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    Bitten Critical's Avatar
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    Occupy Amazon?

    NCIBA Booksellers Challenge Moore to Occupy Amazon

    After "getting distracted" a couple of blocks away while making an appearance in support of the thousands of protestors gathered at Occupy Oakland, Michael Moore was late for his appearance at a "special event" at this year's Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show last Friday evening. But no one seemed to mind.

    After speaking nonstop and entertainingly for more than an hour to a group of booksellers who could be described as members of his "choir," things got interesting when he opened up the floor for questions.

    First Praveen Madan, co-owner of the Booksmith in San Francisco, asked Moore how to educate the public that unequal discounts offered to big retailers like Amazon put indie retailers at a huge disadvantage. Then Brad Jones, co-owner of Booksmart in Morgan Hill, made a direct challenge.

    Trying "not to sound disrespectful," Jones asked if NCIBA members sold his new book, Here Comes Trouble (Grand Central), at their cost (bringing the consumer price closer to the discount Amazon can offer), would the celebrity pro-indie author not sell his books on Amazon?

    "Jimmy just walked out of the room," Moore joked, pointing to where Hachette's Jimmy Franco had been standing by the door. Then he said, "I'm actually thinking about it. This is so freaking cool. You can't put ideas like that in my head."

    For the next 10 minutes, Moore debated his wish to help the independent booksellers he supports and his obligations to be a good author for a publisher he described as being very good to him. He noted that Hachette originally had planned to print Here Comes Trouble in India, but in a last-minute midnight call, he was told the company arranged for the books to be printed in Vermont.

    Moore added that he had heard that Lady Gaga--whose forthcoming book from Hachette has an announced print run of 750,000--had stipulated in her contract that her books had to be printed in the U.S. at a union shop.

    "How old is this woman?" he asked the crowd of about 150. He went on to say of the 24-year-old pop star: "And she was smarter than me? I have so much hope with these kids that we raised."

    Moore made no commitment and left mulling over what might happen if a few major authors chose such a model. Then he thanked the booksellers for the challenge.

    At Saturday's breakfast, David Guterson put aside his prepared remarks after witnessing the exchange between Moore and NCIBA members the night before. The Other, Guterson's novel directly preceding his new book, Ed King (Knopf), dealt with the "inherent hypocrisy we all face on a daily basis," he said. While he couldn't offer a quick answer on how to overcome this hypocrisy, he said that asking questions when people are taking to the streets to protest economic inequality is very important. Ultimately, he said, it is what he addresses in Ed King, a novel that retells the Oedipus story, which at its core is about a king's arrogance and blindness to himself. "What if an entire nation was being deluded about itself?" asked Guterson.

    "That was worth getting up for," commented Michael Barnard, the morning's emcee, NCIBA president and owner of Rakestraw Books in Danville, Calif.

    The booksellers' challenge to Michael Moore dominated the trade show's conversations, and many considered the issues of possible anti-trust and price collusion.

    "I think one of the things that Michael Moore discovered is that Amazon is our Wall Street," NCIBA executive director Hut Landon said.

    Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, said he already reached out to Moore to continue the discussion of how to change the book business model to even the playing field for retailers. "The good news is that a lot of people are thinking about how the business needs to change," said Teicher. "David Guterson is thinking about this too, and that is helpful. Having the authors help us reinvent the model is indispensible."

    Teicher has pointed out on visits to NCIBA that many interesting and meaningful ideas have emerged from this group of booksellers, who historically have been pioneers on issues important to the book business, such as the effort to require online retailers to collect sales taxes.

    Will this NCIBA lead to an Occupy Amazon movement? As Moore pointed out, with thousands of protestors all over the country, "This is a new day in America."
    Shelf Awareness for Monday, October 31, 2011 | Shelf Awareness

    I was lucky enough to be in the audience to hear Michael Moore speak at this event. It was lots of fun to hear him speak about Occupy Oakland (which is where he was before he spoke to us), about education, the need to support local bookstores, etc. Then, the bookstore owner asked him the question about Amazon and the whole event changed!

