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Gayle's February Letter

Gayle ShanksDear Bookstore Friends,

The wildflowers are popping out all over the yard; they've decided that winter is either over or should be, and that they might as well show their colorful heads. In years past I had mostly California poppies and baby snaps, but this year I have beautiful orange and yellow calendulas and African daisies, blue owl clover and lupines, bright red poppies and lots and lots of wild mustard and dandelions.

I'll keep you posted as my flowers continue to pop — so far I'd say fewer flowers than I remember having last year, but many more varieties. Definitely not a below-average weed season! Every year I try to understand why I think the mustard, dandelions, and other "weeds" have to go while their wild cousins get to stay. My yearly moral plant dilemma.

And speaking of moral dilemmas, Changing Hands and many other brick-and-mortar bookstores are at it again with Amazon, whose seemingly unstoppable march continues to move forward. I've discussed these issues in previous letters, of course: how Amazon continues evading sales tax collection, slashing prices below cost on books, and selling Kindles at a loss to increase market share, trying to ensure a captive audience for years to come. Now the biggest online retailer in the world is beginning to amass a stable of authors whose books Amazon will publish, sell on their website, and whose e-books will be exclusive to Amazon alone.

In my opinion, Amazon's actions are not in the best interests of the reading public, or of the publishing industry. As they seek to secure authors, they are simultaneously pursuing a strategy of locking in e-book exclusives which other retailers will not be allowed to sell. If this speaks to you of monopolies and predatory vertical development, you're in good company with many authors, publishers, and booksellers across the country.

As a result, Barnes & Noble recently announced that they won't carry titles published by Amazon in any of their 700 stores. Then Books-A-Million, the nation's second largest bookstore chain after Barnes & Noble, announced the same thing. And finally Canadian bookstore chain Indigo made their announcement, joining the others, and even congratulating Barnes & Noble for taking a leadership position on the issue.

In support of our publishers, our sales reps and book wholesalers, and especially the authors with whom we've partnered over the last three-and-a-half decades to provide our customers and community with the best possible reading choices, Changing Hands will not be stocking any books published by Amazon. While we acknowledge that any business has the right to control distribution of its products within the legal framework of fair competition, we believe that our decision is in the best interests of our customers, the publishing industry as a whole, and the next generation of emerging authors who will benefit from the introduction and promotion of their works through brick-and-mortar bookstores.

In a related development, Kimber Lanning, executive director of Local First Arizona, published an editorial last week in the Phoenix Business Journal that I want to share. At the senate subcommittee meeting she and I and many other local businesspeople attended when SB 1338 was introduced and passed out of the Commerce Committee — that's the bill that would force online retailers like Amazon to collect taxes from Arizona consumers — we were outraged when we heard Amazon's lead attorney Don Isaacson, who had taken the podium to oppose the bill, say wistfully, "We all remember the days of mom and pops. And then there were the days of the big box retailers...," as if Amazon's vision of an online-only retail world had already come to pass. In the article Lanning explores what would happen to our local economy if that vision were to become a reality. You can read it here. And if you're so inclined, you can make a call to your senators in our Arizona legislature asking them to support this bill. Here are some steps put together by the Arizona Alliance for Main Street Fairness that make contacting your Senator in support of SB1338 quick and simple.

In the meantime, in case you bought anything from them, Amazon has put together a page of information to help you determine how to self-report the taxes they neglected to collect and remit on your behalf in 2011. If you purchased anything at Changing Hands last year, don't worry—we took care of that transaction when you checked out at the cash register.

So, the battles rage on. The community-based bookstore, along with other local businesses, versus a megalithic online e-tailer. The print book versus the ebook (although we believe both can coexist peacefully, as they do on our own website). We adjust, we adapt, we reassess, we struggle to hold our ground. We smell the flowers (and soon the orange blossoms) and read great books while sipping from our cups of tea. To our motto "Eat, Sleep, Read" we add the word "Fight." Stay tuned or stop by and we'll keep you posted on further developments as they occur.


Questions or comments? Email Gayle at

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gayle recommends
Bringing Home the Bacon:
A Talk About Sustainable Business and the Beauty of Better Bacon

"Ari's seminars are amazing, entertaining, and have really helped form the organization that Changing Hands Bookstore is today." —Gayle Shanks, co-founder of Changing Hands Bookstore
Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Ann Arbor's iconic Zingerman's Delicatessen, visits to discuss the topics of his most recent two books: sustainable business and better bacon. Next month, Zingerman's will celebrate its 30th anniversary. What started in 1982 as a small delicatessen with two
partners, two employees and 25 seats, is now the nationally-known Zingerman's Community of Businesses — 8 different businesses, all located in the Ann Arbor area, each with its own unique specialty, employing over 500 people and doing over $40,000,000 in annual sales, all combining to create one very unique organization. Aside from all the traditionally-made, full flavored foods that Zingerman's produces, co-founding partner Ari Weinzweig has also written a series of books. Each volume brings readers an in-depth understanding of Zingerman's approach to food, as well as an inside look at the progressive way that the organization operates. Weinzweig visits to discuss the themes of his two most recent books — both of which are favorites of many Changing Hands regulars — sustainable business and better bacon! Ari will also be signing copies of Zingerman's Guide to Good Leading, Part 1; A Lapsed Anarchist's Approach to Building a Great Business and Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon. More »
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2/25 | Offsite | Indie Publishing Conference | Register now!
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New ebooks this week by Nathan Englander, Dan Chaon, Emma Straub, Lisa Gardner, and many more. Download the free app, select Changing Hands, and read instantly on your Apple or Android device, including Kindle Fire! More »
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