Politics

Obama’s Amazon Visit Rankles Mom-And-Pop Booksellers

“This is roughly equivalent of going to a Wal-Mart and calling for more of the kinds of jobs it offers,” says a former editor of Publisher’s Weekly. The publishing world thinks the president is just a little too close to Amazon.

U.S. President Barack Obama and his daughters Sasha and Malia (right) visit One More Page Books store in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 24, 2012. Yuri Gripas / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Independent booksellers are furious at President Obama for setting a Tuesday speech about the economy at an Amazon.com warehouse in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

It’s an unaccustomed feeling for bookstore owners used to feeling the presidential love on annual Small Business Saturdays.

But Obama’s relationship with independent bookstores and the publishing industry has soured in recent months, and booksellers see the Chattanooga stop as the latest example of a president turning his back on the book industry in favor of Amazon, one of its largest sources of sales — and headaches. Publisher’s Weekly reports the American Booksellers Association, New England Independent Booksellers Association, and New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association sent open letters to Obama Monday urging him to distance himself from Amazon. They accuse the massive online retailer of driving brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business with unfair discounts and labor practices that make it impossible for the freestanding stores to compete.

“We cannot believe this is your vision of job creation and the future of American middle class,” NAIBA wrote, according to Publisher’s Weekly. “We would hope your administration would be standing with Main Street, and investigating the monopolistic practices of Amazon, rather than explicitly or tacitly endorsing those practices.”

Obama plans to tout Amazon’s Chattanooga warehouse and distribution hub — or “fulfillment center” — as a model for the kind of growth that is slowly returning to the economy under his presidency.

“The Amazon facility in Chattanooga is a perfect example of the company that is investing in American workers and creating good, high-wage jobs,” White House spokesperson Amy Brundage told The Chattanooga Times-Free Press. “What the president wants to do is to highlight Amazon and the Chattanooga facility as an example of a company that is spurring job growth and keeping our country competitive.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment from BuzzFeed on the industry criticisms. John Mutter, a former editor of Publisher’s Weekly, wrote in his industry newsletter Shelf Awareness over the weekend, that Obama’s visit to Amazon should worry Americans interested in the growth of good jobs.

“This is roughly equivalent of going to a Wal-Mart and calling for more of the kinds of jobs it offers,” he wrote.

To booksellers and publishing industry observers, Obama’s trip is another example of what they say is the administration sticking close to Amazon to the detriment of booksellers and publishers. The industry was upset when the Justice Department decided to take on Apple and publishers for price-fixing in Apple’s iBooks store. A federal judge recently found price-fixing did take place. The publishers said they were only trying to break what they see as Amazon’s monopoly on book sales. Tie that decision to a scuttled State Department plan to spend $16.5 million on Kindle e-readers and add in the Chattanooga visit, and the nation’s independent booksellers are feeling low.

“For this Amazon critic, at least, and perhaps for anyone who had a shred of belief left that they were in a system with some sense of concern for the little guy, it seems the company has, finally, won its ultimate triumph,” Dennis Johnson, co-founder of Brooklyn-based independent publisher Melville House, wrote on his blog. “The war seems to be over, and the good guys have lost. The only thing that would have stopped Amazon anyway was government intervention, and it’s hard to imagine the DOJ opening a proper antitrust investigation of a company that has the President of the United States dropping in to laud the company and spend some time in one of its warehouses.”

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