By Joel Brown July 17, 2011
With Borders bankrupt and many chains already gone, do you really think it’s wise to open a bookstore, as you write in your newly revised book, Rebel Bookseller?

There’s room for people who want to work in a storefront bookstore, make a living at it, and not demand so much capital as a return on investment.

 

That may be true for some shops, like the one you run at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, which has a built-in customer base. But what about longtime independents, like the Curious George & Friends bookstore and the Globe Corner Bookstores in Cambridge, which have recently closed their shops? Are they doing something wrong?

It’s possible what used to be a good place for a store is not anymore. Demographics change, property values change. That happens all the time. The total number of [indie] stores [nationwide] is staying constant.

Then why should we care if some go under?

Independent bookstores are about quirky books, authors who usually cannot get their voices heard. Independent bookstores give a platform to everybody.

So do online sellers. What is the unique value of an indie?

In a bookstore, [people] come together to hear an author giving a talk or an open-mike poetry reading. Citizenship in America is damaged by isolation.

What about the rise of e-books? Isn’t that leading to these storefronts’ demise, too?

E-books present no threat. They will be a supplement to print books.

You’re a big proponent of the “buy local” movement. Why?

Profits from [chain] companies get sent out of state, so there’s less money flowing in the community. As an indie, I’m standing there with you. Will customers pay more to shop at local stores? Yes, if we demonstrably add value. Somebody with roots in that town knows the character, the history, and will produce decisions fitted to the people who live there.

Still, opening a bookstore in 2011 is not rational, is it?

If you are headed into a landscape of low-paid jobs or unpaid internships, why not open a bookstore? You have to be crazy, but in a good way.

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.
 

Opening night at Word Up BookstoreMy editor at Seven Stories Press, Veronica Liu, has opened a one-month bookstore in Washington Heights. Here is some press coverage from the opening last Friday. Surprisingly my jazz work with percussionist Eric Blitz accompanying World War 3 Illustrated artists Rebecca Migdal and Seth Tobocman was more interesting to the reporters than the fact that Veronica’s work on Rebel Bookseller had helped inspire her to launch the store. The New York Times notes that I was playing music on the garden hose, while Manhattan Times comments on “the smooth tune of a saxophone coming from within the store.”

 

I will be on the roof of the Holiday Inn in NYC with lots of other indie press authors and indie booksellers, one week from today. I plan to dress in Revolutionary War costume, to honor 1770s rebel bookseller Henry Knox.

 

It’s been about a year since I posted a chapter from the book about Vox Pop that no-one seems to want to publish.  So, here’s another slice of that crazy phase…

 

Chapter 5

It was April 22nd, 2006, a Saturday night at The Club at Water Street in Rochester, New York. Halfway through the rock-n-roll fundraiser, Sander Hicks took the stage while the evening’s third band set up behind him.

“The American people have been short-changed. I mean, let’s get away from abstract concepts. You, my friends, you have been short-changed. The big money power in this country has complete control of the Democrats and the Republicans. You can see this in the way that they gave you this official story about 9/11, this official story about Iraq….”

It was the fourth day of our tour promoting our Vox Pop-published titles and building support for Sander’s effort to get the Green Party nomination in the Fall 2006 Senate race against New York Senator Hillary Clinton. The idea of Sander running for Governor against Eliot Spitzer had been nixed when well-known author Malachy McCourt had announced his Green candidacy; Sander didn’t think he could outflank McCourt. But the principal opponent in the contest to battle Clinton was a less-known figure: Green Party stalwart Howie Hawkins.

Sander continued his speech to the seventy-five young activists in the Rochester music club, “Look at the opinion polls. You know, sixty-four percent in 2004 asked for an independent investigation into 9/11, but the Democrats are not listening to you and the Republicans can’t listen to you. So it’s a great opportunity for the Green Party, and that’s why I’m running for the U.S. Senate, and who knows what’s gonna happen. We’re gonna do a warp-tour, lollapalooza-style traveling show. I haven’t worked out all the details and I need some volunteers, but I got some great ideas–we’re gonna get farmland and we’re gonna do rural rock-n-roll shows in which there’s gonna be political consciousness-raising and media education and lots of literature and lots of rock-n-roll. And it’s gonna be fun! Because revolutionary concepts and political activism should be fun, just like tonight is pretty fun. You all having a good time?” The crowd applauded and yelled, “Yeah! Woo!”

The tour had launched at the Gershwin Hotel in Manhattan with an evening screening of Sander’s new movie, filmed during his Fall 2005 cross-country book tour with Holley and the baby. On a five-thousand dollar budget he’d produced a creditable piece of gonzo journalism. The film featured Sander disputing with farmers about 9/11, Sander ranting about 9/11 on the radio, and Holley performing original anti-Iraq-war music.

After the screening’s question and answer period I chatted with Holley and was surprised to learn that she wasn’t going to be coming along on this Spring tour, as I’d expected.

It seemed that something was going on between Holley and Sander—some sort of suppressed anger. I didn’t want to know the details. A young couple that’s just launched a business, had a baby, been writing books and music and documenting their lives in their own movie seemed unlikely to be conflict-free. Personally I was happy to be going on the tour because my teenaged daughter was coming along to videotape our events. I felt lucky to have an excuse for a father-and-daughter week.

Our first day on the road was in Poughkeepsie, and the high-school audience seemed absurd.  They weren’t voting age! Nevertheless I read a chapter from Rebel Bookseller, sat through Sander’s campaign speech, and enjoyed hanging out with my daughter. Next day was Ithaca, where I’d arranged to see an old friend, Ross Haarstad. After our program, my daughter and I went out to dinner with Ross. He found Sander’s candidacy amusing, which I understood.  After all, what chance did Sander Hicks have of beating Hillary Clinton for Senate even if he succeeded in actually becoming the Green Party nominee? My response to Ross was pragmatic. I hoped that Vox Pop would be able to open branches in these towns we were visiting. Maybe this campaign tour would open some doors.

After a day campaigning at Saint Bonaventure College, we arrived in Rochester for our big Saturday night concert program.

Sander had wound up his speech and was introducing me.

“Cool. Well, speaking of fun, there’s a guy I wanted to bring up, he’s touring with me across the state, his name is Andy Laties. Andy’s actually a native of Rochester… and he’s back in town.  Come on and give him a hand.  Take it away.”

I hadn’t planned this particular speech—which evidently wouldn’t be a Rebel Bookseller reading but would instead have to be some sort of endorsement. However I’d rapidly come up with an idea that would introduce me and explain my support of Sander for Senate.

I began: “In 1976, I had grown up in Rochester and I started an underground newspaper with some friends, in my high school. That same year, Rochester was the home of the launch of the newspaper called U.S.A. Today, started by Gannett Corporation… our hometown corporation.  U.S.A. Today, which basically propagates the idea that the average is what’s really important about American life. You open up U.S.A. Today and you see these statistics: ