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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Amazon Faces Backlash Over Price Check Offer

If Amazon wasn’t already at war with brick and mortar stores, it may now be.

Amazon made a special offer for last Saturday to customers with mobile phones: Go to a brick and mortar shop, use Amazon’s Price Check app to scan products and give that information to Amazon to get 5 percent off three items scanned in stores.

The offer angered small businesses, who say it turned their stores into show rooms for Amazon. Maine Senator Olympia Snow called it “anti-competitive” and “an attack on Main Street businesses that employ workers in our communities.”

The Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts now has a sign, “If you see it here, buy it here, keep us here.” They’ve also created a video drama, with the message for customers not to be “an iPhoney.”

Amazon defends its practices and the price comparison app, saying it helps consumers. But writer Richard Russo says Amazon is guilty of “jungle logic.”

“This is just a new phase in terms of Amazon’s predatory impulses,” Russo told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

Amazon And Sales Tax

Many local businesses argue that Amazon is able to offer such low prices because it doesn’t have to charge state sales tax in most cases, unless customers are shipping merchandise to states where Amazon has a physical presence.

There is currently a bill in Congress that would give states the option to collect sales tax from out-of-state businesses rather than rely on customers to voluntarily pay the tax.

“I have a feeling that a lot of this is going to end up in the courts,” Russo said.

“It’s this idea that you can save two bucks by buying something online, but the savings aren’t real. If you don’t buy locally, then you erode the tax base. If you do buy locally, you’re funding your local schools, filling local potholes.”

The Case Against Local Bookstores

Fellow writer Dennis Lehane calls Amazon’s price check app “scorched-earth capitalism.”

But writing in Slate, Farhad Manjoo disagrees with Russo, saying that buying books on Amazon is better for authors and the economy.

“No company in recent years has done more than Amazon to ignite a national passion for buying, reading, and even writing new books,” he writes. Manjoo says that local bookstores, which he refers to as “cultish, moldering institutions,” are economically inefficient, they don’t have customer reviews, good selection or a reliable way of finding what you’re looking for.

To which writer Judy Berman responds on the culture website FlavorWire:

“I find it sad, actually, that Manjoo … finds clicking around on Amazon to be more fun than browsing the shelves of a real-life bookstore where (gasp!) one might actually interact with other book lovers.”

Where do you buy books? Do you value local book stores and if so, why?


Clarification about our radio interview with Richard Russo: Russo says that patrons at Ann Patchett’s bookstore in Tennessee are not prohibited from making lists of books they want to buy online, they are merely discouraged from doing so. Russo writes that Patchett and her staff do not stop people from making a list while in the store, they just explain why they feel it hurts their business and the community.

Guest:

  • Richard Russo, novelist and screenwriter

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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