Harvetta Asamoah opened Presse Bookstore in Washington, DC’s Georgetown neighborhood in August 2008. By October 2010, she had to close shop — part of a trend of bookstores that have had to shutter as readers migrate to Amazon and other online discount sites for cheaper deals on books.
“At both Politics and Prose and Busboys and Poets,” she says, referring to two of Washington, DC’s most successful independent bookstores, “they had to tell people not [to] bring in books purchased from Amazon to be signed.” Recounting her own experience with a customer that tried to order a book from Amazon right in her store, Asamoah says she almost lost it. “I laughed because Amazon was blocked on that computer. …People have lost their sense, really.”
Further complicating matters, Asamoah points out, “the same people supplying [books to] me were supplying, and continue to supply, Amazon and the entire market. There are only two major book wholesellers (non-publishers) in the U.S. Everything is under Amazon’s control.”
Asamoah is not alone in her suspicion of Amazon. In the UK, bookshop owners collected over 160,000 signatures in protest of Amazon’s alleged ducking of corporate taxes “by reporting its European sales through a Luxembourg-based unit”, according to a piece in The Guardian. Most recently, some indie booksellers in the US reported that Amazon reps were trying to get them to sell Kindles in their stores — an affront, considering the online retailer’s position as a competitor. French culture minister Aurélie Filippetti reportedly called Amazon a “destroyer of bookshops”.
It’s not only small bookstores and local governments reacting against Amazon. Big chain bookstore Barnes and Noble has refused to carry titles released on Amazon’s publishing imprint.
Asamoah believes bad press — “constantly reporting the demise of bookstores” — also deserves a sliver of the blame for the wave of closings across the country. “I think that many people just accept what they read in the media. If the NY Times says it’s the end, it’s the end to them.”
That said, Asamoah is careful to note that bookstores can survive these times by focusing on their community’s specific needs. “The success of a bookstore depends on providing outstanding service to a strong local community, building up goodwill and a loyal following.”