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Dear Jeff Bezos...

There’s been a lot of discussion about your recent addition to Amazon of an app that people can use to scan items in stores – items which they are then asked to purchase from Amazon instead of at their local store. In addition to (in all probability) getting a lower price on the same item, they’ll also get five bucks for using the app. I think, as a business move, this is brilliant. As a PR move, it seems to have been a bit of a misstep.

I’d like to make a suggestion to undo a lot of that PR damage, and in the same move give you some positive PR that will be all but unassailable by your critics.

I’d like to suggest you create a new app – a seasonal one, that’s valid from the day after Thanksgiving until midnight on Christmas Eve. For the purposes of my suggestion, and because it’s the field I work in, the app would be limited to use in independent bookstores. With this app, which we could call “Santa’s Apprentice”, for any customer who scans a book in an independent bookstore – and then purchases that item at that store – Amazon would donate five bucks to a program that provides free books to kids at Christmas.

You still get the market data that all the experts seem to think you’re after – but the independent bookstore gets the sale, and some kid who may otherwise be getting nothing under the tree will have a chance to get a beautiful book of their very own. I’m already doing something similar as an individual, but charities like Kids Need To Read would be an excellent recipient for those donations, and are practically primed to start just such a program.

Making smart business choices has been the hallmark of your professional career, and it has certainly benefitted your company. Doing something like this is another arena altogether: it’s doing something that would not only help your competitors in a time of economic uncertainty, but would also help to give children some hope and happiness at a time in our world when both are sorely needed. And as PR, it’s as simple as Gimbel’s sending customers to Macy’s in Miracle on 34th St. It’s a move that generates both goodwill and profits.

Too often, I’ve seen kids – who will never get a Christmas present – out on street corners at this time of year with their parents, who are selling decorated pencils, or other little odds and ends just to try to make ends meet. Those are the kids I’m going to be giving presents to this year – as many as I am able. And I can’t for the life of me imagine approaching such a kid and telling them, “I have the ability to give you a book of your very own for Christmas – but I can’t, because my shareholders wouldn’t like it.” I bet you couldn’t, either.

Mr. Bezos, you have demonstrated beyond any doubt that Amazon is both successful and powerful. I hope you’re willing to demonstrate, to your own benefit, that Amazon can be good, too.

With all best wishes,

James A. Owen
Author, Independent Bookstore Owner, and Senior Apprentice to Kris Kringle


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 12th, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
First time I've really really wished that LJ had a "like" button.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 12th, 2011 09:21 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm a big Amazon fan myself - and I make a lot of money with them. I'm just a bit bothered by that app of theirs that was designed more to take away sales from local stores more than just boost Amazon's sales. So, I'm okay with buying from them. I just think Mr. Gimbel can spread the love a bit, too. ;)
Dec. 13th, 2011 01:51 am (UTC)
love this.
Dec. 12th, 2011 11:18 pm (UTC)
I buy as many books as possible from my local bookstore, and use Amazon for what they don't carry/can't order.
Dec. 13th, 2011 12:59 am (UTC)
I miss my local bookstore.
I miss picking up the books; I miss talking to the salesfolk; I miss browsing; I miss getting recommendations to read things I never would have picked up otherwise!

I wish, beyond belief, that my local (yes, chain) bookstore had found a way to link my ebook sales to the brick and mortar. I feel like a turncoat.

Best of luck to you, Mr. Owen!
Dec. 13th, 2011 08:17 pm (UTC)
Re: I miss my local bookstore.
Many many independent bookstores sell ebooks via google books, and any device but a Kindle can read them.

Ebook reading folks are in no way bound to support Amazon.
Dec. 13th, 2011 01:03 am (UTC)

What is the name of your independent bookstore?!
Dec. 13th, 2011 05:27 pm (UTC)
Crossroads Books. It's a little renovated country Victorian on the main drag in a small town, about two blocks from my Studio (which is itself the original town church.)
Dec. 15th, 2011 12:33 pm (UTC)
That's wonderful!!! Independent bookstores are one of my two biggest weaknesses. The other is travel, haha
Dec. 13th, 2011 07:16 am (UTC)
Have you seen this editorial in today's New York Times:

Dec. 13th, 2011 05:26 pm (UTC)
That's exactly where I think they botched the PR angle.
Dec. 19th, 2011 09:13 pm (UTC)
I heard of this app, and think its beyond acceptable. Your fix sounds do-able. BTW, I NEVER buy amazon. I don't care if it means I save any more cash. Honestly, when it comes down to it, I already have plenty of stuff. If I really want the item, I find another, kinder way to get it.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )