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Former DC Bookseller Says Bad Press & Amazon Have Hurt Bookstores

Presse Bookstore - peoplewhowrite

The former Presse Bookstore

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.”

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6 responses to “Former DC Bookseller Says Bad Press & Amazon Have Hurt Bookstores

  1. Pingback: Paula Deen’s Yanked Book Deal: A Study in the Amazon vs Retailers Battle | people who write

  2. Kenny Cargill ⋅

    The idea should be to sell books that Amazon doesn’t have, or ones that only Marketplace sellers may cover. Focus on antiquarian, out-of-print and rare books. Focus on foreign-language books. For eample, Amazon has terrible support for Russian-language books. They do not even support the Cyrllic alphabet, so I always use kniga.com and several other independent US-based bookstores to buy my Russian books.

    Some of my favorite physical bookstores fall into these niche categories, and they do not for the most part compete with Amazon in terms of selection. It’s a fool’s errand to try to compete with Amazon by selling generic, New York published books.

    • Very interesting idea, Kenny. I think niche is definitely something bookstores need to consider/get better at. I wonder, though, if bookstores start focusing only on niche, why Amazon wouldn’t start to sell those rare/out-of-print titles at a discount and ultimately squeeze the stores out of that business. I think rather than compete with Amazon on types of items sold, bookstores need to focus on what they have that Amazon doesn’t which is a physical space. How can bookstores leverage their physicality to create an experience booklovers want/need and just can’t find online?

  3. Michael Newton ⋅

    One of the problems in buying books in-store is the high (sometimes needlessly high) cost of books. I use Amazon to buy
    art books. I couldn’t afford them otherwise. I deal in international finance and many books dealing with hedge funds and investing are easily over USD 100.00. It is on Amazon that I can find them at huge discounts. Oftentimes I can buy used versions of the books I need for very little money. Certain publishers need to rethink the high cost of books in the first place. When Barnes and Noble was offering 15 % discounts on hard cover books and 10 % discount on softbound books, the independent bookstores closed one by one. When the last independent bookstore closed B&N stopped discounting. I can see a future where all bricks and mortar bookstores will close and then Amazon will eliminate its discounts.

  4. Pingback: Book Discovery Engine Seeks to Marshal Indie Bookseller Support | people who write

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