President Obama Angers Small Booksellers With Amazon Speech

president obama's amazon speech

President Obama gave a speech at an fulfillment warehouse in Chattanooga, Tennessee yesterday pointing to Amazon as an example of a job creator.

Independent booksellers and small publishers don’t see it that way.  They were angry.  They see the President’s action as supporting a large corporation that they claim has a monopoly, at the expense of small businesses.

In his remarks at the behemoth Amazon warehouse, President Obama said, “I’m calling on our businesses to do more for their workers.  Amazon is a great example of what’s possible.  What you’re doing here at Amazon with your Career Choice Program pays 95 percent of the tuition for employees who want to earn skills in fields with high demand — not just, by the way, jobs here at Amazon, but jobs anywhere —  computer-aided design or nursing.  I talked to Jeff Bezos yesterday, and he was so proud of the fact that he wants to see every employee at Amazon continually upgrade their skills and improve.”

But the independent players in the book publishing industry weren’t buying it.

Dennis Johnson, co-founder of Melville House, an independent publisher located in Brooklyn, New York, wrote with obvious resentment about what he considers Amazon’s near monopoly status, its ability to undercut competitors, lose money and yet on top of that, still get lauded by the President as a champion of jobs.  In a separate piece yesterday on his company’s blog he called the President’s move an “insult added to injury to those of us in the book business.”

The American Booksellers Association, along with the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA) and the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA), wrote letters to the White House expressing outrage. A Publishers Weekly article quotes excerpts:

NEIBA demanded to know, “What is the thinking behind this decision? . . . [Amazon’s] business model is based on fighting those states that have required them to collect and remit sales tax while driving Main Street brick and mortar stores out of business through predatory pricing.”

“We cannot believe this is your vision of job creation and the future of American middle class,” wrote NAIBA. “We would hope your administration would be standing with Main Street, and investigating the monopolistic practices of Amazon, rather than explicitly or tacitly endorsing those practices.”

Just prior to the President’s speech, Amazon announced it is creating 5,000 new jobs at its fulfillment warehouses.  The jobs will pay wages 30% higher than traditional retail jobs, says the Amazon announcement.  According to Geekwire, Amazon’s most recent financials indicate it now has nearly 97,000 employees.  That number is triple what it reported just three years ago.

Amazon plans to release an interview it does with President Obama, as a free Kindle Single today.

Image credit: video still.

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Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

6 Reactions
  1. Amazon brings a lot to the table and definitely has revolutionize publishing all together. Therefore it has its benefits, but I can definitely see the booksellers point about Amazon being a monopoly as they have a clear advantage in the book selling department, something should be done to level the playing field.

  2. Hopefully those employees take advantage of the programs offered by Amazon, learn new skills, and get better jobs elsewhere because working fulfillment at Amazon has to be a pretty monotonous and thankless job.

  3. Thanks for reporting on this, Anita.

    I didn’t know that the President mentioned Amazon in his speech-not that it took place at a fulfillment center of theirs.

    Since you and I have both published books with a traditional book publisher, we really have a good grasp of things with regards to Amazon vs. publishers vs. booksellers.

    Every business is being affected by technology. Profit margins…for some are shrinking. For others, growing because of huge companies with huge reach-like Amazon.

    It will be interesting to see how things are going to shake out.

    The Franchise King®

  4. This is another example that no matter what you say, everything is still open to the audience’s interpretation. I don’t think the President meant his speech to be something bad. It is just that some people are resentful of Amazon’s success because they cannot sell as much as they used to. It is that simple.

  5. Creating 5,000 new jobs with wages 30% higher certainly speaks volumes of this behemoth organization. Amazon must have done something right to monopolize the market and other smaller competitors shouldn’t get resentful over it.