Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Amazon Takes Ball, Goes Home. Guess What? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Ball

This week Rhode Island and North Carolina passed laws that, in effect, require Amazon to collect sales tax on sales made through its affiliates based in those states. New York passed a similar law last year estimating that it could bring in up to $100 million annually in previously uncollected sales tax. Amazon threw a big temper tantrum. It is suing New York. Refusing to play fair like the rest of us, this week, it dumped its affiliates in Rhode Island and North Carolina. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, in Rhode Island, which reportedly is facing a $590 million dollar budget deficit, an estimated 2,000 affiliates are affected. (Missouri’s 2009 budget deficit is $542 million. If we could collect even a fraction of what New York hopes to take in, wouldn't it be loverly?)

But even as 48 states face severe budget shortages, and as many of them balance their budgets by cutting services to children, the poor or elderly, and to education, the uniform reponse to Amazon's bullying from various Amazon apologists is how much money will be lost by "small busnesses." That doesn't even make sense.

I have one thing to say about this: anything they can do we can do better.

All Amazon does is take orders through its website and send people books. It’s not rocket science. It’s retail bookselling and it’s what bookstores do. We have websites. Websites you can affiliate with. We pay a higher percent than Amazon to the affiliate. If you or your organization affiliates with Amazon, try us, you’ll like us.

We know how to ring up sales and put books in boxes and ship them by whatever means necessary. We’ve actually delivered books on foot. We giftwrap. We make recommendations.

We also operate bookfairs for local nonprofits as fundraisers. We offer corporate and institutional discounts. We do author events.

We answer the phone. We also answer our emails. We, the booksellers, are not some auto-reply thingie that is the online version of press 1, press 2 press 3, go away. Of course, that means you might have to actually interact with a human being at some point. A human being you might run into at the grocery store who will remember your name. But if you don’t want to talk to us, we’ll stick with email.

Let me say this again.

Left Bank Books, along with all the other 1500-plus member bookstores takes orders through our website and sends people books.

Left Bank Books, along with all the other 1500-plus member bookstores also allows anyone to affiliate through our website to sell their own books or earn money on the sales of other books for their organization.

We pay a higher percent of the sales to the affiliate than Amazon does.

We pay state and local sales tax so that our communities can maintain basic infrastructure and services. We do not threaten to stop doing business with you. We are good citizens.

But the public discourse right now is focused on how horrible it is to be dumped by Amazon. How much money everyone will lose. Hello! Is anybody out there paying attention? You have about 1,500 other immediate “job” openings. What if those 2,000 Amazon-exes in Rhode Island affiliated with one or more of the eleven Indiebound bookstores in Rhode Island? That’s a win-win-win: you sell your books, you make more money off the sales, you support the local economy and your state’s operating budget. It doesn't get any better than this.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a street full of little shops to walk down on a sunny day, a street maintained by your local government, a street you feel safe on because local law enforcement is at full staff, a street leading to a nice park bench in a public park where you can sit down, enjoy the publicly supported landscaping and have a read?

This won’t happen if you send 100% of the price of a purchase to None of it. Economic impact studies have repeatedly shown that for every $100 spent with a locally-owned business, about $68 is reinvested in the community. If it is spent with nationally-owned chain, only about $43 stays in the community. Send it to Amazon and none of it gets reinvested locally.

Given the economy and the giant deficits state and local governments are facing, it seems like a no-brainer to me that collecting sales tax from Amazon would not only level the playing field for the rest of us who do pay taxes, which would in turn keep more dollars in the community, it would generate desperately needed revenue and create and retain jobs.

What most who shop on or affiliate with don’t realize is that as the Wal-Mart of the internet, they have bullied publishers into giving them deals not offered to any other booksellers. As they increasingly monopolize retail bookselling, they increasingly control publishing. That little computer “misstep” last month when they “accidentally” removed all titles perceived to be gay or lesbian from their sales-rankings gave authors and the public alike a glimmering of what’s in store for us down the Amazon road.

I say, don’t go there. Take another road. A real road. The one that leads to a real bookstore in a real town. Your town.


Robin said...


S. Michael Wilson said...

Following this argument, would it also stand to reason that local independent bookstores that sell books online as well, and don't charge sales tax when delivering to states that don't require it, are in their own way denying tax dollars to local bookstores and communities they are shipping to?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for opening eyes about what really happens when buying through Amazon, and reminding us that our Local Book Store has much better services, and can also special order most anything.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Economies of scale hasn't worked nearly as well for consumers as we were promised. I regret the times I have to buy from Amazon- hard-to-get DVDs no one else can find, et al- but I'm spending more and more of my money at my local independent bookstore.

I too dream of having blocks of local shops that send their money to the local economy.