indie bookstores

Amazon and an Indie Bookstore Owner at Odds

I read about this on another publishing blog and wanted to share for those who haven’t seen it. It’s an interesting post about how one Indie bookstore owner feels about Amazon…especially when it comes to hosting Amazon authors in their stores to sign.

Frankly, I don’t know much about Amazon authors. I wasn’t even aware that the Amazon mystery imprint had been released yet. But I do know that a good deal of all author e-book royalties come from Amazon. And I have been treated the same way by some indie bookstore owners and I’ve been published by both “traditional” print publishers and e-publishers. In other words, if I went to an lgbt indie bookstore, they could still pull out the many anthologies I’ve been in over the years and sell them.

I wish there were a way to work this out. I truly do. I love and support my local indie bookstores and want to see them hang around forever.

June 22, 2011
Can’t Shake the Devil’s Hand and Say You’re Only Kidding

This week, we received a copy of a new book from an author who was interested in coming in to sign. The problem is that the book is from the new Amazon mystery imprint. They’re making an aggressive move into publishing and have lined up a list of new and known authors. The authors are understandably eager and excited and they have a hard time understanding when they run into our brick wall of NO. We start with my original message of explaination, then his reply and my return message. In the interest of everyone getting a better understanding of the issues and our point, here is the exchange ~ JB

Tuesday, June 21, 10:30 AM To: The Author

Sorry to say that we cannot offer you a signing. We cannot do anything to support, help or benefit Amazon. They’re the enemy of independent bookshops and aiding them in any way – mainly ordering their books and selling them and promoting them – would be suicide. Things are tough enough without cutting our own throats. – JB Dickey, owner

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 5:49 PM To: staff@seattlemystery.com

Dear JB, I understand your concerns. But please know that the opposite is happening nationwide. Amazon is reaching out to independents everywhere and offering to send hundreds of thousands of Amazon emails promoting an individual bookstore. Happily sending Amazon customers to independents. The results have been spectacular. Hundreds have been showing up at these events. It is a tremendous show of support for the independents.

I know it seems counter-intuitive. Amazon is easy to demonize. But I’ve seen the result of their work with independents. And it is impressive. They wouldn’t be putting in this kind of effort if they were out to cut your throat. My little book tour is not about to make or break Amazon. I truly believe that Amazon wants both the independents and the online stores to thrive. If I didn’t believe that I would not have signed with them.

And as an author with a bestselling book from a conventional NY publisher, I can attest to the new life Amazon is breathing into books. Whereas an event might bring in the same ten or twelve people, now we are seeing many times that amount. New customers who then tell others about the event and about the bookstores. It has been great for everyone, especially the bookstores.

I know your mind is set, and I do not expect my email to change it. But I do want you to know that my experience with Amazon as an author has been second to none. They are incredibly supportive and responsive and beyond author-friendly. They flew me to NY for a book signing at BEA, something unheard of for a first-time author in my genre. And the list goes on.

If I can do anything to help your bookstore please let me know. And if you want to talk more about this or anything else book-related please call me at 555-555-1212. The author I am touring with is an English professor at University State X, and I know he feels as strongly as I do about the survival of the independents.

Sincerely, The Author

6/22/11, 10:56 AM To: The Author

What you say is all well and good but you’re looking at it from your perspective.

From my perspective, this is a huge corporation that has not only taken massive amounts of sales away from me over the years but also sales reps (which means the attention of publishers) and has waged a price war with the NYC publishers over their e-books. Remember when they removed ALL St. Martin’s titles from their site in retaliation for St. Martin’s insisting that they no longer undercut the price structure for e-books that the others were observing? Remember, too, that Amazon is the company that reached into the private devices of individuals and deleted e-books (one of our very good/long time customers is a computer worker and had downloaded a technical book from Amazon and make copious notes in her reader – Amazon deleted the ‘book’ and she lost all of her notes/ and then they also deleted – what was it, 1984? – from people’s e-readers). And let’s not forget that they appeared to buckle to outside pressure to remove gay and lesbian fiction and, when caught, blamed technical problems, not mendacity. I cannot tolerate censorship of any kind or by anyone. If these people are not intentionally evil, they come damn close to it by their actions and policies.

You want me to buy books from them? Pay them money to continue their efforts and to have books in my joint that clearly say “Amazon”, to give them free advertisement as well?

