FARMINGTON — Independently-owned Farmington bookstores Devaney Doak & Garrett (DDG) and Twice Sold Tales have joined the national campaign #BoxedOut, which is aimed at raising consumer awareness of Amazon’s monopoly over the book-selling industry. In the window displays of both bookstores are cardboard boxes with messages in all-caps, black print saying ‘don’t box out bookstores’ or ‘don’t let indie bookstores become a work of fiction.’

The campaign was launched on Oct. 13 by the American Booksellers Association (ABA), a not-for-profit trade organization focused on helping independently-owned bookstores succeed by engaging in public policy and providing bookstore owners with education and resources. DDG owner Kenny Brechner serves on ABA’s Board of Directors and has witnessed firsthand, in his 30 years of bookselling experience, the effects of a monopolizing company with limited commerce regulation.

Farmington bookstore owner Kenny Brechner of Devaney Doak & Garrett stands with two of his 2020 featured holiday titles, “Piranesi” by Susanna Clarke and “A Deadly Education” by Naomi Novik. Brechner, a #BoxedOut campaigner, recommends titles every holiday season and publishes his list in the Sun Journal. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

“You’re being asked to have value against a corporation who is using its monopoly power in a direct, predatory way,” Brechner said about Amazon. 

Amazon started as an online bookstore by Jeff Bezos in 1994 and has since acquired major book-related subsidiaries such as Audible and Goodreads and has developed publishing companies Kindle Direct and Amazon Publishing. As a result, Amazon not only makes a profit on selling a book that one of its subsidiaries has published but also on the device that the book is accessed on, if purchased through the e-commerce site.

This business model contributes to Amazon’s nearly impossible to compete with prices. Brechner thinks it has affected the even zone that many bookstore owners who have managed to stay in business find themselves in year after year.

“We’ve been kind of holding steady, not having growth, but not having a decline and working like crazy to keep there,” Brechner said. “I think with just with the conjunction of events, the pandemic in particular, the need to regulate is behemoth.”

Twice Sold Tales co-owner Ben Hanstein stressed that Amazon’s span of product offerings threatens not only bookstores but local businesses in general, especially as more people turn to online ordering during the pandemic.

“Amazon now sells everything obviously, so I think it is sort of a bit of a pushback not totally dissimilar with what you saw ten years ago with Walmart and so forth, with ‘don’t shop at big box stores,’ and now it’s ‘don’t shop at Amazon.’ It’s kind of a continuation of the same thing,” Hanstein said.

Amazon reported $96.1 billion net sales for its third quarter ending on Sep. 30, showing a 37% increase compared to last year’s third quarter net sales at $70 billion. While the e-commerce site has shown significant sales spikes during the pandemic, both Twice Sold Tales and DDG reported, with relief, that the Greater Franklin County community has continued to show significant support.

“I think too, another part of us doing well since the pandemic is that in Farmington, there’s been a huge push to support local businesses, and we’ve definitely seen that,” Twice Sold Tales co-owner Amber Stone said.

Farmington bookstore Twice Sold Tales owners Amber Stone, left and Ben Hanstein, right are participating in the #BoxedOut campaign to raise awareness about the effects of Amazon’s unregulated, monopoly business model. Andrea Swiedom/Frankllin Journal

Owners of the two bookstores also emphasized that supporting local businesses goes beyond commerce, also nourishing the community through events, outreach and education.

“We really came in and wanted to do a bunch of different things here like author readings,” Hanstein said who took over Twice Sold Tales with Stone last year. “We had poetry night which was really popular, and then storytelling and book clubs that were getting ready to start. But then of course, the pandemic happened and all of that stuff got canceled. But that’s something we’re still looking at, what else can we do other than just sell books?”

Twice Sold Tales has still managed to offer more than used books to the community during the pandemic. During emergency remote learning in March, Stone partnered with the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area to offer 1,500 books as supplementary material to students learning from home. Local businesses Western Maine Pharmacy and Kyes Insurance along with Wilton Free Public Library joined forces with the bookstore to fundraise and purchase books.

Brechner made the case that choosing Amazon over local businesses has a direct impact on community efforts such as these.

“I really feel strongly that you can’t buy into the narrative that Amazon’s domination and the domination of e-commerce is something to be fatalistic about, that it’s inevitable, that it’s progress, that it’s the future. That’s passivity,” Brechner said. “You can’t be apathetic; the decisions people make, where thy choose to spend their money, where they choose to patronize, make a serious difference. Don’t fall prey to that narrative. When you care about the local community, when you support your local community, it matters and we appreciate it.”

 

 

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