Roller Coaster Week

No one ever said publishing was for the faint of heart but boy, some weeks can be crazier than others. The highs! The lows…

Do you want the good news first or the bad? I’ll start with bad…

Those of you who follow publishing news will no doubt have read that the big chain book stores in North America recently announced that they will no longer carry books produced by Amazon Publishing in their physical stores. That means they won’t carry some upcoming celebrity memoirs, James Franco’s new novel, Deepak Chopra’s new book, #1 NYT Bestselling non-fiction author Tim Ferriss’s new books… or my upcoming YA trilogy, Deviants.

Some will say that it serves Amazon right. That a retailer has no business being a publisher. Or that their business tactics of late have been bullying. While I agree that Amazon has been throwing its considerable weight around, I do think some of the reactions have been at tad hypocritical. Certainly some of the vitriol I’ve read in the blogosphere has been.

It’s amusing how short people’s memories seem to be about who’s David and who’s Goliath in the publishing business. It wasn’t long ago that everyone in the industry was accusing the big chain stores, which many are now rallying behind, of being bullies with unreasonable demands about discounts and returns that publishers claimed would put them out of business. And everyone was up in arms about how the chains were putting the indie book stores out of business.

Let’s fact it… it wasn’t long ago that the publishing industry was excited about the little tech company from Seattle who was giving the industry another way to get books into the hands of readers.

(And I won’t even talk about the fact that Amazon sells the books published by B&N’s publisher–Sterling Books–or that B&N also has exclusive titles and editions.)

The monopoly accusations made by some authors make me shake my head too. It’s been a few years since I studied economics but if memory serves, what Amazon is doing is called vertical integration, different from a monopoly, and since B&N is pretty much the only game in town in terms of physical book stores now (along with Indigo Books in Canada) who has the monopoly? What it seems to me is going on now, is that for decades the publishing industry has been an oligopoly (a few entities dominating an industry) and Amazon is daring to threaten that oligopoly, to change industry practices, and take a bigger piece of the market.

Sigh…

I love book stores. Big chain ones with their variety and coffee shops. Indies with their customer service and ambiance. And when my first books came out last year it was a thrill to see them on bookstore shelves. I do not want to see book stores go under. But who’s going to be hurt by this move the brick and mortar stores are making? For the most part, it won’t be Amazon–they’ve got deep pockets–it will be their authors. Sure, if this move keeps more big-name authors from moving away from the Big Six to Amazon Publishing the strategy might hurt Amazon too but if the dominating  brick & mortar retail chain is refusing to carry a publisher’s books out-of-hand, regardless of each book’s merit or commercial appeal, who is being the bully?

Putting my business-cap on, I think what it boils down to is that while any retailer has the right to choose what merchandise it wants to carry, and I get why they might not like the taste or feel of selling their competitors products, I don’t understand why a retailer would want to force customers to go to their competitor to buy that product. A fan of Tim Ferriss, for example, who may have never bought anything at Amazon before, may now become their regular customer, if it’s the only place he/she can find Ferriss’s new book. If that customer has a positive shopping experience, well, that customer may decide to mostly shop at Amazon in the future.

Are bookstores simply trying to push Amazon into making their e-book titles available in Nook and Kobo formats? If so, I hope the gambit pays off because I’d like my books to be available to as many readers as possible in whatever format they prefer.

In my hopes and dreams, Amazon will make their books available across all digital platforms and the brick and mortar stores will reverse their decisions.

Whether any of these companies are acting out of smart business decisions or fear or spite, I feel like my getting into the debate risks drawing attention to what feels like pettiness–mud slinging and sandbox fights–and I like to stay out of that kind of thing when I can. But at the same time, as a newly contracted Amazon Publishing author, I couldn’t keep silent. I figured friends and readers would be wondering how I feel about the whole thing.

And how do I feel? Like a kid whose parents are fighting. I just want them to stop.

