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Customers of stores like Micawber’s are hardly unaware of cheaper and faster books from Amazon.com. When I walked out with James Salter’s novel “All That Is,” it cost me $26.11. In checking later at Amazon.com, it would have cost $20.21, cheaper in part because Amazon.com wasn’t planning to collect any sales tax.
It was still a purchase worth making at Micawber’s.
If customers value the greeting from the staff, the smell of the books, the creak of the floor when browsing, the smile that comes from reading notes on the shelf with the idiosyncratic “Staff picks,” those aspects of the shopping experience become part of what’s purchased.
Whether there are enough customers valuing the overall experience to let a shop survive long-term is anybody’s guess. But one of the most foolish things any owner could do today is place a Kindle on the counter.
Just display it, not even sell one. These are at-a-glance reminders of the Amazon.com value proposition and a thumb right in the eye of the shop’s owner.
And sales have been healthy enough for the independents to make it easier to say no. Micawber’s makes more money than Amazon.com, as that company famously just reported another net loss. Manager Martin Schmutterer of Common Good Books, also in St. Paul, said sales are “up substantially from last fall.”
Like Weyandt, Schmutterer hasn’t for a moment seriously considered selling Kindles. Common Good sells e-readers made by Kobo, a technology platform that independent retailers banded together to pick for an electronic book option. Schmutterer said he only “hesitantly” sells a Kobo.
So when Schmutterer learned of Kindles available from Amazon.com, “my thought is we have a perfectly good e-book platform already,” he said. “On top of that, why would we do business with the company that is trying to put us out of business?”
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