Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drinks

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Amazon Openly Tries to Steal Customers from Local Independent Book Store

Posted by on Wed, Jan 8, 2014 at 11:47 AM

Shelf Awareness reports that set up a booth right next to University Book Store in the middle of a textbook-buying rush yesterday. It was a a blatant attempt to steal customers away from a competitor:

HUB store manager Jonathan Day described the scene: "As the day progressed, I watched as very friendly college-age Amazon representatives approached student after student, inquiring whether they had already purchased their textbooks and informing them that they could save hundreds by shopping through Amazon Student. Peak activity was at 12:30, when they held a raffle, giving away several Kindle Fires. The crowd filled the hallway and stairwell, while the Amazon representatives called out winning numbers over a bullhorn."

What a bunch of assholes.


Comments (53) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Amazon is a local book store and I'm an owner.
Posted by No Excuses on January 8, 2014 at 11:53 AM · Report this
treacle 2
Assholes? Or Competitive Capitalists? Or Sociopaths?

you decide.
Posted by treacle on January 8, 2014 at 11:54 AM · Report this
It's hard to feel sorry for University Book Store considering the prices they charge for everything.
Posted by WestSeven on January 8, 2014 at 11:55 AM · Report this
The Stranger has a newspaper box right next to a box for Seattle Weekly near my office.

What a bunch of assholes.
Posted by What a bunch of assholes. on January 8, 2014 at 11:59 AM · Report this
@3 FTW

it is LITERALLY IMMORAL what college text books cost.\

Posted by What a bunch of assholes. on January 8, 2014 at 12:01 PM · Report this
Soupytwist 6
I hate everyone and everything involved in this scenario.
Posted by Soupytwist on January 8, 2014 at 12:01 PM · Report this
7 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
8 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
9 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
10 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
Sorry, no - I support anyone attempting to eviscerate the college textbook racket in which university bookstores are complicit. Go Amazon, fuck U Books.
Posted by no love for campus bookstores on January 8, 2014 at 12:06 PM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 12
All businesses do is try to steal customers away from other businesses. It is what they do, and what they are.

Is this post serious, or am I missing the satire?
Posted by Theodore Gorath on January 8, 2014 at 12:13 PM · Report this
Knat 13
Waitwaitwaitwait, one company is undercutting their competition on the outrageous cost of textbooks to students, students who are very possibly buying everything through student loans, mind. And you're calling them the bad guy in this scenario?
Posted by Knat on January 8, 2014 at 12:15 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 14
So, who won the Kindle?
Posted by Urgutha Forka on January 8, 2014 at 12:16 PM · Report this
I graduated college in 2005 and even back then old farts like me were writing down ISBN numbers from the local university book store then ordering for half the price online. Amazon is only making it easier. College textbooks are a complete racket - releasing new editions every couple years with minimal changes and charging hundreds of dollars per book. Amazon is doing nothing wrong - this is a clear example of the free market working in students' favor.
Posted by Keenan C on January 8, 2014 at 12:16 PM · Report this
Textbooks are always higher in price than they're actually worth. Then when you sell them back you get like 25% of what you paid if you're lucky. Fine yes, support your local bookstore. But for textbooks? Eff 'em, go with the cheapest source you can find because you're already paying through the nose for a public education.
Posted by rhombus on January 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM · Report this
If you know anyone that has had the misfortune of working at the University Book Store like some of my good friends have (you don't make it clear you're talking about the store on the Ave but I'm assuming you are), then you know that those fuckers deserve to lose every customer Amazon can take from them. How is the University Book Store, an essentially invulnerable pseudo-monopoly backed by the gargantuan UW an "independent book store" anyway? Regardless, the management is jaw-droppingly overzealous, controlling, and vindictive to the staff and the whole model of the place is to use "convenience" and the UW brand to rip-off the naivest parts of the UW population as much as possible. Fuck 'em. If you're a UW student, Amazon is going to treat you much better than the University Book Store is.
Posted by algorhythm99 on January 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM · Report this
seattlestew 18
Considering that (a) small/indy/local bookstores are doomed regardless and (b) the textbook racket (and the university bookstores complicit in the cartel) are just skimming excess rents from students, I find it hard to reach the same level of pearl-clutching here as Paul. The situation is probably best described as "asshole on asshole" crime.
Posted by seattlestew on January 8, 2014 at 12:34 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 19
Paul Constant is going to shit a brick when he finds out the Seattle Weekly is putting their newspaper boxes RIGHT NEXT TO THE STRANGER'S.

