There has been a certain amount of concern in the book business of late about a new initiative from Amazon. What they are doing is encouraging consumers to report the prices that are being offered by bricks and mortar bookstores so that Amazon can ensure that they are not being undercut by anyone. There’s a financial reward for consumers who participate.
This behavior is not confined to Amazon. ASDA (Walmart) is running a similar promotion for its UK supermarkets. And indeed it is a familiar problem to any online retailer. One of the reasons I don’t offer sales in the Wizard’s Tower Bookstore is because if I do Amazon is liable to reduce the prices on the books in their store to match, and then not put them up again when my sale ends. Unless you happen to be a big name publisher with enough clout to negotiate one of those “agency pricing” agreements then you have no control over what price Amazon sells your books for, and I only stock books by indie publishers. I can’t put them at risk.
Nicola Griffith has an interesting blog post in which she makes the point that what bookstores need to do is offer a better shopping experience than Amazon. But how do you compete? There’s exclusivity of course, but you can only negotiate exclusivity deals if publishers think you are big enough. Guess who qualifies. Amazon knows that they sell 80% of all ebooks, probably more than that for books from independent presses and individual writers, so actually giving Amazon an exclusive in return for better promotion might make good sense to individual publishers. It is also worth noting that one of the reasons why Amazon is so successful is that it has put a lot of time and effort into delivering a top class shopping experience.
It is a difficult problem, and one I certainly don’t have an answer for right now, primarily because I have neither the time nor the money to invest heavily in new ideas. Still, I’ll keep trying, and I do have some good bookstore news coming soon.