Is Amazon asking independent bookstores to sell Kindles?

Some independent booksellers say they've received calls from someone claiming to be an Amazon staff member, asking if they'd be interested in selling Kindle e-readers.

Mark Lennihan/AP
The Kindle is Amazon's official e-reading device.

Is Amazon contacting independent bookstores and asking them if they want to sell Kindles?

Considering the animosity that some booksellers feel toward Amazon, it’s a strange idea, and Amazon isn’t commenting. But a handful of independent bookstores are reporting that they’ve received calls from someone claiming to be representing Amazon. According to the indie staffers, the caller asked if they’d be interested in working with the company to sell the e-readers.

As reported by independent bookstore newsletter Shelf Awareness, Los Angeles bookstore Skylight Books wrote a post on their Tumblr about a phone call the store had received from a representative claiming to be from Amazon. Appropriately enough, the post is titled “WHAT THE WHAT THE WHAAT!?!?” The post was written by a staff member named Charles.

“Apparently, [the caller] was given the task of reaching out to independent bookstores in order to ‘build’ a ‘relationship’ with the indies in order to ‘partner’ with us in a program to sell Kindles in our store…. yea, really,” he wrote.

Charles wrote that he “stated flatly that we wouldn’t be interested.”

According to Charles, the caller expected the skepticism.

“He said he understood and that he knew Amazon was facing a number of ‘hurdles’ they would need to cross in order to implement this program,” Charles wrote.

The caller asked Charles what would prevent his store from saying yes. Charles, according to his post, answered that: Amazon would need to start paying sales tax in every state; that Amazon would have to stop what Charles called its “predatory business practices”; and that the Kindle e-reader would have to be open-source. (Three indie bookstores recently sued Amazon and the six biggest American publishers, claiming that digital rights management of e-books is making it harder for them to sell electronic titles. However, some observers found fault with their logic. Check out the full story here.)

According to Charles, the representative “calmly and quite graciously said that he understood and that he felt Amazon was making progress on all three of those fronts (…!!…).”

Apparently Skylight Books isn’t alone. Island Books co-owner Roger Page says his wife received a similar call and that she also said no to Amazon. Page, whose bookstore is located in Mercer Island, Wash., told Shelf Awareness that hearing from the company isn’t unusual because the store is located near Seattle, Amazon’s headquarters, and that Amazon staff have floated new initiatives by him before.

“I think this is how they test out ideas," he said. "A lot of these guys know me.”

But Page said that, given that at least one other bookstore had received a similar call, it sounded to him like this was about something more than his simply being Amazon’s sounding board.

In addition, Page said that the caller his wife spoke to mentioned Kobo, the e-reader company that has a partnership with the American Booksellers Association and whose e-readers are currently sold by many independent bookstores. According to Page, the caller said that Amazon “could offer competitive prices” against Kobo.

The Seattle newspaper The Stranger looked into the matter after Skylight Books wrote about the call and Stranger writer Paul Constant found other booksellers who said they’d also received calls.

“Over the weekend, I heard from a few other booksellers who confirmed that they also received calls from people who claimed to be from Amazon.com.,” Constant wrote on The Stranger website.

Constant said that one bookseller had received an e-mail address from the sales representative who had contacted them and that the bookseller gave him the address. Constant e-mailed the address but received a form e-mail back that said, “Thank you for your interest in Kindle” and asked him to supply his information to the “Amazon Kindle Wholesale Team.”

Is Amazon trying to offer an olive branch to indie bookstores? Would bookstores ever join up with the online book titan? If Amazon is truly contacting bookstores, it’s a surprising move.

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