    One of the things that Moore asked was how many of us had ever made a purchase on Amazon and why. So, I got to thinking about Amazon in general and its effect on local booksellers and my part in that and I thought this might make an interesting discussion. I have and do make purchases on Amazon from time to time, mainly because Iím broke, but also because they have a better selection and I can get things there that I canít find at a local store, at least not without doing a special order. I have a good friend who is very anti-Amazon and who buys local more than anyone I know and even she has bought from Amazon a few times.

    The organization that I belong to has spearheaded the movement to pass a law requiring Amazon to collecting sales tax in California. The state loses hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in sales tax from Amazon alone, which is bad enough in a GOOD economy, but horrible in this economy when state workers are being laid off like crazy and programs are being cut.

    We lost Borders this year, due largely in part to their inability to get with the ebook revolution. The Nook is definitely a big reason that Barnes & Noble is still afloat. I know that indie booksellers are trying to learn how to sell ebooks and still sell paper books since there are many customers (me included) who will probably never want an ereader.

    Really though, I think the main thing about Amazon that is killing local bookstores is their deep discounts Ė discounts that no indie can keep up with. Most publishers give between 40% and 55% discounts off of cover. In my experience, the average falls somewhere between 46% and 50%. Amazon often sells things at 40% below cover, which means they get a MUCH better discount than the average bookseller. How is the little guy supposed to compete? In France, by law, booksellers cannot discount books more than 5% below cover and I know Amazon is fighting that.

    I still feel there is value in local independent bookstores- in local indie stores, period - but its starting to feel, more and more, like I'm in the minority.

    This is a HUGE topic and there are lots of opinions, Iím sure. I was just curious about how people here felt. Do you buy from Amazon or just locally or both? Would having to pay sales tax deter you from buying on Amazon? Does convenience and a slightly better price win out over supporting local businesses? It definitely had people talking at the trade show, including a group of authors at an event later Friday evening and at the breakfast event mentioned above where David Guterson and two other authors spoke Saturday morning.
    Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.' - Isaac Asimov

    I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, "... I drank what?"

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    I won't forget Cootie's Avatar
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    Re: Occupy Amazon?

    In my town we only have a used book store now that Waldenbooks closed. And we have Costco for the well known titles. So yes, I use Amazon on occasion. But I also shop at Powell's in Portland which is a big store and is union, too. They have a great selection of new and used books. It is packed with people everytime I go there. Those who think print is dead should hang around Powell's for an afternoon.

    The deal with Amazon is that it is not just for books anymore. You can buy groceries on there! And appliances, jewelry, etc...

    Perhaps the smaller dealers could have access to deals through buying consortiums? I don't imagine that would totally solve the problem, but it was a thought. It is great the Michael Moore was so thoughtful in his answers.

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    Bitten Critical's Avatar
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    Re: Occupy Amazon?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cootie View Post
    In my town we only have a used book store now that Waldenbooks closed. And we have Costco for the well known titles. So yes, I use Amazon on occasion. But I also shop at Powell's in Portland which is a big store and is union, too. They have a great selection of new and used books. It is packed with people everytime I go there. Those who think print is dead should hang around Powell's for an afternoon.

    The deal with Amazon is that it is not just for books anymore. You can buy groceries on there! And appliances, jewelry, etc...

    Perhaps the smaller dealers could have access to deals through buying consortiums? I don't imagine that would totally solve the problem, but it was a thought. It is great the Michael Moore was so thoughtful in his answers.
    I rarely buy books on Amazon - it's usually DVDs or CDs because we don't have a store in my city that I like and I refuse to shop at Best Buy after a really horrible experience with them. I bought my phone case from Amazon just recently because it was easier to find that way than going all over town to find the one I liked that fit my phone.

    I know how lucky we are in my city to have several good indie bookstores as well as a great system if libraries. I feel sick for towns that have lost their libraries.

