Good For Them! But Is It a Sound Business Move?

Publisher’s Weekly covered the announcement by Barnes and Noble, that they will not carry anything published by Amazon in their brick and mortar stores. The fact that I am championing B&N is not lost on me. Me, who ten years ago likened B&N to the ‘Evil Empire’, like the Soviet Union. But now, just like in shifting political times, the enemy that has become more powerful is amazon, i. e. China, lol. Some may argue, ‘why do you need an enemy to begin with.’ Indies don’t NEED an enemy, they just have them–and among higher rents, e-books, a crappy economy, amazon has made themselves conspicuous by forcing their business practices on one and all, with tactics that reminds me of the bulling the Soviet Union loved to practice. That’s not to say that B&N wasn’t guilty of similar, although not as harsh or devious practices in regards to publishers. They forced publishers to consider print runs, genres, and even what was published. B&N would threaten to do any number of things to keep the publishing community in line. Perhaps, they still do, but what they haven’t done is taken over publishing itself. Amazon seems to believe that they control the vertical, they control the horizontal, so there’s no point in trying to change anything. (to clarify for those who were born after The Outer Limits was on TV, and for those who had no idea that in the days before LED tv and the like came along, a TV would do strange things like have the image bounce up and down–turn the people skinny or fat, and that the VIEWER had control over these things, could fix the picture anyway they wanted to, my reference is to the Outer Limits having taken over our TV screens, and there’s nothing we could do about it.) Amazon is trying to foist itself into every book ever published, to retain rights to all e-books, self published or not, and some publishers are caving into the power and pressure amazon holds, and are partnering up with them.

So what precipitated this move by B&N ?”Amazon announced a licensing deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt through which HMH will publish and distribute Amazon Publishing titles from the company’s New York division under the New Harvest imprint.” This didn’t sit well with B&N–their decision–

“is based on Amazon’s continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent.
These exclusives have prohibited us from offering certain eBooks to our customers. Their actions have undermined the industry as a whole and have prevented millions of customers from having access to content.  It’s clear to us that Amazon has proven they would not be a good publishing partner to Barnes & Noble as they continue to pull content off the market for their own self interest. We don’t get many requests for Amazon titles, but if customers wish to buy Amazon titles from us, we will make them available only online at”

So, I suppose the question would be, have they undermined the industry as a whole? I’m not sure if I understand exactly what Houghton Mifflin will be publishing–but if they have the rights to say, James Patterson, and only amazon will be printing his books and they are also the seller–that does seem to be a problem to the industry. If what New Harvest publishes are out of print titles and small publishers, and amazon is in control of this, that could also be problematic. But if all that is being published physically are self published want-to-be-authors–then that wouldn’t impact any one other than the deluded individuals who believe they have written a ‘published book.’ And that’s who seems to have responded on Publisher’s Weekly webpage, those who have published things themselves and who call B&N names likening them to luddites, or something similar. One person simply announced  ‘I’m not really worried either. I plan on self-publishing through Amazon myself, but I’m not expecting my book to be carried by the last surviving book-chain store in the nation.’ Well, dear, no self respecting dinosaur of a bookstore would carry your book anyway–they wouldn’t have in ancient pre-e-book times, and they wouldn’t now. Self published is still called “Vanity Press” in the real world.

But another person did point out how small presses will be hurt by this. I’m not sure anything on that front will change–B&N didn’t carry small presses that much to begin with. Some authors I know, whose work is outstanding and are published by smaller independent publishers, find the only way they can sell their books is through amazon, for the very reason that B&N won’t stock them. This has been a huge flaw in B&N and one that caused we in indies back in the 90s, to dislike them–that and the discounted books, ha.

So, is this a good idea of B&N? To not carry anything amazon publishes? I’ve no idea–since what will be published is a mystery to me. They apparently don’t think so, or they wouldn’t have made the decision. Of course, the battle between the nook and amazon’s kindle cannot be ignored. I’m sure that’s probably the driving force behind the decision. If you purchase an amazon book to download, you can only do so if you own a kindle–at least that’s my understanding–please correct me, seriously, if I’m wrong. And that has to peeve B&N no end. I wouldn’t think Apple’s ipad would be thrilled either.

Overall, I applaud any decision that bucks Bezos’ march to conquer the world. My nightmare envisions a future where only one behemoth store exists, where everything is chosen for you, nothing is interesting or original, and it stretches for miles around. What horrible place would that  be? Walzon– a combination of Walmart and amazon. Shoot me before that happens.

2 thoughts on “Good For Them! But Is It a Sound Business Move?”

  1. This is not in response to your main line of argument but to one of the offshoots, i.e., bookstores carrying self-published titles. I have had a bricks-&-mortar (sometimes wood frame, sometimes cement block–but whatever!) bookstore for over 18 years. Starting out with only used books, I added a limited line of new titles early in my first decade of business, and one of the lessons I had to learn was to step carefully onto the slippery slope of hosting book signings for local self-published authors. Most, you’re right, do nothing to enhance a bookstore’s reputation, let alone pay their way. There are, however, important exceptions, and no sensible bookseller will have a no-exceptions ban on self-published books. My top best-seller of 2011 was a very well-researched, beautifully written and exquisitely produced book on the history of our region (far from the battles) during the Civil War period. No one who has bought and read this book has been disappointed, and customers for the title have included those with doctorates in history and related fields. A small point, but important.

    • Yes–and I probably should always make the exception when I write about self pubbed books–I am talking about fiction–pretty much always fiction. So, I appreciate your point–I think you and others have made it before, and I keep forgetting in my peevishness, lol, to make that caveat.

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