Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bookstores to Authors: "Meh."

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.


  1. I remember hearing that Amazon had been toying with the idea of opening a brick and mortar store at one time. That could be interesting.

  2. Talk about timing… just read this:

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful post, LJ. I just read the article you linked at the beginning of this post, so thanks for that, too. And your comments make total sense to me! As a beginning author, I found publishing on Amazon to be easy and painless, and both of my books are selling really well and getting great reviews, so I'm thrilled! If not for Amazon, I'd still be deciding whether to even bother with the hassle of sending out query letters to agents and acquiring editors.

  4. It seems hypocritical. Bookstores lambast Amazon constantly, but here they are, denying readers books, because they feel it's hurts their business. So when it comes to their own bottom line, they put themselves first, but when anyone else does it, they're not supporting the bookstore. It's a futile gesture on their part, which indicated a lack of a business plan or an ability to act. They are simply reacting. What is the long run plan by bookstores? How does this help that? Do they think their petty boycott will cause Amazon to go out of business? Or is it more likely they will go out of business?

  5. Well said, Bob. That's the question I keep coming back to. What happens when more and more authors leave the big presses to go indie or sign with Amazon? Bookstores will have to start selling popular titles, even if they're Amazon or indie, just to stay in business.

  6. Dang. Sorry about posting a link you already had. For some reason the links never show up well when I read our blog.

  7. Amen, amen, amen. My problem with the indie books stores is that they want the local support, the local patronage, but aren't interested in hosting an appearance by a local author. I had to practically get on my knees and beg for a date. I had one tell me they were booked for six months and I felt like they were throwing me a crumb to even allow me a table to sell my books during the Thanksgiving weekend. I'm thankful, but it felt like pulling teeth.

    Authors are busting their behind to get noticed and promote. Bookstores, if they want the attention, if they want people's support, then they need to actively market and support local authors and not be so resistant when one walks through the door.

  8. I agree with everything you've said here LJ. Unfortunately, their contempt toward Amazon will harm them more than help. They're siding with a dying side of the industry, and more than likely, they'll go down right with them.


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