Amazon's Faustian offer to indie bookstores: Make money by selling Kindles

Store owners get 10 percent from purchases made on those Kindles for two years

(Image credit: (Jens Kalaene/dpa/Corbis))

Amazon's proverbial trail of bodies includes at least a few mass market booksellers. That much isn't surprising. But the bloodbath has also spurred a somewhat less expected trend: Small indie bookstores — seemingly against the odds — are flourishing in the e-tailer's wake.

In 2012, for example, some 1,900 new indies sprouted up along sidewalks across the country, according to the American Booksellers Association. And the data indicates small independent bookstores have been on the upswing since 2009.

One of the reasons Amazon and small indie chains are able to coexist should be obvious: Sometimes consumers want to peruse a well-curated selection of books in a charming environment; other times it's more convenient (and less embarrassing) to read something like Catching Fire on a Kindle.

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Amazon understands this, and this morning in a press release, announced a new scheme to leave its digital imprint on the shelves of indie bookstores across the country. The plan, dubbed Amazon Source, will allow small booksellers to sell Kindles and keep 10 percent of all digital sales made on them for the next two years.

It strikes me as somewhat of a Faustian bargain: Amazon gets to sink its teeth into the indies and carve out real-estate in front of people who really like to read, while business owners get an easy new revenue stream without expending significant resources.

But at what cost for the future? It's like 7-Eleven selling Slurpees and taquitos at your corner bodega, or Apple selling iTunes gift cards at a record store. "We suppose 10 percent of revenue is better than nothing," said Jay Yarow at Business Insider, "but this seems like a suicide mission for any bookstore that signs up."

Plus, two years isn't really that long, especially for a gadget like an e-reader. Although Amazon doesn't release actual sales figures, I'd be surprised if consumers were intent on snatching up the newest Kindle when the older model they own works perfectly fine. It's unlikely many bookstores would get repeat business from selling hardware. While Amazon's proposal isn't exactly like making a deal with the devil, I imagine it'd be difficult for any Kindle-selling indie to claim it has soul.

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