Barnes & Noble woos Amazon Associates

Barnes & Noble woos Amazon Associates

I just got an e-mail from Barnes & Noble, and they also put it on their website:

Barnes & Noble Issues Open Letter to Amazon Affiliates 

It’s serious hardball, designed to turn Amazon Affiliates against Amazon and get them to go with Barnes & Noble.

I’m not ever a fan of advertising that says, “Look at how bad the other guy is.”  I don’t like the Kindle commercial with the iPad at the pool, for that reason.

This…well, let’s say the language is interesting.

I always try to do these things dispassionately.  Could a computer analyze this letter and say whether or not it is negative about Amazon?

The first real sentence connects Amazon with the words

  • threatened
  • terminate

Let’s go on with some other phrases (yes, I’m taking them out of context…when trying to sway people emotionally, the context isn’t always important):

  • disappointed
  • threaten
  • been terminated
  • “…Amazon doesn’t want you”
  • worry
  • hassled
  • prosecuted

You are more than welcome to read the original letter at the link I posted.  It is intended, in my opinion, to incite fear.

This all has to do with so-callled “Amazon laws”, which I’ve written about previously. 

These are new attempts to force retailers to collect or improve the collection of sales tax for the state.

The letter says:

“And, we will take care of collecting and remitting all sales
taxes due on BN.com sales to its customers so you and our customers don’t have to worry about being hassled or prosecuted by state tax auditors.”

They neglect to say that Amazon does the same thing.

The issue is new obligations being put on Amazon, not existing obligations which they already meet. 

The letter reminds me very much of some of the political ads we’ve seen in recent campaigns.

They use a buzzword, “e-fairness” laws.  That despite the fact that a Colorado judge just recently enjoined one of these “e-fairness” laws precisely because it was unfair. 

I try not to get too emotional in these posts.  I think Amazon did a bad thing by cutting off the Colorado Associate program.  That’s important, by the way, and one of the statements that I think could be challenged in Barnes & Noble’s letter.  The letter says:

“…Amazon.com affiliates who have been terminated”

That’s no one.  It was the program that was terminated.  The Associates weren’t employees…that’s also an important piece in terms of these Amazon Laws.  I should say, that’s my understanding of it.  I’m not employed by Amazon…I get advertising fees from them.  Is CBS employed by Chevy because the latter buys an ad?

Sorry, but you can tell this letter upsets me. 

There’s nothing wrong with being an “Affiliate” for Barnes & Noble. 

There’s nothing wrong with being an “Associate” for Amazon.

There’s nothing wrong with being both.

It’s the fearmongering that bothers me.  Reading the letter, it makes it seem like Amazon is illegally not paying taxes, and could put Mom and Pop stores out of business and put their kids starving on the street.

Okay, I added that last part…but they do say:

“Amazon would threaten small businesses’ livelihood rather than comply with state law”

That’s simply unfair, in my opinion.

Amazon cutting off the Affiliates was complying with state law.  If they’d kept the Affiliates and not collected sales tax where due, that would have been defying it.  They follow state law if they don’t have Affiliates and they don’t collect the sales tax.

This is really, really important: the issue is who collects the sales tax, not if the sales tax is due or not.

Many states are in dire economic straits (I live in California, so I know).  It’s expensive for them to try and collect the taxes which are due to them.  Of course they’d rather make somebody else do that.  They’d probably like to figure out some way for Amazon to sweep their streets for them, too…that would save money. 

Sigh…that one was going too far, too slippery slope. 

Read the Barnes & Noble letter…let me know what you think.  Are they presenting their position fairly?  Is all fair in love and retail?  Is Barnes & Noble an upstanding corporate citizen and Amazon an uncaring outlaw? 

I think I’m going to take a breather…I’ll check your comments later.

