Obama And The Booksellers

Thursday, August 1, 2013 - by Phil Wade

Last week, Overstock.com lowered its prices on books also sold by Amazon.com, boasting discounts 10% lower than Amazon on over 350,000 titles,reports Shelf Awareness.com. Apparently in response,  Amazon lowered it's prices to 50-60 percent off retail on bestsellers, a move offline booksellers are calling a new low in Amazon's price war with them.

Adding fuel to this long-burning fire, President Obama spoke at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bonny Oaks this week, promoting his ideas for job growth and "a better bargain for the middle class.”

“That's why I'm visiting cities and towns like this,” Mr. Obama said, “to lay out my ideas for how we can build on the cornerstone of what it means to be middle class in America: a good job with good wages, a good education, a home to call your own, affordable health care that's there for you when you get sick, a secure retirement even if you're not rich, more chances for folks to earn their way into the middle class as long as they're willing to work for it.”

Making such a speech at Amazon didn’t encourage some booksellers, who have supported the president in other ways. American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher wrote an open letter criticizing Mr. Obama’s venue.  “The simple fact is that Amazon’s practices are detrimental to the nation’s economy,” he said. Teicher wrote the letter along with the ALA board of directors.“As (Mr. Obama has) noted so often, small businesses are the engines of the economy,” he wrote. “When a small business fails and closes its doors, this has a ripple effect at both a local and a national level.” Jobs added at large corporations like Amazon, they said, are often part-time and not equivalent to the jobs lost at small businesses.

How do local bookstore owners feel about Amazon’s competition? Most booksellers in our area, like the popular McKay Used Books and CDs, selling after-market products. Stores like Lifeway and Barnes & Noble, both at Hamilton Place, are part of large corporations able to compete at a more direct level than an independent store could.

Paul Mann, owner of The Book Gallery, doesn’t see direct competition from Amazon either. Being an overstock resellers, his stores sell a variety of hardbacks for $3.99 and paperbacks for $2.99, prices much cheaper than Amazon.

“One of the biggest issues,” Mr. Mann said, “is the 9.25% sales tax. That’s an ongoing competitive disadvantage for us. If I don’t pay my sale taxes, they come and shutter my store.” Mann owns stores in Dalton, Cleveland, and Lebanon.

Charles Wood of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce said with our city being on the state line, “you can drive into Georgia to pay less in sales tax.” So the success of online booksellers like Amazon may be “a matter of convenience” for shoppers.

 

(Phil Wade is a local writer and native Chattanoogan. Find him on Twitter:@Brandywinebooks or at Brandywinebooks.net)


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