    I don't know if the indies would be willing to join together OR if they'd be able to. By definition, the indie bookstores are, well, independent, so I'm not sure if they would want to go in with other stores. Also, I don't know what quantity you would have to buy to get the kinds of discounts that Amazon does. I know that, often, regular hardcovers come in carton amounts of between 24 and 36 units and most stores probably buy at least the popular titles in those quantities.

    From the discussion we all had at the MM event, most booksellers don't get more than 50% off cover - and there were large stores as well as smaller stores represented there. I mean, I deal in small quantities and I get that same discount! That was one of the most frustrating things when I was a retail buyer - with almost every other kind of product we carried, the price wasn't printed on the product. Some publishers don't charge for freight, but many do and you can't add that to your price to absorb the cost like you can with, say, toys or jewelry.

    I was very impressed with Michael Moore, I have to say. I share many of his political views, but his methods have often made me nervous - I don't like that confrontational style that he uses. I can't watch a lot of investigative news stories either for that same reason. Still, I found MM engaging and funny and very smart. While some authors would have paid lip service to us and then walked out of there, it was clear he was really thinking about the possibilities. He did admit though that nothing could be done with respect to his new book since he'd already signed contracts, but he said he'd consider all of this with his next book. He had family with him at the event and he joked that they knew he was seriously thinking about the suggestion to not sell his book on Amazon.

    I got a copy of his new book, Here Comes Trouble, so I'll post a review in the"What Are You Reading?" thread when I finish it.
    Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.' - Isaac Asimov

    I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, "... I drank what?"

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    Pineapple! ClosetRTWatcher's Avatar
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    Re: Occupy Amazon?

    This is an interesting discussion. I have purchased many books from Amazon. In my hometown we had a FANTASTIC used book store, and if I still lived there that is where I would shop for books. However, in my current town our used book stores are mediocre. They sometimes will have a book I'm looking for, but they are small and not much fun to browse in. The only other place to purchase books in this location is from big-box book stores. With that alternative, I would rather just buy from Amazon. The price is better and it is more convenient. I know that I should frequent my local library more, but it is in an inconvenient location and my day-to-day schedule is busy enough that I find it frustrating trying to make sure books get turned back in on time. I use the library more often for reading practice books for my kids.

    All of this said, things also switched up for me at the beginning of this year when I bought a Kindle since I am much more closely tied to Amazon now for book purchases. I have too many books piled around my house and this was a good option for me to have lots of books without the clutter! I only wish I could trade in some of my fav old hard copy books for the Kindle edition. I do prefer the feel of having a book in my hand, but I am getting used to the Kindle paradigm and I love having access to so much reading on such a small device. I am also ecstatic about the idea of travelling with it!! The other day I asked my daughter to "hand me my book on the table" and then it occurred to me that I should have said Kindle, but she knew exactly what I was talking about!

    This last comment is not specific to books, but I wanted to add that sometimes the lack of sales tax is the deciding factor for me to make a purchase on Amazon. I have four kids and we try to carefully watch our costs around Christmas. For items like electronics, I can plan my purchase to make sure we get free shipping and avoid paying sales taxes and I definitely come out better off than if I had made the same purchase at a store like Walmart or Target.
    Last edited by ClosetRTWatcher; 11-01-2011 at 11:28 AM.

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    Bitten Critical's Avatar
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    Re: Occupy Amazon?

    For me, the sales tax thing has been a deciding factor in purchases in the past, but then I really started to think about it in this last year or so. How much money am I really saving that could make a huge difference - when combined with purchases from millions of other people - to help my state? The tax rate here is 7.75%. I usually pay a few dollars of tax and that really doesn't affect even my puny budget. If the economy here was great, that would be one thing, but it's horrible and the state is in serious trouble. Can I honestly say that the state couldn't really use the sales tax revenue from Amazon and other big box internet retailers? No. When you're talking about several hundred million dollars in lost revenue, a few bucks out of my pocket isn't much for me to pay and my budget is miniscule. California is in a huge budget crisis. I personally know dozens of state workers who have lost their jobs or taken huge pay cuts because of the budget crisis. $200M+ could make a huge difference.

