Amazon has this week announced an unusual plan to get independent booksellers to sell its Kindle devices in store. The plan is simple: if a store sells a Kindle to a customer, they get 10% of anything that customer spends on books for said Kindle in the future. May seem like a bright idea, right? A cosy win-win sort of deal, perhaps. But in reality, the announcement has been met with cynicism and criticism from all quarters in the press, with Amazon being accused of sending in a ‘Trojan horse’ to kill off what’s left of its struggling competitors.
The problem is obvious: if an independent book store sells a Kindle to a customer, that’s a customer they’ll likely never see again, and if they hadn’t sold that customer a Kindle in the first place then they’d be getting nearer to 100% from future sales of books to that customer, instead of a meagre 10% consolation from the very company on the warpath causing their demise.
Amazon’s plan, though, will be all too tempting for indie book stores that are already strapped for cash and struggling to be more than a niche on the high street. A guaranteed 10% of potentially thousands of books may just be enough to keep some stores alive and providing for those who’ve stayed true to the paperback.
There’s two ways of looking at it: number one is that a customer buying a Kindle would be buying a Kindle, whether it’s from Amazon’s or their local book store, so the little guy may as well make a quick and easy buck or two out of a bad situation. Number two is that putting Kindles on shelves in bookstores will introduce e-reading to people who’ve never even considered it: the very customers who fulfil the dwindling niche that has kept these stores alive even this long. The Kindle will become far more of an impulse purchase than it’s ever been before. No prizes for guessing which Amazon is banking on, and no prizes for guessing which the little independently run book store will clutch at straws and hope for.
The truth is, the rise of the e-book is inexorable and inevitable. It happened with music, it happened with movies and it’s happening with books. Even the biggest stores with the best chances, such as HMV and Blockbuster Video have really been helpless in suppressing the immense popularity of the iPod, iTunes and the world of online video.
It’s honestly a sad day, and Amazon is effectively saying, ‘look, you haven’t got a chance so take what you can and run,’ under a thin veil of generosity. HMV selling iPods didn’t help them fight MP3s, and book stores selling Kindles is likely to suffer the same fate, but if it gives them a fighting chance of staying open as long as possible, then maybe it’s an offer worth taking up.