If they’re like NYC publishers, they’d demand that I open an account with them. That means giving them my personal info (this shop is a sole-proprietorship), tax numbers and bank accounts and, probably, the account information from three other businesses (either publishers and/or wholesalers) as references. Sorry – not a chance in hell I’d give all of that to Amazon. I do not trust them.

Even if I were to consider it, I haven’t heard enough about their policies: what is the discount structure? are returns allowed and in what time frame? are they selling the same book at a discount that I can’t/won’t match or are they selling the books at the same price as I would?

I don’t doubt that they’re doing good things for you authors. It is fully within their interest to do so. First of all, they’re launching a mystery/crime imprint and want to do all they can to promote it and its authors. Secondly, they want you to promote it and talk about it and to have more authors want to sign with them and to make more and more sales. I would bet that the intent is to take more and more business away from the major publishers who are very good at letting sales slip through their fingers.

Neither of us will change our minds. I’m the owner of the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. You are working for Mr. Potter. And Mr. Potter is always buying.

No one else may share my views. We’re all doggedly independent. It might be that I’m extra-sensitive about Amazon since they started here. If it works for others and you, great. But it is not for me. ~ JB

Will Indie and LGBT Bookstores Survive?

I often post about how things used to be for the lgbt community. Just yesterday, in the post below this, I talked about how I personally craved reading m/m romance when I was younger and wished there was more of a selection. But I’ve never discussed my own thoughts on indie bookstores and lgbt bookstores, or the way things have changed in the last ten years or so.

I’m lucky to have grown up in an area where I had access to both New York City and Philadelphia. As soon as I was old enough, I headed directly to small indie bookstores in both cities to fill my need for both entertainment and knowledge. And though I rarely ever found novels that satisfied my taste for m/m romance, at least I had exposure to lgbt books in a general sense.

After college, I worked for Conde Nast for a few years as an associate editor. But I wanted to write fiction and knew I never would if I spent most of my days editing the work of other writers. So I moved to touristy New Hope, PA, where I still reside, and opened an art gallery, which gave me the freedom to write fiction part time. At the time, which wasn’t that long ago, there were at least three different small indie bookstores in town that catered to the lgbt community. Now there is one, and it’s not even lgbt oriented. (There were also three gay bars/restaurants in town; now there is one, barely hanging on.)The shop next to my gallery was a lesbian bookstore, owned by a wonderful woman who passed away about seven years ago. But even back in the l990’s indie bookstores were having problems surviving. The owner of the lesbian bookstore next door to me was always complaining about how bad business was. The large chain stores had started popping up by then and the small stores simply couldn’t compete with them.

After the large chain stores started giving indie lgbt bookstores huge competition, the Internet came along and created even more havoc. And now, with e-books becoming more popular every day, I’ve heard about all indie bookstores (and not just lgbt stores) closing up left and right. In Philadelphia, the gay bookstore, Giovanni’s Room, just announced it will be selling e-books, which I think it a very smart move.

These days, thankfully, as a gay man I don’t feel the need to be separate from the mainstream anymore. It’s nice to have lgbt oriented businesses, and I always support them, but I don’t think the same way I did ten or fifteen years ago. When it comes to my own reading list, I don’t have time to drive to New York or Philadelphia anymore just to go book shopping. I read only e-books now, on an e-reader, and I buy them at places like amazon, allromanceebooks, and fictionwise. And I love oneromanceebooks. This doesn’t just pretain to books; it spills over into other areas of my life as well. Due to lack to time, and some serious deadlines this holiday season, I did a great deal of Christmas shopping on amazon. And I was happy with the results. Everything arrived on time, I didn’t have to drive around and waste precious energy with gasoline, and I didn’t have to stress out with Christmas shopping crowds. Though I’ve learned not to pay attention to amazon product reviews (I’ll post about this soon; most product reviews are just plain dumb), I’ve been happy with amazon in general.

So if there’s a plausible way for indie and lgbt bookstores to survive, I hope they find it. If selling e-books in retail bookstores does the trick, I couldn’t be happier. I’ll be in Philadelphia next month and, as usual, I’ll make a point of stopping by Giovanni’s Room to buy something. I still love small bookstores and I truly hope they stick around.