Friday, February 18, 2011

Borders, Amazon and you.

These are interesting times for booksellers. Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this week. You can read more about it here. Since this is where I started my bookselling career, I do feel a little verklempt. The downtown Portland store closed in early January and many more store closings are on the horizon. I never like to see ANY bookstore close. We are lucky in the northwest to have access to many options if we want to buy books, be it Third Street Books, Borders, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Annie Blooms, Parnassus Books, the Book Bin, A Children's Place, even the internet. For many communities in America, stores like Borders were the ONLY source of reading material besides WalMart and Costco. There are places where Borders represents a cultural oasis in a wasteland of strip malls, big box cinemas and parking lots. A moment of silence is warranted.

Amazon on the other hand has gotten a bit too big for its britches, if you ask me. In many states where collecting sales tax is required for all retail outlets that have a physical presence in the state, Amazon has refused to do so. There exist some federal and state tax loopholes that allow Amazon to do this. However, bit by bit, states are fighting back. The Texas state comptroller recently sent Amazon a tax bill of $269 million. Amazon tossed its weight around and threatened to close a distribution facility is has in Texas and lay off all of its employees if it was made to pay this bill. Fortunately, the comptroller stuck to her guns (Texas-style, I'm sure) and didn't back down. Unfortunately, those employees are now out of work. While I feel deeply for those people, I am angered by the way Amazon (and admittedly other large corporations) seem to believe that they are above the laws that apply to everyone else doing business in a state. You can read more about it here and here.

You still have choices. As Americans that is one of our most sacred freedoms: to choose. Sure, sometimes we make decisions blindly, or just go with what is easiest or the status quo. But I hope that more and more people are thinking about the power of the choices we make. Be it where you spend your hard earned dollars, where you send your kids to school, what to eat or how to vote, we have the liberty to decide what is best for us, our families and our communities. Choose wisely.


Anonymous said...

Borders bookstore files for bankruptcy.
Jobs at stake: 19,000

Amazon to close Irving,TX distribution center.
Jobs lost: 119

Does anyone connect the dots ?

Borders, like bookstores everywhere, have been facing the sales tax headwind as a competitive handicap for years vs. Amazon.

Anonymous said...

I think this matter should also be addressed is Washington, but in the present political climate anything labeled "Tax" will be regarded as Toxic for the political careers of our elected officials. Even if Washington were to resurrect the “Sales Tax Fairness and Simplification Act,” H.R. 3396 which died on the vine in the last congress, it only gives the force of law only to states which enacted the “Streamlined Sales Tax Agreement” which 24 states have so far passed. So, state legislators should also focus on this step first.

Big box retail and their commercial real-estate landlords must regard the present competitive handicap from online competitors as an existential threat and crank up their lobbying efforts.

An outfit called Alliance for Main Street Fairness ( has been formed recently to lobby to end the present online sales tax loophole.

This joke illustrates the pathetic lack of urgency by the states & the brick & mortar victims:

A dog is lying on the porch whining softly.
A passerby asks the owner what is wrong with the dog.
"thar’s a nail stickin’ up outta da porch tha’ he’s laying on.”
"Why doesn't he move?"
“Donno. I reckon it don’ hurt bad enough.”