by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
I’ve read several articles lately about how bookstores—both chain and independents—refuse to carry books released by Amazon Publishing. As an author, I gave up on bookstores long ago, because with the exception of a few locals, they’ve never supported me. I understand that. Bookstores have physical limitations and can only stock so many items, most of which are published by large publishing houses.
But when they refuse to stock books by known bestselling authors or by celebrities like Penny Marshall—merchandise that certainly will produce a profit—it seems counterproductive, especially since many bookstores are struggling just to stay afloat.
There's another issue here. Bookstores’ support of traditional-only publishers also sends this broad message: “We don’t care whether authors make money.” The reason authors sign with Amazon Publishing is because it treats them with respect and offers generous terms that allow authors to make a living. Hundreds of other authors have also left Big Publishing to go indie because they want to be fairly compensated for their work (among other issues).
Based on my own experience with a small press, combined with everything I read and hear from authors who have signed big publishing contracts, it’s fair to say that traditional publishers offer such stingy terms that most novelists have to hold jobs in addition to writing just to survive. Only a handful of mega sellers make a real living from their work. So when bookstores support traditional-only publishers (and the old business model) and shun Amazon and indie authors, they’re displaying indifference toward authors, the very people who produce the content they profit from.
I can hear bookstore owners saying, “And when authors sign with Amazon, they’re displaying indifference toward bookstores.” True enough. But many authors who sign with Amazon have never been carried by bookstores and owe them no loyalty. And the bestselling authors who have been on store shelves in the past, then sign with Amazon for a better future, will still make more money even with the loss of physical sales. So they’re acting in their own self-interest and who can blame them?
Bookstores would probably make the same claim, but I question that. Refusing to stock one particular publisher’s books, even though those books will make money for the store, seems like a personal decision, made more out of spite than good business sense.
Because Amazon is not going away…but bookstores might.