And their pricing? It's free! PREDATORY!

To the batshit mobile, Phony Outrage Boy! This white person problem shall not stand!
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on January 8, 2014 at 12:39 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 20
Another asshole was whoever at the U signed off the agreement that let Amazon set up its booth at the HUB.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on January 8, 2014 at 12:40 PM · Report this
Sorry but anything that reduces the price of textbooks is OK by me.
Posted by tshicks on January 8, 2014 at 12:41 PM · Report this
Why not bitch to the University rather than about just how "Amazon is Evil". A company like that doesn't just get to just go set up a booth in the HUB willy nilly. For these kinds of events (I'm guessing this has something to do with Winter Dog Daze or whatever back to school nonsense is going on on campus, just a guess) companies like that generally have an assigned space by the organizer.

And yeah, textbooks are a racket and students should get them as cheaply as possible (and if possible, get an electronic copy so you waste less paper when you get rid of the sucker in two years...)
Posted by lone locust on January 8, 2014 at 12:41 PM · Report this
Foggen 23
Nobody in the textbook establishment gets to act butthurt when they get undercut on prices. Those things are highway fucking robbery.
Posted by Foggen on January 8, 2014 at 12:45 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 24
Real students use eTextbooks. My print copies for Math were $300, the eText was $75
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 8, 2014 at 12:45 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 25
I should point out that $300 used for the dead tree copies
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 8, 2014 at 12:47 PM · Report this
Fnarf 26
@24, @25, are you having a stroke?

Why are you, a 50-year-old professional in a STEM field (supposedly), taking a course entitled "Math"? Are you back in third grade? Shouldn't you be taking third grade English instead?
Posted by Fnarf on January 8, 2014 at 12:53 PM · Report this
@20 is correct.... check out the HUB's Amazon Activation from yesterday.…
Posted by ChefJoe on January 8, 2014 at 12:58 PM · Report this
Beth in NJ 28
I can't see how Amazon is the bad guy in this scenario. Textbooks are ridiculously expensive, and most students are strapped for cash as it is. Anyone who can save them money is the GOOD guy, not the bad guy, and the guy who is whining about losing sales to someone who offered a better price gets no sympathy from me.
Posted by Beth in NJ on January 8, 2014 at 12:59 PM · Report this
Oh, you mean that crappy HUB UBS outlet ? Yeah, whatever. It's not like they plopped down a folding table on the ave, they paid good money to buy the UW HUB space just like the UBS did.
Posted by ChefJoe on January 8, 2014 at 1:00 PM · Report this
The UW bookstore is not an independent book seller, it is the company store for the UW's massively overpriced textbooks. College textbooks are a huge racket and a backdoor way to squeeze more money out of students. If Amazon can undercut their prices, then that's a good thing.
Posted by matt! on January 8, 2014 at 1:00 PM · Report this
AFinch 31
Um, yes, Amazon is just Walmart in l33t haxor clothing. Definitely sociopathic, but nothing new there.

As bad as the textbook racket is - and it's every bit as bad as anyone is making it out to be (I work in academia and see this regularly, first hand) - it's not the university bookstore that is ripping off students. The ripoff is the publishers - who work hard to make sure there is no good mechanism for updating texts or re-using old versions. University Bookstores do have more markup than Amazon - shocker, I know. That's the cost of brick and mortar, not fat cat profit.

