Bookstores that won’t carry books
What is the raison d’etre for bookstores?
It’s to sell books, right?
If a bookstore refuses to sell books, that seems self-destructive.
One of my regular readers and commenters, Harold Delk, directed me to this:
The Judith Rosen piece quotes several owners, managers, and other executives of brick-and-mortar bookstores explaining why they won’t carry books published by New Harvest.
Those are paperbooks published by Amazon imprints, and distributed by venerable (founded in 1880) publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I have to say, there is some of the most upside down and backwards reasoning I’ve seen…at least, that’s the way it appears to me.
Let me address first the basic principle of not selling books. Absolutely, bookstores have the right to choose their merchandise (I’m a former bookstore manager). You don’t want to carry a book because it won’t sell? Perfectly reasonable. You don’t want to carry a book because you think it will offend your customers? Makes sense.
You don’t want to carry a book because you want to hurt the publisher? That’s just bizarre.
Who does it help and hurt?
In the short run, this clearly hurts the customer. They can’t buy a book from you that they want. In the longer run, you might think you are helping them, by changing somebody’s else’s business practice…but the customer is likely to just buy the book somewhere else (like Amazon). If the customer doesn’t hear of the book, yes, that could hurt the publisher’s sales, which could encourage that company to change some practice, I guess.
Again, clearly a short term negative impact. The store loses sales. Perhaps more importantly, they could lose customers. You shop in a local store because you like their service (and maybe selection, although the internet beats that). It’s not good service to not have the book the customer wants. One thing that makes you return to a bookstore: you got a book there you loved. Fewer books, fewer chances for that to happen. Think you can explain it to the customer? “Yes, I know it has great reviews, but Amazon has business practices that we don’t like, so we aren’t going to carry it.” Customer’s response: “Who does carry it?” or “What practices?” Store: “They are selling books for lower prices than we can match.” Customer: “Um, okay…” Harold says that he won’t shop at any store that refuses to carry books like that…I would guess he won’t be the only one. Of course, many customers will have no idea about what is happening.
They get hurt. Fewer sales, fewer royalties. Less discovery, fewer future sales. That even gets mentioned in the article.
They probably lose some sales, but this also weakens the power of the brick-and-mortar stores to influence the market in the future.
They potentially win, but if this leads to fewer people shopping in brick and mortars, it means the tradpubs (traditional publishers) have to compete online…with Amazon.
Seriously, this is a lose/lose/lose/lose/lose. Of course, there are times it makes sense to hurt yourself. You see a little kid in the street, about to get hit by a car. You run out there and throw the kid to safety, getting hit and breaking your leg. That’s worth it. I can applaud the bookstore magnates for taking a moral stand. I just honestly think it’s hard to justify from a business standpoint.
Take this short quote excerpt from Vivien Jennings of Fairway Books in Kansas:
“Even if I’m super busy,” says Jennings, “I explain to [CreateSpace authors] about the sales tax thing and the DoJ.”
Let’s go through those two, and how I would explain them.
Amazon favors having a national sales tax policy. They want all internet retailers to be compelled to collect sales tax. Amazon’s Paul Misener has testified before Congress in favor of equal collection legislation.
What they don’t want is states making up their own (and very different) rules about who has to collect sales tax.
Amazon’s stand (and efforts to make it become reality) would likely benefit brick-and-mortar bookstores, because all (well, at least one that met a sales minimum, most likely) internet and mail order places would collect sales tax the same way those neighborhood stores do.
Is that what Jennings explains?
As to the DoJ (Department of Justice) thing…
There has been a real effort to spin this into an anti-Amazon case, when it is the opposite.
Does Jennings say, “Amazon was discounting e-books to customers, even though they were paying the same amount to publishers, and authors were therefore getting the same amount. Apple colluded, according to the Department of Justice, with five of the six largest US publishers to raise the prices that customers were paying…and to eliminate price competition, by making the e-books the same price regardless of what outlet was selling them.”
That’s what is happening.
I’m not saying that the DoJ couldn’t go after Amazon for anything…the e-tailer does have a “most favored nation” requirement in their contracts with independent publishers using their Kindle Direct Publishing , saying that the publisher can’t sell the e-book cheaper somewhere else. That one concerns me.
However, the current DoJ action says that Apple and the publishers were the bad guys and hurt consumers. Some of the publishers, without admitting wrongdoing, have already agreed to settle.
Maybe Jennings is explaining that, I don’t know. It doesn’t sound like it, though.
Here’s the hard part for me in this.
I think running a bookstore is a noble pursuit. Many bookstore owners/managers really want to help people find great things to read. I’ve spent many a wonderful time in bookstores.
These complaints, though, mostly sound like they are about money.
Clearly, if the goal was to help connect readers with books, you wouldn’t do it by keeping books out of the hands of readers.
Are bookstore owners/managers/CEOs upset because Amazon is doing that better?
Sure, that makes sense. You want to make a profit, you want to stay in business.
It just doesn’t sound like the goal here is the enrichment of the reading community.
After you’ve read the article, I’d love to hear what you think. I’d be more than happy to discuss these points with any of those bookstore folks. Book people, as I’ve mentioned before, tend to be empathetic. While there are certainly passionate discussions around books (nowadays, you can find those online, in the “bookstream” inside a book on a Kindle Fire, and so on…and yes, probably in some bookstores), I think readers tend to be able to look at things logically and from many viewpoints.
What do you think?
If you have more to say to me and my readers, feel free to make a comment on this post.
Thanks again to Harold for the heads-up on this!
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.