One of Portland’s most beloved bookworm attractions, Powell’s Books, will stop selling books on Amazon this weekend, Aug. 29, Oregon Live reports. Aug. 29 is also Independent Bookstore Day. Fitting, no?
CEO Emily Powell released a statement to customers yesterday announcing the move, citing concerns over the future survival of independent bookstores.
“So many independent booksellers around the country fight for their survival and wonder what their future may hold,” Powell wrote. “For too long, we have watched the detrimental impact of Amazon’s business on our communities and the independent bookselling world.”
Amazon’s marketplace has become the big box retail chain for consumers and authors alike to sell or find books—either traditional hardcovers and paperbacks, audiobooks, or ebooks. Powell notes that in many communities Amazon has become the only means of accessing books. But for communities with local, independently-run bookstores, the ease and accessibility of online marketplaces, particularly Amazon’s, has taken away a lot of business. In order to survive, many have had to pivot to selling their books on Amazon. While many were able to survive despite Amazon’s massive growth, others were put in a precarious situation due to the covid-19 pandemic.
And while Powell’s Books is one of the largest independent booksellers in the world, it’s dwarfed by the inventory available through Amazon’s website, as Oregon Live notes. Powell’s has supplemented its business by selling books on Amazon, but is required to give Amazon a flat commission of $1.80 plus 15% of the item cost per book, according to Amazon’s website. Sellers also have the option to pay $40 a month in subscription fees to access some of Amazon’s more premium services, like advertising services and sales reports—and that’s on top of the commission Amazon already takes per book. It’s unknown if Powell’s subscribes to that package or not, but it’s illustrative how much money Amazon can take from independent bookstores and other independent sellers.
Powell’s Books does sell books through its own website, and like other independent bookstores that maintain their own digital storefront, saw a surge in online business at the height of the pandemic in the spring. The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, for instance, started curating mystery book packages based on criteria that customers selected on a Google Form to stay afloat. (I submitted a form and was sent two mystery novels and one sci-fi/fantasy novel based on my selection. All three books were perfectly suited to my taste, and introduced me to authors I had never read before.)
It also costs time and money for any independent bookstore to build and maintain its own online storefront, resources that many small business owners lack. But looking at all the recent USPS woes and Amazon’s incredible profits as a result of the pandemic (not to mention the Amazon warehouse workers who died filling all those online orders as a result of people not being able to shop in physical stores), walking into your local bookstore if it lacks an online shop is the easiest way to support it. Yes, there is the added complication of the covid-19 pandemic (always wear a mask and maintain six feet of distance from other shoppers), but a line needs to be drawn sometime, somewhere. Powell’s has decided that time is now.