Powell’s ditches Amazon, and says quitting the tech giant is like kicking a smoking habit

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From Business Insider:

Powell’s, one of the largest and most iconic independent bookstores in the US, is ditching Amazon. 

CEO Emily Powell wrote in a letter to customers on Wednesday that the bookstore would no longer be selling its wares on Amazon’s marketplace. Powell’s was founded in 1971 and takes up an entire city block in Portland, Oregon. 

“For too long, we have watched the detrimental impact of Amazon’s business on our communities and the independent bookselling world. We understand that in many communities, Amazon — and big box retail chains — have become the only option,” Powell wrote.

“And yet when it comes to our local community and the community of independent bookstores around the U.S., we must take a stand. The vitality of our neighbors and neighborhoods depends on the ability of local businesses to thrive. We will not participate in undermining that vitality.”

. . . .

Like many retailers that primarily rely on in-person shoppers, independent bookstores have struggled in recent months. Early on in the pandemic, prominent bookstores — including Powell’s — were forced to lay off or furlough employees as they fought to stay in business. 

At the same time, Amazon prioritized shipments of essential goods like medical supplies and household cleaning products that were in high demand due to pandemic concerns. To make up for lost sales on Amazon, Powell’s began refocusing on customers coming to its own website, Powell told CNBC. 

Powell said that Amazon’s marketplace was “hard to give up, sort of like smoking” given that the e-commerce giant has historically been a “big sales generator” for the bookstore.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

PG notes that, if Powell’s was dissatisfied with Amazon, the Portland bookstore could have stopped selling books through the Big A without a huffy public announcement.

Anyone is free to stop doing business with Amazon for any reason or no reason, but cutting ties and trashing Amazon doesn’t strike PG as a particularly classy move.

As PG has mentioned before, Amazon is very popular with a great many people, particularly when Amazon has provided important products during Covid when, in many places, Amazon was the only source for such products because physical retail outlets were closed.

If you hang with Big Publishing and its crew long enough, you’re liable to catch a bad case of stupid.

11 thoughts on “Powell’s ditches Amazon, and says quitting the tech giant is like kicking a smoking habit”

  1. On Reddit, a former employee says that Powells was likely not meeting some sales quota that their seller status on Amazon required, and Amazon was going to change their status anyway.

  2. I won’t be surprised to see Powell’s complaining about a lack of revenue in the near future.

    Once you’ve made youself dependent upon having increased revenue from a major outlet it will hurt when that dries up.
    It takes time to shift people to come to your platform and breaking the default ‘look on Amazon’ routine is damn near impossible at this point in time.

    I hope they can make a go of it but won’t be surprised if they start having to cut costs even more to survive in the near future.

    • They’ve been doing just that since 2018, if not earlier.
      Here, from Jan 2019:


      Ryan Van Winkle, a union representative for Powell’s Books employees, said today’s e-mail informing staff of a 31-position layoff left the Burnside store feeling like a morgue.

      The layoffs, announced publicly by Powell’s around 4 this afternoon, represent more than 7 percent of the retailer’s 400 employees — not counting management and security guards.

      Van Winkle, a union representative for ILWU Local 5, said the laid-off employees were predominately full-time and most were retail floor workers. About 25 percent, he said, worked in Powell’s technical group that managed its website.

      I used to buy used pbooks and even early ebooks from Powell’s.
      But their prices and catalog hasn’t kept up with my tastes.

      Their smokescreen presenting their exit as a matter of “principle” doesn’t quite ring true given their long time financial issues.

      (A faint possibility might be that they’re trying to avoid being targetted by the Portland rioters but that wouldn’t earn them any sympathy here.)

  3. I’m actually glad there was a public announcement…this way I’ll know that from now on, when on the hunt for another obscure, out-of-print used book, I’ll need to search Powell’s separately from Amazon (in case no one on Amazon has it, and if they do, to compare price and condition).

    As for the tone of said announcement, I…don’t think Amazon gives a monkey’s? Being big, rich, and powerful is the best armor there is against hurt feelings. As for their most fervent posterior osculators, however, it’s hard to imagine an announcement communicating the same information that they would *not* deem “huffy” or “[un]classy”. If Powell’s is terminating its relationship with Amazon, that’s a fairly momentous business decision, and there have to be justifications…they’re not going to say, “We luvluvluv Amazon, forever and always, but we’re simply doomed to be torn asunder…no reason, we’re just star-crossed…it’s not them, it’s us! If anything, they deserve better! We’re not breaking up with them…we’re setting them free *because* we luvluvluv them!”

    Though if they did feel the need to say that, *then* it might be time to start worrying…

    • See above.
      They were dealing with revenue issues going back to 2019 and earlied. And note that the pink-slipped staff came from their website staff. Kinda the people they would be needing under the pandemic rush to online. (ouch).

      Also, there’s this, from 2008:


      “One of the country’s most prominent indie bookstores, which is also perhaps the only online retailer even slightly competitive with Amazon.com, is in trouble. A brief AP wire story says “Powell’s Books is asking employees to scale back their hours or take sabbaticals to cope with disappointing sales.” The report adds that “like many other retailers, it is seeing the impact of the recession on sales.” Chief of operations Ann Smith “declined to discuss the possibility of layoffs.”

      They’ve been marginal for a while, even with sales at Amazon.
      We’ll see how they do without that added visibility.

      I’d be more sanguine about their future if their excuse was economic (“we can serve our customers better without paying Amazon to host us”.) instead of floating political righteousness.

  4. I guess they feel their customer’s shared hate of Amazon will outweigh those looking for the convenience of shopping on Amazon. You know, consumers always want to make it more difficult to buy their widgets.

    • Lots of people have relied on that shared hatred over the last ten years. Doesn’t seem to work too well. I suspect it’s a small and very exclusive group.

  5. I’ve been in Powell’s in Portland and thoroughly enjoyed wandering through it. I liked the map for visitors. I was less impressed when trying to buy a book which they wouldn’t sell me because they said it was one of a set, which I knew: however, no other books in the set were present.

    I prefer buying used books from (now Amazon-owned) ABEbooks rather than Amazon’s own site, because the booksellers’ descriptions on ABEbooks are more detailed and thorough. Powell’s, however, described its used books as “standard” condition: quite unhelpful. When they sent me a book which was bound upside-down in its cover without noticing or mentioning it (or apologizing), I decided to ignore their offerings.

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