    With Amazon, even if I pay sales tax, I still can get free shipping and usually a better price AND the convenience of having it delivered to my house and of not having to drive all over town to find something.

    It's the same issue that the Occupy movement is addressing - the big guy (in this case, Amazon) gets all the breaks and the little guy (the local indie bookseller) pays for it.

    As for ebooks, I know some of the indies are trying to dive in and find a way to sell them. For those of you with ereaders, would you buy from your local store (on their site or whatever - don't have an ereader, so I'm not sure how it all works) if they were available that way? I guess with a Kindle, it's easier just to download the next one, which comes straight from Amazon, right? Would you be willing, when and if it was possible, to buy from a local indie if you had that option?

    My house is a mountain of books, but I'll still never probably get an ereader. I'm a purist. Plus, I've read several articles lately about ebooks and the fact that the version in the ebook is often not the finished proofread version that is released in print. I'll see if I can find the article, which I found pretty surprising.

    I guess for me, this whole issue boils down to parity and walking the walk. As David Guterson pointed out at the breakfast event this past weekend, we're ALL hypocrites. It's just unavoidable. It seems that there is so much lip service paid to championing small business owners and helping the little guy, but when it comes down to it, big business gets all the tax breaks, the big discounts and the advantages. At what point do we start putting our money where our mouths are?....and I mean us as consumers AND the government.
    Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.' - Isaac Asimov

    I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, "... I drank what?"

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    Anarchist AJane's Avatar
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    Re: Occupy Amazon?

    I agree, this is a very interesting discussion. I don't buy a lot of books, opting instead to check out the new release one-week loaners at the library, or reserve a book I really want to read. The markup on books here in Canada is off-putting. Case in point: I bought a hardcover copy of Clive Barker's latest because it's in a series that my daughter & I own. Admittedly, it's a gorgeous print, heavy paper and also full of his paintings as illustrations (weighs a ton!). I paid $2 more than the listed U.S. price, and that was a good deal because the price differences are usually greater. I don't buy online much, because it's just not as fun as browsing in a "real" bookstore, and because my province has no sales tax (we only pay our federal GST) I'm not motivated to shop online.

    I like Michael Moore - I enjoy his books and films, and I think it's too bad that so many people are too cynical about his bombastic style to listen to his messages. But at the risk of sounding cynical myself - he can afford to walk the walk, as Crit put it. We could Occupy Amazon, Occupy Walmart, Occupy Safeway (or whatever big grocery chain Americans use), etc., etc. It's a sad fact that so many of us are so damn broke we can't support independent business. I'm not an economist and I don't know how to fix that. Hell, I can't even balance my chequebook.

    I'd like to read that new MM book though.
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    Bitten Critical's Avatar
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    Re: Occupy Amazon?

    Quote Originally Posted by AJane View Post
    I like Michael Moore - I enjoy his books and films, and I think it's too bad that so many people are too cynical about his bombastic style to listen to his messages. But at the risk of sounding cynical myself - he can afford to walk the walk, as Crit put it. We could Occupy Amazon, Occupy Walmart, Occupy Safeway (or whatever big grocery chain Americans use), etc., etc. It's a sad fact that so many of us are so damn broke we can't support independent business. I'm not an economist and I don't know how to fix that. Hell, I can't even balance my chequebook.
    I absolutely agree. He's admitted that he's part of the 1% and that he got there, in part, by championing the little guy. I'll say that he definitely doesn't dress like a member of the 1%

    There's a group that formed within the last few years called the 3/50 Project (The 3/50 Project ::: Home). The idea with this project is that you think about 3 locally owned, independent businesses that you would miss if they went out of business. The project asks you to consider spending $50 each month at these businesses - that's a total of $50, not $150. They give the statistic that, if you spend $100 with a local, independent business, $68 of that stays in the community in the form of taxes, payroll, etc. If you spend $100 at a large chain, $43 stays in the community. If you buy online from a site like Amazon, NO money stays in your community.

