Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nations oldest black bookstore fighting back against Amazon

"At a very young age, we were expected to have opinions, to have veneration for elders and to be well read," said Johnson, 27, a UC Berkeley doctoral student who is among the third generation to help run Marcus Books, the nation's oldest African American bookstore.

So it came as no surprise in December when Johnson took a stand on behalf of small businesses nationwide by launching a petition against retail giant

As part of a holiday shopping promotion, Amazon had offered customers a price break if they used a smart phone app to scan products' costs in brick-and-mortar stores and then bought them online instead. Although the promotion did not apply to books — Amazon said it was aimed at electronics sold in "major retail chain stores" — it infuriated booksellers long stressed by Internet competition.

Here are Jasmine Johnson's reasons for starting this petition:

I was so angry when I read about's Price Checker App promotion: the company actually paid shoppers to collect information on prices at local bricks-and-mortar shops and then shop at Amazon instead. In most places, Amazon doesn't pay any taxes and they don't contribute to local economies in nearly the same way that small businesses do.

In 1960 my grandparents opened Marcus Books, the nation's oldest independent African-American bookstore. Marcus Books is still here but it's a struggle. All around the country I see independent bookstores and other retailers fighting for survival in this tough economy. Amazon's Price Checker app goes beyond simple competition in a free marketplace. It represents an ugly race to the bottom that might provide short-term benefit for bargain hunters, but will lead to long-term pain for communities in the form of lost jobs and tax revenues.

If Amazon wants any credibility with consumers from here on out, they should pledge not to use these kinds of promotion techniques for the Price Checker app in the future and should apologize to small businesses.

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