From an author’s perspective, it sucks to hear that your books will not be in these big chain stores, and sucks even more to have that decision be based, not on your books’ merit or commercial appeal but on who published them. (Yes, I know that authors with smaller publishers and self-published titles have been suffering this for years but those reasons made sense to me as they were about distribution logistics and return issues…)

Last week an editor of a book review site, Book Riot, described a dilemma she faced when she was about to give a book she’d loved a positive review–before realizing the book was from the Amazon Publishing ecosystem. Her post is interesting. She made me feel better and worse all at once… I knew having reviewers refuse to read my books, or be predisposed to hate them, and not having the books stocked in some brick and mortar stores were risks I was taking when I chose Amazon as my publisher. (Yes, they chose me but I also chose them).

I went into this with my eyes (mostly) open. And no matter who your publisher is, there’s never any certainty that the big chains or indies will carry your books. No guarantee you’ll get reviews, negative or positive. I knew there would be pros and cons to choosing Amazon as a publisher, and I still hope the benefits of my choosing Amazon Publishing will outweigh this newly revealed downside–they are, after all, good at getting books in front of the right readers–but it’s impossible to even guess at this point. Time will tell. Right now, hearing this news simply sucks.

Did you forget I promised you good news, too?

The same week these worrying press releases came out, I also got some fantastic news!!!

I got a fabulous quote for Deviants from a #1 NYT Bestselling author! Woo hoo!

Quote to be revealed at a future date when I feel more like celebrating. :)

  20 comments for “Roller Coaster Week

  1. February 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Wow Maureen such a good post. It does seem to stink all around and end up hurting hardworking authors. So sorry.
    Yay on the quote though!

  2. February 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I hear you, I’m ‘sighing’ with you and for one of the first passengers on the I-Hate-Amazon bus, I’m despondent over how this playing out.
    Naive, I know, but I just wish everyone would be happy with a little piece of the pie rather than wanting to own the entire dessert cart *pout*

  3. February 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    On January 5, 2012 B&N put Sterling Publishing up for sale so they are trying to get out of the publishing business.

    I’m not a huge fan of Amazon’s tactics on a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean I will bash the company. I just won’t buy a Kindle. I do hope that ebooks will stop being captive to a particular platform and be more widely available.

  4. February 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    I’m aware that B&N put Stirling up for sale just before making this announcement. Timing no coincidence I’m sure.

  5. February 13, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    When I saw this link on twitter (an RT) I almost didn’t click it. I have become so sick and tired of the completely incorrect blather all over the internet, in print, on tv.

    THANK YOU for being not only correct, but for responding to the situation without using the knee-jerk buzzwords embraced nearly everywhere.

    None of us wanted to see Borders go. None of us want BN to fold. But the bottom line is, they have to save themselves by getting it right. Borders failed. BN is failing.

    I’m so sick and tired of Amazon taking hit after hit for doing things right.

    Well done!

  6. February 13, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Thanks Chrissy. :)

  7. February 14, 2012 at 12:03 am

    B&N is in a tough spot in retail. Why not carry your competitor’s books and try to get their customers to come to your store to buy them. Then you at least get a piece of the action!

  8. February 14, 2012 at 1:39 am

    Aryn, I agree. It’s not a simple situation and I’m not sure what I’d do. Just glad I’m not an exec at either company right now…

  9. Anonymous
    February 14, 2012 at 1:56 am

    As a customer that *loves* print books and bookstores and hates ebooks, to me I feel that what Amazon does is not good for something I love and something I hope my future children will be able to experience: physical bookstores and physical books. I don’t think Amazon cares about the survival of books and bookstores as long as they can make a profit off ebooks. Personally, I won’t buy anything published by them, and will only purchase a book on Amazon from another publisher if I’ve exhausted all options to find a copy elsewhere.

    I’m not saying this to be hurtful but I really disagree with Amazon’s business practicse and I don’t feel they value the continued survival of physical books even though that’s what they got started selling.