    The other statistic that 3/50 Project gives (and it's their math, but they do have a point) is that if only half of us spent that $50 at 3 local businesses every month, it would generate more than $42 billion in revenue for local economies.

    It's definitely a complicated issue. As I said upthread, my budget is microscopic. I'd LOVE to not have to shop at Walmart and I do avoid it as much as possible, but I'm not in a financial position to NOT shop there. It's really hard NOT to be a hypocrite in this economy. We can talk about shopping locally and supporting small businesses all we want, but if the prices are so much lower at the big box stores, how to you NOT shop there? I have friends who own indie businesses and heck, I used to be a buyer for one and it's still hard to put my money where my mouth is.

    I'll add that one of our local indie bookstores, while being a nice store, sometimes has less than nice employees. I've been in there several times when an employee just sort of ignored me or was unhelpful or unfriendly. In this economy, I'd think that you'd be hustling to give the best customer service possible and keep every customer you have. We have some good used/new indies here, but sometimes the employees leave something to be desired. I think it may be the "too cool for the room" syndrome where the employees think they're above helping people. I guess they can be above people while collecting unemployment.
    Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.' - Isaac Asimov

    I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, "... I drank what?"

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    FORT Fogey Florimel's Avatar
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    Re: Occupy Amazon?

    I am a frequent purchaser at Amazon; just bought a new hdtv there at an excellent price with no tax, no shipping charges, and free 30-day return policy. It is usually the first place I look for many items and then I generally comparison ship online. I have had excellent customer service at Amazon, something that barely exists anymore. I remember purchasing an rpg game online from them. A long time later I could not find the disc anywhere. I wrote to Amazon and and asked if they could tell me where I could find a replacement disk. They sent me a new one free of charge. Who does that with games? With amazon prime, I have free shipping on almost everything and a lot of streamed move and tv content at no charge. As long as their customer service and value remains as it is, I'll continue to use them as a first supply source.
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    Best Buddies Gutmutter's Avatar
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    Re: Occupy Amazon?

    I'm with you Florimel - Amazon is my first go-to for almost everything except clothes and groceries (although I've gotten 4 pairs of Shape Ups from them). I am an avid Kindle user - both of my daughters have one linked to my account so we all have access to the same 270 books on it. I also get hardcover books for things like cook books and books I want to share. I also have amazon prime, so free shipping... last summer I bought an electric lawn mower that was shipped to me free. I had the luxury of reading all the customer reviews before making my choice. That is one feature I really like about amazon - reading good and bad reviews about competing products or books. I can almost always find products that have been discontinued locally, like my favorite Brazil Nut body butter. Amazon's customer service is stellar!
    I live in a small town with a small bookstore. I go there occasionally, but their selection is limited and does me no good with my Kindle. I have to think that part of the problem is just that people don't read as much as they used to.
    Count your blessings!

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    runs with scissors waywyrd's Avatar
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    Re: Occupy Amazon?

    I buy from both Amazon and (not so) local bookstores. We've lost Waldenbooks and our only local indie bookstore in the last few years, so it's either Amazon or drive at least an hour to poke around in an actual bookstore. When I have time, that's what I do. Otherwise, I adore Amazon - unbeatable selection, price, and one click gets me that book I've been dying to read delivered to my door in two days. Plus it seems to be the only place in the world that still sells my haircolor that's been discontinued everywhere else.

    Now, I do try and support local businesses. I buy local produce at stands and farmer's markets, eat at local non-chain restaurants, go to mom and pop hardware stores, etc. And I avoid Wal-mart like the plague (HATE that company). But I won't give up Amazon, and the no sales tax does help that decision. Am I a hypocrite because of that? Sure. It is what it is.
    Time you enjoy wasting was not wasted - John Lennon

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