Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Out of Line?

You might not know, but I have a site where I review knitting books. So, imagine my surprise when I got this co-written email the other day.

As a “LYS owner” we are thrilled to read your messages about upcoming books and your reviews. It helps us to stock our shop. However, we STRONGLY OBJECT to your policy of linking to Amazon. Until Amazon starts supporting the small merchants instead of taking our local business, we will be forced to unsubscribe from your blog. We hope you understand.

Now, it’s a polite enough email, I suppose. Not profane. Not obscene. Not outright rude. Except…

Pick Your Battles.

Now, KnittingScholar.com is a labor of love and, except for getting some review copies, entirely unpaid. The only income stream the site has is the Amazon.com affiliate links that help defray the cost of the webhosting, and I tell people right up front. “Please, if you’re thinking of buying any of these books, please consider using the links here at Knitting Scholar–I’ll get a couple dollars from Amazon.com to go toward the cost of this site. My grateful thanks go with every order!”

Now, I can understand people who have independent bookstores wanting to shake their firsts at the internet behemoth for taking business away from them. I understand that there are people out there who object to Amazon.com on principle because it is so big, it’s so corporate, it’s taking over the universe, et cetera, et cetera. But this is a yarn shop, we’re talking about. One that presumably sells knitting books along with their yarn and needles, yes, but books wouldn’t be their primary income-maker.

Direct Your Anger Properly

Protesting that I am using links to Amazon because it takes away their business seems, well, absurd. It’s not like I’m the only place their customers would hear about these books. In fact, in this day and age, heading to an online store is almost a reflex, if only to hear what other people think about books you’re interested in. It’s not like people aren’t going to think of Amazon.com without my help.

Most people who go to yarn shops want to look at the yarn. They may definitely browse through books while they’re there, and of course they might buy some, but you can buy most of those books at bookstores, too. You can check them out of the library. You can borrow them from friends. Did these two email-writing shop owners send a protest to their local Barnes & Noble, too, for selling books that people could be buying in their shop? Or protest to the local library for letting people see them for free?

Business is Business

I hate the common excuse that “business is business,” because it’s too often used to excuse heartless strategies, but still … everyone has a right to earn a living. The line in their email that truly gets me, though, is “Until Amazon starts supporting the small merchants instead of taking our local business…

Um, Amazon is in business to make money, just like you. I don’t think they’re deliberately trying to put small shops out of business (thought I agree they’re not helping). But why should any big store “start supporting” you? To think they owe you anything is absurd. These ladies might as well be complaining because A.C. Moore sells yarn and is taking their customers. I’ve even seen yarn at Walmart and at Target, and I’m quite sure those shops aren’t worrying about the little yarn shop down the street. And I’d bet these ladies haven’t written to them to complain–or to other local yarn shops for taking their customers, either.

Examine Your Own Behavior.

Here’s the other thing: They say in their email that they are “thrilled” to see my lists and reviews and that they “use them to stock their shop.”

Couldn’t I argue that they are profiting from my hard work? And taking “business” away from ME?

You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to take advantage of my time and effort, that’s great. It’s exactly why I run the site, but you can’t then turn around and complain that I make a few dollars a month off of it. (Maybe I should be complaining that they’re not buying their store inventory using my Amazon links?)

Spreading Inspiration is ALWAYS Good for Business.

Ultimately, they’re forgetting the most important thing.

Selling knitting books means selling yarn. Sometimes knitters will buy the yarn first and then look for the pattern to match, but they just as often start with a pattern that they need to go find the perfect yarn for. That pattern could come from anywhere–a book, a magazine, a designer’s blog, a website. But putting inspiration in the hands of knitters is just going to sell more yarn. I understand that they’d rather people bought the books from them, but ultimately, that’s not the point.

Information Should be Free.

The modern world is requiring all of us to rethink things, but freedom of speech should not be one of them. I would never insist people buy books only using links from my site. I would never tell them that they must buy from Amazon. I would never discourage them from buying them in person from a bookstore or a friendly yarn shop.

What I AM doing, though, is trying to spread the word as far as I can. I tell people about the books to catch their attention and whet their appetites, and then I send them to (1) someplace where they can buy it, and (2) someplace they can read other people’s opinions before making a decision. I’m not providing restrictions. I’m providing options–and making sure people know about books they might not have heard of.