UPDATE: here’s an interesting article on Amazon and Texas:

DailyTech article 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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8 Responses to “Barnes & Noble woos Amazon Associates”

  1. Harold Delk Says:

    I think B&N is barking up the wrong tree and I abhor their negativity. Perhaps if they would spend their “marketing energy” on making shopping there an enticing and positive experience they would be better served. I’d rather spend my money in locally owned bookstores and with Amazon any day. The tone of their letter makes them sound desperate for business … which they are as judged by their bottom line.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Harold!

      I’ve had problems with Barnes & Noble Customer Service. I think their policy that if you return a NOOK by mistake to the wrong address at Barnes & Noble they just keep it, won’t give it back to you, and won’t give you the money for it is bizarre.

      However, their bottom line hasn’t been terrible. Their e-book side is doing okay, as are the university stores (hey, if you are the only place on campus to buy a pencil, that’s a good business). The brick-and-mortar bookstores have seen some areas improve…not books, but things like toys.

      I like the way Amazon presents itself to the world. I like that they fight for customers’ privacy.

      This just came across as so negative…why would you want to make somebody who makes ten bucks a month with a few Associate links think they are going to be thrown in Alcatraz with Al Capone for tax violations? Whom does that help?

      The letter might get the a few people, although if it does anything, I think it will make some people stop being Associates/Affiliates altogether. Who wants to even risk having the state tax enforcers come after you by being in the referral business? I don’t think that is a risk, but it’s certainly suggested as one in this letter.

      I don’t think most people will hear about this letter, and most of the ones who do will be unaffected by it.

      However, my estimation of Barnes & Noble has just dropped several notches. You don’t need to scare people to get them to like you (and dislike the other guy), in my opinion. I know that works…I just don’t think it is right.

  2. Clint Bradford Says:

    Sent to BN’s public relations firm – who claimed authorship:

    Today’s “Barnes & Noble Issues Open Letter to Amazon Affiliates” message puzzles me.

    Traditionally, B&N has been – in my mind – a firm with class and dignity. And as a consumer, you have some attractive features and products.

    But your message today is not professionally-prepared. It invokes “scare tactics.” It is demeaning to a competitor.

    False formality … fear-invoking … half-truths – this release is more of a propaganda tactic than a traditional BN statement.

    It feels like some BN bigwig’s son just graduated from college, and was given as his first assignment this “hit piece” against Amazon.

    You are better than this.

    Clint Bradford
    [contact information removed by ILMK]

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Clint!

      I won’t say our reactions are entirely dissimilar. Bookstores have traditionally presented themselves as dignified…at least many of them have. This feels more like politics…

  3. gous Says:

    Have no interest in this particular letter. That said the true story of how Amazon has practiced a classical rent seeking strategy to beat its retailing opponents has not yet been told. How important it has been is seen in Amazon’s take-no-prisoner approach to the issue. Given their razor thin margins no real surprise I guess.

    A careful reading of Michael Mazerov publications on this is a must, see especially
    http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=2990

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, gous!

      I’ll take a look at it.

      The letter interests me in part because it may particularly affect those who are less savvy…a vulnerable group. The intent to cause fear does not seem like a…gracious business practice.

  4. karin Says:

    Hi Bufo,

    Did you respond to the email? Just curious.

    Karin

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, karin!

      I have not yet, and probably won’t.

      First, honestly, I had to calm down about it. I went and had lunch. 🙂

      Second, well…I guess it seems sort of like it is their business. Yes, it would have been spam if they were asking me to spend money, but they weren’t. Yes, I think the letter was inappropriate. However, I don’t feel like B&N have that kind of relationship that I should correct them on what I consider a misstep.

      Saying it to my readers…that is different to me. I’m not going behind their backs…this is out in the open. I don’t think they’d be interested in my opinion on it (I have no relationship with them except as a customer). This letter isn’t a negligent mistake: it’s deliberate. If someone had toilet paper stuck to a shoe, I would tell that person. If someone is wearing a toilet paper hat, that’s a choice that person has made…and I probably wouldn’t say anything to them about it. 🙂

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