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Industry News: Does the President hate independent bookstores? (Har-RUMPH!)

August 3, 2013

Each week, I scan a mess of Google alerts and a few solid, industry news-type websites for the Industry nuggets you see here each Saturday morning. When a story that’s not typical industry news shows up in multiple sources, there’s a good chance you’ll see it here.

The fact that President Obama opened his jobs tour at an Amazon warehouse in Tennessee was featured in both the Huffington Post books section and Publisher’s Weekly, both of whom wondered what the President had against independent bookstores. It seems that the American Booksellers Association, which represents indies, doesn’t see Amazon as a job creator.

In an open letter to the President, the ABA CEO Oren Teicher note that “every $10 million in spending that shifts from Main Street retailers to Amazon.com results in a net loss of 33 retail jobs. In 2012, Amazon’s sales increased by $13 billion. That would mean … Amazon cost the U.S. economy more than 42,000 retail jobs just last year.”

The ABA wasn’t happy that the visit came after Amazon slashed prices on hardcover books, once again making it harder for Indies to compete against the Evil Empire.

In fairness, Obama isn’t the only one pointing to Amazon as a jobs creator. Hillsborough and Polk Counties are bending over backwards to try to get a giant distribution center located in their respective counties. Having Amazon in Florida means you’ll have to pay sales tax on your Amazon purchases. But politicians, particularly on the local level, are elected on the basis of job creation, and gaining a distribution center is a net gain over losing an independent bookstore.

The point of this article isn’t to take a political position for or against the President’s policies. This isn’t a political blog. But the ABA’s argument deserves attention, particularly in light of the Amazon-friendly rulings against Apple and five of the Big Six publishers. And while it’s probably true there was collusion aimed at Amazon, the Empire is not exactly a helpless victim in this story.

Amazon is the biggest online retail organization on the planet. And while you can choose to avoid it as a reader, avoiding it as an author is the same as avoiding your biggest distribution network. Whether you support or oppose Amazon, it’s not going away. And while the ABA has a point–several of them, in fact–Amazon has the power of the market behind it.

My hope, personally, is that Amazon’s practices will catch the attention of Department of Justice regulators. Given the $116,000 donated by Amazon employees to the President’s re-election campaign–significantly more than what went to his opponent–that may not happen in this administration. But at some point, its growth will force the government to take notice.

Until then, if you want to sell your books, you have to deal with them and through them.

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