Bookstores wary of Amazon offer

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Posted: Sunday, November 10, 2013 12:00 am

SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon is going to the people who dislike and fear it the most — independent bookstore owners — and offering to work together to fulfill the needs and desires of their customers.

The retailer last week announced a program in which stores can sell its popular reading devices. The booksellers would get a small payment on each sale as well as a commission on all e-books that the reader buys during the next two years.

It was a great deal, booksellers said — for Amazon.

“I seriously doubt that many independent stores will take them up on it,” said Bill Petrocelli, co-owner of two stores in the Bay Area.

Many booksellers are distrustful of Amazon, a company of boundless ambition and some aggressive ways. Stores dismissed the new program as a Trojan horse aimed at further undermining their business. Independents make up about 10 percent of book sales, down from as much as 25 percent before Amazon.

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

Jason Bailey, co-owner of another Washington state store, JJ Books in Bothell, had a more nuanced view. He has already signed up with the program and was featured on the Amazon site.

“I have people coming in with their e-book readers to look at my books and then buy them online,” Bailey said in an interview. “I may have helped sell the book, but I generated income for someone else. Now I have a chip in the game.”

An Amazon spokeswoman, Kinley Pearsall, said she didn’t have the total number of retailers in the program. (One other bookstore, a college store in Washington, was featured on the site.)

“I can tell you anecdotally that the interest we’ve seen since announcing ... has been very strong,” Pearsall said.

Amazon has lost valuable real estate for its Kindle line of e-readers in recent years, as its brick-and-mortar competitors have dropped the devices from their stores. Last year, Target and Walmart said they would no longer sell the Kindle.

The new program, Amazon Source, lets stores either buy Kindles for a 6 percent discount and receive 10 percent of the revenue from e-books that customers purchase, or receive a 9 percent discount without any other payment. The cheapest Kindle is $69. Most e-books are about $12, although many self-published ones are much less or even free.

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