  10. February 14, 2012 at 2:23 am

    Anonymous… You certainly aren’t alone with your feelings. But the way I think about it is this:

    First, they have always been, in my experience, top notch in customer service. From way back in the 90’s when I was nervous ordering online for the first time, and their e-mails letting me know the status of my order, etc. made me feel comfortable.
    Second, in contrast to you, I don’t see any evidence they no longer care about books. Even after moving into other areas of retail, do they become or buy lawn chair manufacturers or clothing companies? No… they vertically integrate into publishing. Shows me that their core business, their true love if you will, is still books.
    And third… while I too love physical books, even more I love stories and the experience of reading. Digital books are making it easier, not harder, for me to find and enjoy great stories.

    But I respect your opinion. And do get where you’re coming from.

  11. Anonymous
    February 14, 2012 at 5:32 am

    Well when I say that I meant “print books.” I think Amazon would be happier if everyone just bought a Kindle and Kindle books. Print books are VERY important to me because if they stopped making new print books I wouldn’t be able to read new books at all just old books – since I dislike the experience of reading from an e-reader – and I did try one out at the library and hated it. I do think ebooks and printed books can both exist like they do now, and I support companies like Barnes & Noble that support both physical and ebooks, but I think Amazon would be happy to see physical books die. Especially for children I think having bookstores and libraries are SO important – it’s just not as exciting to order online!

  12. February 14, 2012 at 8:11 am

    I think both B&N and Amazon support both formats. And in fact, this “fight” is over Amazon not letting B&N sell their books in e-book format… So it’s about B&N wanting more of the e-book market. And B&N refusing to carry the print versions of Amazon’s books. That’s why I don’t think it’s that obvious which side to take based on loving print over digital or vice versa.

    Amazon didn’t invent e-books, nor did they have the first e-reader. Neither did B&N. But they both make and sell them and both want as much of that market as they can get.

    I too love printed books. I don’t think they’re going anywhere. Especially not for kids books.

    But I think this is getting off track from my point which was not about e-books versus print books. Amazon Publishing is releasing their titles in both formats. B&N is refusing to stock the print versions because they are being blocked from being able to sell the digital versions. One could argue that it’s B&N who’s anti-print books with regard to this particular issue.

  13. February 14, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Although I don’t really believe they are anti-print. Just making a point. But to be clear, right now B&N is fighting for rights to sell digital books by refusing to sell print books.

  14. February 15, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Don’t know why it has to be either/or – there’s room for both digital and print. I’m so excited that an Independent bookstore on Balboa Island is stocking my book, “Letters on Balboa Island” – love book stores of all kinds!

    PS – Did I hear somewhere that amazon was going to open a brick and mortar book store? Or is that just a rumor?

  15. February 15, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Amazon did announce they are opening a store, but I don’t think it’ll be a book store per se.

    I only skimmed the articles in the press, but sounds like it’ll be more like an Apple store, than a book store. A place to test drive and buy their kindle products.

    I don’t think they plan to compete with book stores in the brick and mortar arena. But I could be wrong.

  16. February 16, 2012 at 5:15 am

    Your line about feeling like a kid whose parents are fighting? That’s exactly how it sounds to me. And, of course, I’ll be buying your books wherever I can get my hands on them!

  17. Anonymous
    February 17, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    With physical book stores closing right and left and more and more readers buying ebooks, I think your publishing with Amazon will work out just fine. Good post! And good luck, Maureen! You know all your girly whirlies are behind you 100-percent.
    Danita

  18. Anonymous
    March 3, 2012 at 4:28 am

    Poetic justice is chain bookstores pushing out the indies, then Amazon destroying the chains, the indies come back!

    Funny as it may seem but Amazon is actually a collection of a million independent bookstores. And a lot of indies sell on Amazon to keep afloat.

  19. Anonymous
    March 3, 2012 at 4:28 am

    Poetic justice is chain bookstores pushing out the indies, then Amazon destroying the chains, the indies come back!

    Funny as it may seem but Amazon is actually a collection of a million independent bookstores. And a lot of indies sell on Amazon to keep afloat.

  20. March 3, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    That’s an interesting perspective, Anonymous… Just curious, are you and indie bookseller or just making an assumption?

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