NORTHERN CALIFORNIA INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS ASSOCIATION

HOLT UNCENSORED #44
by Pat Holt

Thursday-Friday, March 11-12, 1998

LETTERS

Dear Holt Uncensored:

Read your latest, and I'm seething. Again. This chain store gambit is not only shoddy and unethical, but where the hell is the Fair Trade Commission? Aren't those guys supposed to be watchdogs of commerce and commercial practices, and come down with both feet on such chain stand-bys as predatory marketing practices, deliberate confusion-producing, misleading use of a competitor's trade-, company-, and style-name(s)?

When I was in the business of working with start-ups, there was a red flag caution out whenever an upstart start-up used a product, service, or company name that was so like the competitor's as to confuse the consumer. That was a big No-No. A legal No-No. A sue-for-damages and rip-the-pockets-off No-No. One of the rules of trademarks is that the applied-for mark cannot cause confusion in the consumer's mind as to who s/he is dealing with; another is that if the use of the name or the marketing practice results in "theft" of legitimate trade.

The independents have GOT to counter-attack, hire a fair-trade lawyer with rows and rows of teeth and large cojones, enforce the laws already on the books, sue for damages and rip the pockets off the bastards. Whew! I've got to stay calm--a man my age, etc., but you, Tiger, go git 'em!

Thos. J. Cox Coxco@ix.Netcom.com

Dear Holt Uncensored,

Thank you for bringing our attention to the Amazon.com, etc. linking program. I AM OUTRAGED!

We are a small publisher, whose books, tapes and videos are most often sold through our regular distributors or through direct mail. We have supplied Amazon.com with books as they special order them, choosing not to be a part of their "small publisher program". They have done the same thing to us as they have to book stores. When I type in Timeless Books, Amazon.com brings up one of our books along with some information from our site and a group of books that are irrelevant and, of course, a link to see more of Timeless Books - just like the bookstore links.

Not only that. . . . . . If I type in the name of Yasodhara Ashram, our teaching and retreat center in Canada, I come up with Amazon.com and much of the information that is on the center's site.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS?

Janet Brown
Timeless Books
www.timeless.org

Dear Holt Uncensored,

May I comment on SEARCH ENGINE GLUTTONY (#43), an issue I have followed for years?

The truth is the Emperor has no clothes. What you so clearly point out, that goes unnoticed by Wall Street, is that's the wardrobe of Amazon et al, clever search engine tactics. That is the way they get their business and it costs them plenty to do it. That is where most of Amazon's budget goes, second only to cost of books. Last year they lost over 12 cents on every dollar of sales with this tactic, and Wall Street went gaga with a 1000% run up in stock price. Borders earned 4 cents on every dollar of sales and lost 50% in stock value because they didn't copy Amazon fast enough. Go figure.

Wall Street must think Amazon is magically earning their sales growth, when in fact they are simply buying it. Nothing magic, original, or genius about that tactic; many defunct companies have followed the same course before. Mr. Bezos makes his money on the stock price, not on the business earnings. But one of these days, hopefully soon, someone on Wall Street will ask the core question - "where's the profits," and then watch what happens.

Independent booksellers need not fear the Internet; it is their friend. The truth is it does save money, about 12% or so, but Amazon has to offset it with shipping costs of like amount. So there is no fundamental business advantage an Amazon has over anyone else, except the insane reaction of Wall Street to their losses.

The Amazon approach is old news. What is replacing this global dominance approach fueled by the Search Engines is a local dominance approach that bypasses the search engines. Independent bookstores can use the Internet to save that 12% without having to incur the cost of shipping. They can reach their customers directly without paying for Yahoo et al to divert new customers to the highest bidder.

So I wouldn't fear the old game, it will be over once Wall Street wises up. I am more concerned about what I can do to make my own store more competitive for the future. Yes, there is a future for Independents that are prepared.

Dick Harte President, booksite.com Rutherford's Book Shoppe

Dear Holt Uncensored,

Re Amazon. I prefer not to make a good guys - bad guys thing out of the whole retail bookseller/publishing thing. As a publisher, I gotta sell books, and Amazon has gotten us sales from lots of obscure locations whose bookstores, I know for a fact, have little interest in our specialized niche (books on Japan).

That said, what really bothers me is Amazon's relentless attempt to throw themselves in front of every imaginable Internet search. You write about their infernal banners that are always trying to coax you to their site. But have you tried a search on Alta Vista? I've done searches on words like, for example, Asian food, and every other entry on the hit list is for some tailored page at Amazon. I have no idea how these get into the mix, as I thought all the Amazon pages were ephemeral, that is, created on the fly in response to a customer inquiry and then vaporized. But this does not appear to be the case.

So when Alta Vista presents only 20 hits at a time, and 7 to 10 are for some book at Amazon, and this goes on for page after page after page, my time is being wasted, not to mention bandwidth across the Internet multiplied a millionfold day after day after day. It's obnoxious, although I'm sure it's not illegal. A bit like being followed by someone on the street begging for change, or having some auto telemarketer dial your number every five minutes while you're trying to get some work done at home.

I suppose it's a sign of what the Internet has become in a few short years: a commercial cesspool. But then again, we have a website too ...

Peter Goodman, sbpedit@stonebridge.com
Stone Bridge Press
http://www.stonebridge.com