and here it's $7.25. Most people with "power" tend to embody Basitat's sentiment:

"When plunder becomes a way of life for a certain group of men, they in time create a legal system which condones it, and a moral code that glorifies it."
By Mr. Z (11376), North Sea on Dec 19, 11 8:52 PM
@ UD:

Apple's middle name is "proprietary". Makes that silly PC commercial even more foolish. I don't own an Apple, and I never will. Look into the Asus Transformer Prime, for a good PC product that makes the iPad look like a hunk of silicon.
By Mr. Z (11376), North Sea on Dec 19, 11 8:55 PM
1 member liked this comment
Phil, without unions, the "robber barons" would still be dancing on the bruised backs, and broken bodies of the people whose hands made them their fortune.

Without "middle class" workers, "corporates" cannot function.
By Mr. Z (11376), North Sea on Dec 19, 11 8:57 PM
Books and Books has no right to whine. They opened up a chain store in Westhampton and helped drive The Open Book, a true community book store, out of business.

I will gladly shop Amazon. They offer substantial discounts, lots of great reviews and selections, and free delivery.
By Steven (113), Westhampton on Dec 14, 11 8:41 PM
That's great, shop at amazon or wherever you want to online. I shop alot online as well for the reasons you mention.

What I don't do is go to, lets say gubbins, and try on a bunch of running shoes and then tell them I am not interested and go buy them online for $10 cheaper.

Or go to Main beach and talk to a sales guy about which surfboard is best for my kid to learn on and then go buy it on amazon for $40 cheaper.
By C Law (342), Water Mill on Dec 15, 11 6:25 AM
Then maybe grubbins needs to charge $5 to try on shoes and apply the deposit to the price of the shoes if you buy them.
By Undocumented Democrat (1939), southampton on Dec 15, 11 2:22 PM
Not for nothin', but Amazon basically a giant catalogue that services a huge number of small businesses. Any small business can sell through Amazon. So yea, it might be 'stealing' business from one brick and mortar store - but it's providing business to another who can offer a better deal and is using the internet to their advantage.

Not to mention the whole e-book thing. . .
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Dec 14, 11 10:13 PM
Personally, I think a really good second hand book store, really stocked well, can still attract a lot of walk-ins, and do well out here. Still won' t buy a e-reader. Like the feel of a real book in my hands. Unfortunately, I think the book stores, magazines and even newspapers are going down, the same as the record stores did. New technology.
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Dec 15, 11 4:57 PM
2 members liked this comment
There was a Federal Hearing not too long ago where the issue of state sales tax of online purchases was the issue. Apparently there is already a "Use" tax or fee on the books, but the states have no way to collect. There is also an issue with the Commerce Clause. There is much more and was an interesting Hearing. Amazon was represented there. You can find it on C-SPAN.
By The Good Life (7), Westhampton Beach on Dec 16, 11 3:21 PM
You've never filled out a quarterly or annual NYS Sales Tax filing, have you?
By Frank Wheeler (1813), Northampton on Dec 19, 11 7:43 PM
I am so happy to go to Bookhampton. The variety is wonderful to see and be able to buy off the shelf with out having to special order. Such is my experience in B&N. And the local stores support local authors.
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Dec 19, 11 8:11 PM
8k run & 3 mile walk, Agawam Park, Southampton Rotary Club fundraiser