A sign affixed to to the countertop near the register at The Toadstool Bookshop in Milford encourages customers to think twice before buying a Kindle. The rise to prominence of tablet readers has driven sales of books down over the last years. According to Amazon.com, their customers now buy more e-books than actual books.
Independent bookstores warn: Kindle readers are bad for us
REPORTER’S UPDATE: Several readers pointed out that I gave insufficient detail in this story, because some books can be bought from non-Amazon sites and read on Kindles. The issue concerns copyright protection (DRM, if you’re acronym-savvy).
Kindles only support Amazon’s version of copyright protection, so books bought from other stores usually cannot be opened on the Kindle. The exceptions are books that are not protected, or the use of free software to bypass copyright protection, which is probably illegal.
Also note that this issue only applies to original Kindles, the kind that use e-ink technology, not to the Kindle Fire. It is an Android-based tablet and can read books with many other types of copyright protection.
– DAVID BROOKS
MILFORD – Bookstores don’t like it when folks try to ban books, but independent stores wouldn’t mind banning a particular e-book reader.
The Toadstool Bookshop in Milford is among many stores around the country cautioning customers that buying a Kindle reader from Amazon.com, as compared to other e-book readers or tablet computers, will hurt the store because the Kindle can only handle books bought through Amazon.
“A lot of the response has been, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that,’ ” said Brian Woodbury, manager of the Toadstool in Lorden Plaza, one of three in the New Hampshire-based chain. “Many have gotten the Kindle as a gift, so they feel their hands are tied.”
The store has taped large cautionary notes on its counters next to the cash registers, urging customers to consider digital-reading alternatives like the Nook from Barnes & Noble, the Sony eReader, or Apple’s iPad.
The notice bears the title, “Please think twice before buying a Kindle” and tells customers that “Amazon has chosen to force Kindle users to make their e-book purchases only through their Web site.”
“We often have people coming into the store who ask us about e-books and really want to support the store, but they have a Kindle. What we’re trying to do with this is to let people know there are other choices,” said Williard Williams, owner of Toadstool Bookshops. The chain started in Peterborough 40 years ago, then expanded to Keene and to Milford in 1989. “If they really want to support an independent bookstore with e-book purchases, know that they can be downloaded to most e-readers except the Kindle.”
Toadstool, like all independent stores participating in a program overseen by the American Booksellers Association, sells digital books online via the Google eBook program. It also sells printed books via its Web site.
Nationally, e-book sales have risen sharply and made up 6 percent of the national market in 2010, according to industry figures, but much of that consists of categories (including erotica) that aren’t a big part of sales in a store like Toadstool.
Williams said digital books, downloaded into reading devices, make up “minuscule part of sales, well less than 1 percent” for Toadstool.
“Nationally, the percentage of e-book sales will continue to go up – people are talking about 20 percent fairly quickly – but we have an awful lot of people who come in here and say they’d never buy an e-book,” he said. “I think our business will remain prominently the physical book, because that’s what we’re all about.”
Still, the category is only going to grow, hence the concern about Kindle locking Toadstool out of future business.
The fact that fiercely independent Toadstool Bookshops is urging people to buy a product made by Barnes & Noble, the epitome of national chain bookstores once seen as the greatest threat to independents, shows how the publishing industry is being upended by technology.
Public libraries saw an example of that earlier this month when they suddenly lost access to digital books published by Penguin because that company was fighting with Amazon, which has begun signing contracts directly with authors and thus bypassing publishing houses.
Toadstool has emphasized events to differentiate itself from online stores, including book signings, writing workshops, folk musician appearances, and gatherings like Socrates Cafe, where people discuss issues not necessarily related to any book.
“Financially the store’s very strong, but we all have to adapt,” Williams said. One possibility, he said, is “rethinking sizes of stores in the future; all stores are doing that.”
The Milford store is about 7,500 square feet, roughly one-third the size of a typical Barnes & Noble but comparatively large for an independent retail operation.
David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.