Amazon's Source program invites indie stores to sell Kindles

Amazon's new program invites indies to sell Kindles and receive a commission from e-books bought by their customers (if the store is eligible). Many stores are unimpressed, with one bookstore worker likening the program to 'being complicit in your execution.'

Brian Snyder/Reuters
A commuter uses a Kindle e-reader in Cambridge, Mass.

Many in the book world were taken aback when Amazon announced a new program called Amazon Source on Nov. 6, in which the company invited indie booksellers to sell Kindle devices in their stores.

The company says it created the program to “empower” indies to sell the company’s e-devices. Stores that are interested can choose to either purchase Kindles from Amazon and receive a 6 percent discount on the devices (and a 30 percent discount on accessories), then receive 10 percent of the money from sales of Kindle e-books and single-issue magazines for two years. (Video content, subscriptions to magazines, and other options don’t qualify for the commission.) This is called the Bookseller Program. In Amazon’s other option, titled the Retailer Program, stores can buy Kindles for a 9 percent discount and a 35 percent discount on accessories.

“Customers don’t have to choose between e-books and their favorite neighborhood bookstore – they can have both,” Amazon vice-president for Kindle Russ Grandinetti said in a statement.

Only stores in certain states can choose which plan they want, however. According to the Amazon website, a list of states including Colorado, Louisiana, and Vermont – 26 in total – are ineligible for the Bookseller Program.

There is also a trial period offered in which stores can return an order they place within six months.

“If you decide that e-readers and tablets aren’t the right fit for your store, we’ll buy back any tablet, e-reader or accessory that was on your first order, no questions asked,” the Amazon website reads.

Locations who wish to participate must have a brick-and-mortar store out of which they operate – no online booksellers allowed – and store staff must be able to offer state resale exemption certificates.

Stores that participate are still allowed to sell other e-readers or electronic devices.

The Amazon Source website includes a “Testimonials” section which currently contains two quotes from stores in Washington, including one from JJ Books co-owner Jason Bailey. According to Publishers Weekly, the two stores quoted were part of a pilot program in which Amazon tested the idea. 

“JJ Books is excited to expand our selection to now include Kindle devices for our customers,” Bailey said. “We feel that Amazon is the leader for e-readers, and working with them to bridge the move to electronic books and find a way to create a new model is the means to longer-term viability for independent bookstores. Kindle will help us bridge the evolution of the bookstore into the Internet age.”

Many indie stores are already partnered with Kobo, which sells e-devices. (However, according to Wired writer Marcus Wohlsen, the 10 percent offered by Amazon is reportedly twice what indie stores receive from Kobo when a customer purchases an e-book.)

We reported back in June that some indie bookstores had been receiving calls from people claiming to be from Amazon asking if the stores would be interested in a program in which the stores sold Kindles. At the time, many told the callers they would not participate in such a program.

After the announcement, an Amazon spokesperson, Kinley Pearsall, told the New York Times that “I can tell you anecdotally that the interest we’ve seen since announcing this morning has been very strong.”

But many booksellers still seem unimpressed by the idea now that it’s official, including New England Independent Booksellers Association president Suzanna Hermans, who is also co-owner of the New York store Oblong Books & Music.

“If Amazon thinks indie bookstores will become agents for the Kindle, they are sorely mistaken,” Hermans told Publishers Weekly. “There is no way I will promote Amazon products in my stores after the havoc they have wreaked on our industry as a whole. Sorry, Jeff. I’m not buying it.”

Richard Howorth, owner of Mississippi store Square Books, said he found the idea “offensive.”

“Marie Antoinette might like to go into the guillotine business,” he told Publishers Weekly. “Amazon should be paying fees to independent bookstores for the extraordinary marketing of reading and books that benefits them, rather than devising absurd schemes they claim make us ‘partners’ but actually drive us out of business.”

Seattle Mystery Bookshop worker J.B. Dickey felt much the same.

“We help Amazon grow its business and, in return, get a thin slice of the sale?” Dickey said in an interview with the New York Times. “That’s not cooperation. That’s being complicit in your execution."

Meanwhile, David Bolduc, owner of the Boulder Bookstore in Colorado, told industry newsletter Shelf Awareness that “if anyone thinks Amazon is going to do you a favor, you better have someone walking behind you so you don't feel the stab. Their whole entire business model is predatory.... I don't see any possible way to live in the same ecosystem as Amazon. They don't want anybody else. They want to be the go-to source for everything in the world.”

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