"Especially in the past few years, we've made a conscious effort to not define ourselves in relation to Amazon," said Robert Sindelar, managing partner of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and Ravenna, Wash. Customers, he continued, are wary of being lectured to, and Sindelar did not want to seem beleaguered or embittered. "We feel we're unique and awesome in ways that have nothing to do with Amazon."
However, the ongoing dispute between Amazon.com and Hachette Book Group has given Sindelar--and other indie booksellers across the country--an opportunity to raise awareness and open dialogue with customers in more productive ways.
|Third Place Books' Hachette display table.
"We thought a lot about what we can do to bring a little awareness to consumers without preaching," Sindelar added. To that end, Third Place Books has put up a prominent display of Hachette titles and included copies of a New York Times article about the dispute, and is offering 20% off on pre-orders of J.K. Rowling's next Robert Galbraith book, The Silkworm. What's more, anyone in the greater Seattle area who pre-orders The Silkworm will have it hand-delivered by a Third Place Books staff member on June 19. "Most consumers would be pre-ordering the book on Amazon, and that's impossible to do right now."
Third Place Books has never offered deliveries before, but Sindelar is confident that he and his staff members can handle it for one day. "We'll take it to offices, homes, anywhere," said Sindelar. "We're asking people, if they don't mind, to tell us where they'll be that day, so we can hand it over in person. And there will some freebies, maybe some ARCs or some book swag, to deliver as thank yous. We're really trying to make it a fun event."
(On Wednesday, Rowling tweeted: "I LOVE Third Place Books and so does my good friend Robert Galbraith.")
|Hachette display at McLean & Eakin Booksellers.
Jessilynn Norcross, co-owner of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., has been pleasantly surprised by the number of customers who both are aware of the ongoing dispute and are eager to talk about it. On Wednesday morning, Norcross recounted, some 60 customers, all in store because of various book clubs, had a long conversation with Matt Norcross, the store's other co-owner, about the dispute and were glad to get the scoop.
"We're in such an insular business as booksellers," Norcross said. "We know what's going on, but it's hard to communicate that in a friendly way. We don't want to alienate anyone, but we still want to educate our customers a bit."
Before putting up any sort of display or broaching the subject with customers directly, Norcross made sure her staff knew what was going on. Then, they put together a prominent display table of Hachette titles, with printed-out copies of an Atlantic Monthly article about the dispute; lists of upcoming Hachette titles available for pre-order; and a lighthearted Star Wars motif that equates Jeff Bezos with the Emperor and Amazon with the Dark Side and implores customers to "join the Indie Revolution."
"It's been a great conversation starter," said Norcross. She plans to dedicate a Monday e-mail to customers about the subject, and reported that the dedicated display has definitely helped boost sales of Hachette titles. It was hard to tell, she continued, if any new customers have come in simply to get Hachette titles otherwise unavailable from Amazon, but "we do have some Silkworm pre-orders, so that might be a bit of an indicator."
|Wall display at The King's English.
Anne Holman, co-owner of the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, hasn't heard much from her customers about the dispute between Amazon and Hachette. Her store has, however, put up displays of Hachette titles, as well as signs around the store saying, "We happily sell Hachette Book Group titles." Like Norcross and Sindelar, and many other indie booksellers, Holman is very conscious of the risk of appearing bitter when talking to customers about Amazon.
"It's a complicated conversation," she said. "It's much more than a simple 'Don't buy Amazon, they're mean.' People want to save money and they want things quickly. But it's also about more than just prices and more than just books."
The job of indie booksellers during the dispute, Holman suggested, is to keep the momentum going and to keep talking about the services that indies can provide, including but not limited to books.
"We're fully supportive of Hachette, and we are going to do everything we can to advertise their books as long as they are in this dispute," Holman said. She, too, has seen a noticeable uptick in interest in The Silkworm. "We always [advertise Hachette books] and we would anyway. But we're going to make it more noticeable and more vocal."
In his store's June e-newsletter, Chris Morrow, co-owner of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., discussed the dispute. He wrote: "The juxtaposition of the [James] Patterson grants and the Hachette-Amazon fight highlights the importance and benefits to communities across the country of bookstores, and, more broadly, locally owned independent stores.... We, as a society, are involved in a broad sociological experiment--do we understand and appreciate the dynamics that produce thriving communities (with buying local as a main tenant) or do we abandon social capital in favor of hyper-efficiency and scale?"
Northshire Bookstore has also put up a Hachette display and posters throughout the store. Morrow reports that his sales of Hachette titles were up over 7% for the month of May. Despite the attention that the mainstream media has given the stand-off, Morrow was unsure if the average book buyer is aware of the discussion. But, he said, "It is certainly contributing to the narrative of Amazon as a big corporate bully. It adds credence to the buy local message."
At Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., booksellers have seen an uptick in sales of some of J.D. Salinger's books in the past couple of weeks, and Malcolm Gladwell has made it to the store bestseller list twice, a few weeks ago for The Outliers and again this week for David and Goliath. The store has mentioned the dispute in its newsletters and has shared related articles and columns on its social media pages. Soon, they're putting up a display with Hachette titles at the front of the store.
"We haven't necessarily had customers ask for specific titles or authors as a result of the dispute," said Rachel Betz Cass, the store's head buyer, in an e-mail, "but from the conversations we have had, it seems like people who may not have had an opinion before are now less likely to see Amazon as a harmless part of the ecosystem."
On May 29, Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine, the owners of Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., posted a column on their website called "Shop Hachette with Us," and a Hachette display table was also set up in store. According to Graham, the display has helped sell more Hachette titles and has helped start conversations about Amazon between customers and P&P staff members.
"I can also report," Graham wrote in an e-mail, "that at least several customers have visited the store in the past week telling our staff that they had been accustomed to buying books on Amazon but, after reading about the dispute with Hachette, decided to shop with us." --Alex Mutter