People are Free to Make Their Own Choices.

At the end of the day, people can and should make their own decisions about where they buy things. Buying local is good for the environment. Buying from a big-box store is good for the wallet. Buying in person is good for browsing. Buying online is good for convenience … you know all the arguments as well as I do.

The point is to let people make up their own minds. Heaven knows I’m not pressuring anybody to use my Amazon links–I’m just grateful when they do.

And if these shop owners feel they have to unsubscribe to my blog feed out of protest for my using links to their “competition?” That’s their choice, too. But trying to limit the dissemination of information, or to direct it in only the direction they want it to go? Especially on a website that they admit they’ve found useful but are not remotely connected with? It rather smacks of small-mindedness, narrow-vision, and censorship, don’t you think?

Am I crazy, that this email bugged me so much? What do you think?

7 Comments on “Out of Line?”


  1. I actually will do a whole post on this on my e-commerce blog soon (with a link back, of course) because I have a ton of thoughts on this. But while I largely feel the same way I just want to point on the one small hole in the argument:

    If your main argument is making income for the site, IndieBound has an affiliate program that works just like Amazon Associates but directs people to local bookstores and their online arms instead. http://www.indiebound.org/affiliate

    Now there are plenty of reasons to still go with Amazon, namely that you can’t link to Kindle eBooks through IndieBound which is a big deal for me personally, but if your main argument is that your doing it just for some extra cash, I just wanted to point out that you can’t really argue that without at least acknowledging that there is an Amazon alternative IMO.


  2. Actually, I think you’re on the money on every point (“money” being the key word here). I would also add that by allowing you to link to their store, Amazon is indeed supporting small businesses. You can also point to a recent NY Times article about a writer who couldn’t get her book sold to any publisher – she put it up on Amazon and now she’s making millions. Isn’t that supporting small businesses?

    Don’t think they didn’t complain to Target and Walmart. I suspect they write a lot of these pointless letters to a lot of people. It’s great to have a cause, but as you said, examine thine own behavior and look at how it may or may not be affecting your business. I doubt highly that Amazon does a thing to put a dent in their business. Then again, they may be overcharging for the books, in which case I myself would head to Amazon for them.


  3. @Hillary–Making money from Amazon isn’t my main point (though it’s one of the supporting arguments). There’s no question there are other sites I could link to instead, but I opt for Amazon because it’s convenient and well nigh universal–and the kick-back helps me out. My main argument, though, is how can this yarn shop that has no connection to me whatsoever try to dictate what I do on my own site?

    @Lori–And it’s not like this was a local indie bookstore, complaining, either. It’s a yarn shop–and it’s not like Amazon sells a lot of yarn. (Though they sell that, too.)

    I will say that I try to buy yarn in local shops to support them–and skeins of yarn are usually pretty much the same cost from place to place. The knitting books, though? Yarn shops almost always charge the full-price on the cover while Amazon offers discounts (unless it’s a self-published book). Frankly, I’d rather save the money on the books so I can buy more yarn, so I admit I rarely ever buy books from yarn shops.


  4. I have NEVER been in a LYS that did a good job marketing their books. They refuse to sell them for any price besides the one put on the book by the publisher. They refuse to EVER put their books on sale, even when they have store-wide sales on all their other merchandise. When a book gets a huge amount of attention, they don’t seem to want to jump on that bandwagon with any kind of marketing campaign to tie that book to yarns they carry. This ain’t rocket science, folks. To read something like this, where they basically blame you for their lack of marketing skills is just sad. My 2¢ worth.

  5. --Deb

    To be fair, places like Amazon get deals from publishers so they can afford to sell books at lower prices (except the self-published ones). To put the books on sale at a LYS presumably means they’re going to lose money on it … BUT most people buying a book at a yarn shop means that they’re going to make something in the book and will presumably therefore buy the yarn for it.

    At the least, you’d think offering a discount on the book if the person buys yarn at the same time would be worth their effort.

  6. Ron

    I really enjoyed reading your blog and I get some points on handling our behavior towards life. Thank you very much because you have given me the opportunity to do reflection for myself and the things that I must do.

  7. Rover

    “Business is business”, a very common saying, but still a lot of people forget it. I am jealous about the big businesses, but I know how hard they had worked to be in the position. It is better to focus on developing a much better strategy in earning money than waste our time being angry.