Well obviously Amazon’s the place you go to do this. But why shouldn’t there be options — even if Barnes & Noble seems intent on that not happening?

Last year The Digital Reader brought us this rather petulant report of the American Booksellers Association’s offering visitors to their IndieBound site the option of buying a book on-line at full price. Of course independent bookstores, and their corporate organization, realize that there’s no point in trying to take on Amazon. The DR’s objection is that the ABA are not really trying to sell books — but maybe that’s intentional. After all they are the organization representing independent bookstores, and they are quite explicit about wanting to “train” customers who visit the IndieBound site to go to an independent bookstore. I see no reason why they shouldn’t offer books to people at whatever price they want: their motivation is not primarily to sell, it’s to promote. If someone is generous enough to pay full price on-line, so what?

Many publishers used traditionally to be reluctant to offer their books for sale on their websites because they were so used to loyally supporting bricks-and-mortar bookstores that they found the habit difficult to break. But we live in a different world today: burying your head in the sand and pretending it’s still yesterday will only lead to greater and greater reliance on Amazon as the on-line outlet. Competing with Amazon doesn’t have to include any idea of beating them at their own game: a small share of the pie is certainly better than no pie. And bear in mind, selling the books yourself means you don’t give that large discount to any retailer. Book Business Magazine suggests that 2015 was the year in which the tide turned and publishers started getting serious about direct-to-consumer sales.

I recently bought a copy of The Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book at the CUP bookshop in Cambridge. As a holder of a CAM card I got a 10% discount. They said that as an ex-employee I’d get the same discount, though I don’t know how I could prove that status. I’m relieved to see that if I go to the CUP website and make to buy the book there I not only get no discount but can look forward to paying $6 shipping too. Now of course I’m almost the last person they’d ask, but if the CUP decision-makers were within earshot I’d be shouting about their wasted opportunity. Incentivize the customer! Even a slight incentive, like that 10%, might be enough to encourage people not to visit Amazon (where they’d get a 20% discount). I don’t see how offering the books on unattractive terms is worth the effort — the publisher is in business to sell books, not like the ABA to promote the interests of those who are. Sure every now and then at full price plus shipping someone will buy, but with any sort of offer that’d happen more often. Even the Association of American University Presses is rumored to be considering setting up an on-line bookstore, though as this 2012 Scholarly Kitchen post from Joe Esposito indicates that corporate head has been being scratched for quite a long time.

And of course anything said about publishers here can be applied to bookstores as well.