December 13, 2011

Amazon “Price Check Saturday” furor continues ….


Illustration by Rumors

Not to flog a dead horse, but Amazon’s “Price Check Saturday” promotion (see our earlier report) seems to have fanned some lasting opposition, ranging from the sublime to the extreme.

The sublime may be something we saw called out on Shelf Awareness — a rewrite of How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Mike Olson, owner of Reading Frenzy BookShop, Zimmerman, MN. What’d he call it? How Amazon Stole Christmas, natch. Guess who’s the Grinch?

It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think the most likely reason of all
May have been he was not ever read to at all.

But there was far more serious discussion than that going on, with the business press taking a closer look at the tactic, especially after Senator Olympia Snowe called upon Amazon to cease urging customers to use the Price Check app against competing businesses. In a report for Forbes magazine, Nigam Arora thinks that Amazon made a big mistake:

The strategic blunder is not the Price Check app, but the promotion giving discounts and the publicity accorded to the promotion.  In an election year Amazon is an easy target for politicians.  Considering the size of Amazon, giving it the advantage of not having to pay sales tax certainly is not fair and the ire from this strategic blunder may accelerate the demise of this advantage.  In the long-term, losing the goodwill of a large number of potential customers is a strategic blunder by any means.

Business groups are similarly energized. At the website of the American Independent Business Alliance, Jeff Milchen writes in a comment, “Even for critics of’s corporate practices, and I’m certainly among them, it’s jolting to see the corporation announce a promotion overtly encouraging people to spy on local stores while turning those businesses into showrooms for Amazon’s profit.” He’s started a list of “Ideas for Retailer Response,” and is calling for contributions.

Major authors are getting together to protest, too, as Richard Russo explains in a New York Times op-ed in which he collects reactions from Stephen King, Tom Perotta, Dennis Lehane, Anita Shreve, and others. Scott Turow — also an attorney — tells him:

The law has long been clear that stores do not invite the public in for all purposes. A retailer is not expected to serve as a warming station for the homeless or a site for band practice. So it’s worth wondering whether it’s lawful for Amazon to encourage people to enter a store for the purpose of gathering pricing information for Amazon and buying from the Internet giant, rather than the retailer. Lawful or not, it’s an example of Amazon’s bare-knuckles approach.

Meanwhile, of course, booksellers continue to pour out ideas on how to protest, and seem more activated than ever, as seen for example in this San Jose Mercury News report that collects comments from local booksellers, such as this from Hickabee’s Books co-owner Valerie Lewis:

“I feel like they’ve gone nuts,” said Hicklebee’s Lewis, who said she frequently sees customers in her store scanning bar codes with their smartphones, then walking out to the sidewalk to buy from Amazon. “I have no conception of what they’re thinking, or how they can think it’s a good thing.”

A longtime defender of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Lewis calls him a “turkey” now. “When he refuses to pay tax, and has a tantrum about it,” she said, “then he does this sort of thing. It’s just greed.”

So will any of this lead to change? There’s no question this is a furor more heated than any Amazon has previously drawn, but it’s too soon to see if it will outlast the famous sang froid of Amazon. In the days of Occupy Wall Street one can hope for slow and steady winning the race (remember how many weeks the occupation had been going on before you read about it in the newspaper.) But lest we forget, Amazon took it to yet another part of the book business  business yesterday — authors.

As Mark Coker details in a Huffington Post report, “Amazon yesterday launched a broadside against competing ebook retailers when it introduced a new program that requires authors to remove their books from competing retailers.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, I suppose. But also, clearly, la guerre n’est pas finie.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.