Dear Jeff Bezos…

There’s been a lot of discussion about your recent addition to Amazon of an app that people can use to scan items in stores – items which they are then asked to purchase from Amazon instead of at their local store. In addition to (in all probability) getting a lower price on the same item, they’ll also get five bucks for using the app. I think, as a business move, this is brilliant. As a PR move, it seems to have been a bit of a misstep.

I’d like to make a suggestion to undo a lot of that PR damage, and in the same move give you some positive PR that will be all but unassailable by your critics.

I’d like to suggest you create a new app – a seasonal one, that’s valid from the day after Thanksgiving until midnight on Christmas Eve. For the purposes of my suggestion, and because it’s the field I work in, the app would be limited to use in independent bookstores. With this app, which we could call “Santa’s Apprentice”, for any customer who scans a book in an independent bookstore – and then purchases that item at that store – Amazon would donate five bucks to a program that provides free books to kids at Christmas.

You still get the market data that all the experts seem to think you’re after – but the independent bookstore gets the sale, and some kid who may otherwise be getting nothing under the tree will have a chance to get a beautiful book of their very own. I’m already doing something similar as an individual, but charities like Kids Need To Read would be an excellent recipient for those donations, and are practically primed to start just such a program.

Making smart business choices has been the hallmark of your professional career, and it has certainly benefitted your company. Doing something like this is another arena altogether: it’s doing something that would not only help your competitors in a time of economic uncertainty, but would also help to give children some hope and happiness at a time in our world when both are sorely needed. And as PR, it’s as simple as Gimbel’s sending customers to Macy’s in Miracle on 34th St. It’s a move that generates both goodwill and profits.

Too often, I’ve seen kids – who will never get a Christmas present – out on street corners at this time of year with their parents, who are selling decorated pencils, or other little odds and ends just to try to make ends meet. Those are the kids I’m going to be giving presents to this year – as many as I am able. And I can’t for the life of me imagine approaching such a kid and telling them, “I have the ability to give you a book of your very own for Christmas – but I can’t, because my shareholders wouldn’t like it.” I bet you couldn’t, either.

Mr. Bezos, you have demonstrated beyond any doubt that Amazon is both successful and powerful. I hope you’re willing to demonstrate, to your own benefit, that Amazon can be good, too.

With all best wishes,

James A. Owen – Author, Independent Bookstore Owner, and Senior Apprentice to Kris Kringle

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