Speaking Out Against Obama’s Visit to Amazon

Posted By: Carrie Obry

MIBA's Executive Director Carrie Obry wrote to President Obama after a site visit to Amazon, in which he lauded the company as an example of sustainable jobs. This letter was picked up by the Washington Post and garnered national attention for our region's bookstores.

Photo credit: Obama White House

Dear President Obama,

As the executive director of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, I’m writing on behalf of my board and the hundreds of independent bookstores, publishers, and companies we represent throughout the bookselling industry.

Your patronage of independent bookstores and deep appreciation for reading positioned you as someone who cares about both Main Street and the fate of the book industry. But today, as you stood in an Amazon fulfillment center pitching your “better bargain for the middle class,” we can’t help but feel disappointed by this disingenuous action. We understand this economy is terribly challenging, but to deliver your speech at Amazon amounts to an explicit approval of their degrading business practices.

How can you hold up a monopolistic, predatory company like Amazon as a model for the types of jobs America needs? If anything, Amazon can be seen as the worst of post-recession America, operating a business model that turns Main Street into a mere showroom, offering employees a wage that falls barely above the poverty line and working conditions proven to be miserable at worst, questionable at best.

Today you scolded corporations who have “fancy accountants” who stash money away overseas to avoid paying taxes. “That’s not fair,” you said, while the very company you visited does a sophisticated dance to avoid paying sales tax. Amazon has fired hundreds of affiliates in states that passed the Main Street Fairness Act rather than pay their fair share of taxes, funneling billions of dollars directly out of our communities nationwide.

Of course, my stakeholders are especially concerned about the future of books. Amazon’s sales model is a direct threat to the health of literature, boldly sacrificing books as loss leaders alongside, to use your words, “dog food, Kindles, and beard trimmers.” As we speak, Amazon is brazenly undercutting the book industry by offering 60 percent discounts on new hardcover titles–essentially eliminating the opportunity for an independent bookseller to make that sale. If independent bookstores absorb this hit, who will sell your books, and where will you purchase books for your daughters?

In the future, we hope you choose to demonstrate support for the independent booksellers who are working every day to enrich their local communities.

With utmost respect,

Carrie Obry
Executive Director
Midwest Independent Booksellers Association