Indie Booksellers Disappointed by Obama's Bland Response to Amazon Letter

Indie booksellers weren't expecting an impassioned, hand-written mea culpa from Obama after his visit to Amazon, but they also wasn't expecting what one called "the most vanilla and generic form letter" possible.

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The White House responded to independent booksellers upset about his Amazon visit, and the response was a particularly uninspired reiteration of his small business talking points. The New England Independent Booksellers Association executive director, Steve Fischer, wasn't expecting an impassioned, hand-written mea-culpa, but he also wasn't expecting what he called "the most vanilla and generic form letter" possible. "It doesn't even bother to pretend to have read the letter," Fischer said during an interview with The Atlantic Wire.

When the President announced that he was visiting an Amazon fulfillment center late last month, independent booksellers — one of the casualties of the company's dominance — were not pleased. In fact, both the American Booksellers Association and the New England Independent Booksellers Association wrote to him through the White House website, challenging the idea that Amazon is a job creator. "This, from a president who has expressed pleasure in shopping at Kramer Books in D.C., and Bunch of Grapes on Martha's Vineyard?" wrote the board of the NEIBA.

The President's response to NEIBA executive director Steve Fischer was a generic form letter that made no mention of Amazon, but talked a whole lot about his small business policies. And, since this is the only response indie booksellers have received from the White House, this is all there is to go off of so far. Here's what the President has done, in his own canned, written words, to help small businesses like independent booksellers who feel threatened by Amazon:

  • "signed the Small Business Jobs Act" 
  • "cut paperwork, streamlined processes, and increased loan amounts for Small Business Administration (SBA) lending programs"
  • "launched the Startup America initiative to connect entrepreneurs to mentorship opportunities"
  • "repeatedly called on Congress to pass more tax cuts"
  • Obamacare

But at no point does the long letter (longer than the initial NEIBA letter) address independent booksellers concerns with Amazon. Those concerns, as laid out in the NEIBA's letter are pretty simple — Amazon slashes prices to stay competitive over small bookstores, and according to the ABA, has dodged sales tax laws.

"My total fantasy would have been that he would cancel his speech at Amazon," Fischer told The Wire. Second to that, he would have liked to see the President visit a healthy, booming Main Street with independently run shops, or even just a farmer's market. He called the visit to Amazon "ill-advised" and added that he couldn't "imagine [the President] would have gone to a WalMart."

Overall, it's just been a bad summer for independent booksellers and Obama. As Fisher wrote in a statement to The Atlantic Wire before calling us:

After the DOJ ruling on e-book pricing which so clearly favors Amazon, Obama's visit to their Chattanooga warehouse, and then not shopping at either of the independent bookstores on Martha's Vineyard while on vacation, I guess we're not having a summer of Obama love.

Fischer said Obama's bookstore snubbing was "weird," though he understood the President might be busy. "He could have at least shopped at Martha's Vineyard," he complained. "I understand how busy you can get... but I think it would have been a lovely and politically savvy gesture to shop at one of island bookstores."

While independent booksellers wait for an actual response from the President, they can direct any of their small business questions to the Small Business Administration "at 1-800-827-5722, or by visiting," as the President's response points out. Because nothing's more personal than a 1-800 number or a government website.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.