Yes, working out a way to bypass the old print publishing industry is the way to go - increasing the amount of online or self-published material makes a huge difference. But the work involved in creating that content (writing a textbook!) is massive and authors wish to be anyone who thinks free open-source textbooks are right around the corner is sadly mistaken. Go take a MOOC and try to get credit towards a degree for it.
Posted by AFinch on January 8, 2014 at 1:06 PM · Report this
The cheapest way to buy softcover textbooks is from overseas sellers. I regularly buy mine on eBay, shipped 3 day DHL from Asia for about a third of the US hardcover price.
Posted by I Got Nuthin' on January 8, 2014 at 1:12 PM · Report this
You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me 33
But, more importantly, is this “local independent (HA!) book store” paying all of its workers a living wage of at least $15 an hour?
Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me on January 8, 2014 at 1:18 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 34
@ 15, bullshit. It's one thing to copy ISBN's and go home to order online, but another for them to come RIGHT UP TO THEIR STEP AND STEAL CUSTOMERS.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 8, 2014 at 1:50 PM · Report this
@34, yeah, its better customer service on the part of Amazon.
Posted by No Excuses on January 8, 2014 at 2:25 PM · Report this
"...a blatant attempt to steal customers away from a competitor."

Oh, the horrors! That's capitalism! Call Councilwoman Sawant!
Posted by bigyaz on January 8, 2014 at 2:46 PM · Report this
In most cases I'm against Amazon, but the whole text book industry is based on stealing money from broke students. Publishers publish the same textbook every year with different problem sets and give the keys away to professors so that students have to spend over $100 on a book that hasn't changed in 20 years to be able to do their homework. If Amazon can save those students money, in this case.... go for it.
Posted by 4884 on January 8, 2014 at 2:48 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 38
@ 36, some competitive ploys are fair, like offering steep discounts on textbooks and advertising that on sites known to be frequented by college kids. Some are not, like holding a circus right there at a competitor's place of business.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 8, 2014 at 3:20 PM · Report this
Man, sorry to be a crank, and I kind of want to stay out of threads like these, because I worked at the U Book Store for years so I have my own background and bias, but jeez. The idea that independent college bookstores are part of the textbook-racket problem is just misinformation. Tons of other schools have bookstores sorta-secretly owned by big corporate stores (like B&N), and their markups are higher. Also, UW doesn't fund UBS—in fact, it's almost the other way round, since every UW customer gets an annual rebate (just like REI members do). They're independently owned and operated, though students and faculty of UW comprise almost their entire board of trustees, to make sure that the UW community is running it instead of bureaucrats. If they make extra profit past keeping the doors open, they do profit-sharing with their employees. They've been open for more than 110 years, making them the oldest indie bookstore in the city. They've also been struggling for a long time; they're not marking shit up for fun, you just have to pay more bills to run a physical store. Textbooks are a total racket, sure, but indie brick-and-mortar stores aren't really the problem—they're just where you're likely to notice the problem since they have to ring you up. Losing UBS would suck for Seattle.
Posted by Anna Minard on January 8, 2014 at 3:52 PM · Report this
Alicia 40
I'm with Anna Minard -- my very first bookstore job was at a college bookstore, putting price tags on textbooks. We were low-tech and low-staff, so I did all the price calculation myself according to a fairly simple algorithm: take wholesale book price, increase by X percent, ta-da! We were not precisely raking it in on those books, believe me. I saw triple-digit single-book wholesale prices that day and I can't forget it.

Textbooks are indeed a racket, but the responsibility does not lie with independent bookstores. Textbooks -- hefty, substantive, full of expertise, printed on heavy paper with color illustrations -- are always going to be pricey as hell, even as we transition to digital formats. Plus, the books ordered by the bookstore are those chosen by the professors, who pick books they're used to teaching and/or have written themselves. They don't consider price points for their students, usually, and they get shirty if the bookstore informs them one of their favorite texts has gone out of print or is otherwise unavailable.

As a parting shot, let me say that probably the best way to lower textbook prices for students is to have textbook purchases be subsidized by the schools -- but now we're in the dream world of interest-free student loans, reasonable tuition costs, TAships that don't require 80 hours of work per week, etc.
Posted by Alicia on January 8, 2014 at 4:08 PM · Report this
south downtown 41
Its the used book resale market that cause a lot of the problem.

My wife is an academic publishers rep and the way she explains it, bookstores create much of the problem in the cost of books to students.

The publisher will "sell" so many books when a textbook is picked up (or renewed) for a course. But the bookstore will actually only buy a fraction of those books because they bought up last years books from students and have a used book inventory. So the publisher will in effect only deliver a fraction of the books they sold.

The book store makes a profit on first sale, then a huge profit on the subsequent resale(s). Student gets a nominal cost offset on their resale. And resale books save a small price advantage for students. Which keeps the students in the game. But its the bookstores that are cleaning up.

And the publisher who needs to stay in business? They get little out of this. So raising book prices to cover the lower REAL sales is the solution. (and then the bookstores clean up even more because base rices continue to rise).

E-books, and textbooks sold by the chapter are ways the publishers are trying to break this cycle.
Posted by south downtown on January 8, 2014 at 4:25 PM · Report this
bgix 42
As someone with a daughter in school who has to spend around $500 a term for class required texts, I am willing to let her shop where she wants. School is expensive these days.
Posted by bgix on January 8, 2014 at 4:33 PM · Report this
King Rat 43
Huh. I didn't know those sales "belonged" to UBS.
Posted by King Rat on January 8, 2014 at 5:19 PM · Report this
Screw college bookstores. Way to go Amazon.
Posted by Lack Thereof on January 8, 2014 at 5:26 PM · Report this
@22: Yeah, as if the university cares. They're the ones enabling this type of thing. I really don't have any sympathy for the textbook companies and college bookstores.
Posted by billatq on January 8, 2014 at 5:51 PM · Report this
So I've been in university for the last 10 years (woo! PhD I can TASTE you) and I have absolutely no love for University book stores.

They charge list price on items they are selling many hundreds of copies of; they do bullshit things like hiring security guards to pretend to detain you and go through your bag to check against your receipt, but ONLY IF YOU MAKE A PURCHASE; they offer you a pittance for your resold textbook; and they prop up the "shuffle the chapters around, move the clipart, release a new edition" model that textbook publishers are so enamored of. Calculus hasn't changed that much in the last three years, and no way is the textbook worth $109.

I fucking SALUTE for poaching customers from a university bookstore. It's not like students have that extra $200 to throw around just because the university bookstore is "independent" and therefore should get to gouge students like this. If university bookstores can't compete they should just close - they've enjoyed preying on people with no better alternatives for long enough.
Posted by TheLurker on January 8, 2014 at 5:56 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 47
@46, will you at least read the comments before you post? I direct you to @39, who explains one thing you haven't learned in all your years at school.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 8, 2014 at 6:10 PM · Report this
Sam Levine 48
HOW DARE AMAZON try to lower the cost curve of higher education! Won't someone think of the companies that do our country right by extracting rents from would-be members of the middle class?
Posted by Sam Levine on January 9, 2014 at 8:29 AM · Report this
@39 & 47 - Printed text books purchased (and re-purchased) in brink and mortar stores is an obsolete system. Any store that needs that system to survive, wholesome as it might be, is also obsolete and doesn't need to exist. E-books and non price-gouging distributors of paper books like Amazon are the wave of the future that save struggling students hundreds of dollars. It's at simple as that. Shed a tear for your dying 110 year old store but it's as useless as a buggy whip factory.
Posted by Keenan C on January 9, 2014 at 10:26 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 50
@ 49, HAHAHAHAHAHA.... You are one stupid ass if you think Amazon WON'T gouge you when they are the only game in town.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 9, 2014 at 5:51 PM · Report this
@49: That's not how they work.
Posted by diorist on January 10, 2014 at 10:06 AM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 52
Textbooks are one of the many scams of higher education.

Plus when was the last time a University book store built a 10,000 year clock.

And Paul claims to be into sci-fi.

Yea me too.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on January 11, 2014 at 5:36 PM · Report this
The average college bookstore gouges the shit out of the students on textbooks. I don't have a lot of sympathy for U Bookstore if that's the crux of their business model.

Honestly, though, they'll get their money.
Posted by El Steven on January 13, 2014 at 10:32 AM · Report this

Add a comment


Want great deals and a chance to win tickets to the best shows in Seattle? Join The Stranger Presents email list!

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy