Obama's embrace of Amazon dismays many booksellers

President Obama will highlight Amazon as 'a perfect example of the company that is investing in American workers and creating good, high-wage jobs,' according to the White House. Independent booksellers aren't pleased.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit an Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga, Tenn. tomorrow.

President Obama is heading to an Amazon warehouse Tuesday to praise the company for creating jobs, and the independent bookstore world is not happy.

The Amazon warehouse is located in Chattanooga, Tenn.

White House deputy press secretary Amy Brundage says “the Amazon facility in Chattanooga is a perfect example of the company that is investing in American workers and creating good, high-wage jobs.”

"What the president wants to do is to highlight Amazon and the Chattanooga facility as an example of a company that is spurring job growth and keeping our country competitive,” Brundage said, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. During his appearance there, Obama will discuss his ideas for creating jobs.

It's no mystery why Obama is enthusiastic about Amazon as a creator of domestic jobs. The company recently announced it was hiring 5,000 additional workers at 17 of its warehouses all over the country. According to the company, the positions are full-time and come with health care, among other benefits.

The Chattanooga warehouse currently has 1,800 full-time workers, according to the Times Free Press, who are paid between $11 and $13 an hour.

But many in the bookselling community are far from pleased with the positive attention being paid to Amazon – a competitor they see as a ruthless destroyer of small businesses. In addition to aggressively undercutting prices, Amazon has also come under fire from brick-and-mortar bookstores for not charging its customers  sales tax in some states, a practice the company has defended by arguing that it should not have to do so in areas where it has no building or other physical presence. (However, Amazon now charges tax in states such as California and New York and is set to begin doing so in other states, including Nevada, beginning next year.)

Bruce Joshua Miller, a sales representative at Miller Trade Book Marketing, penned a letter to the American Booksellers Association, writing that he “urge[s] you to speak out against Amazon's business practices, and the President's likely endorsement of them, whether this endorsement is tacit or explicit.”

Miller called Obama’s plan to visit “truly shocking” and referenced Amazon’s recent steep price discounts (50 to 65 percent on many of its current bestselling titles) as well as a series of articles that appeared in the Pennsylvania newspaper the Morning Call that featured interviews with workers at an Amazon warehouse. One worker said he saw others pass out from the hot temperatures inside and that the company’s requirements for work pace were impossible to meet. 

Sheri Olson, owner of Reading Frenzy bookstore in Zimmerman, Minn., wrote a letter to the president in which she stated she was “trying to understand how supporting a monopoly such as Amazon helps small businesses & middle-income Americans…. [Amazon’s price cuts] could be a death blow to the entire book industry – publishers, bookstores, authors. When will the government help us? And at this point.... not hurt us by supporting & broadcasting from this monopoly that is attempting to destroy the Main Streets of America. Please take this into consideration & change your location for your speech…. And please help small businesses such as bookstores stay alive.”

In bookseller industry newsletter Shelf Awareness editor-in-chief John Mutter called Obama's embrace of Amazon “roughly equivalent of going to a Wal-Mart and calling for more of the kinds of jobs it offers.”

It's all quite a turn-about from this past November, when  Obama encouraged the American public to participate in Small Business Saturday, traveling with his daughters to a local Virginia bookstore. As president, Obama has also made highly publicized trips to – and purchases from – such independent bookstores as Martha's Vineyard's Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and Iowa City's Prairie Lights Bookstore.

The president garnered praise and good will from independent booksellers with such gestures. Now, however, that good will seems only too likely to be undone by his embrace of Amazon.

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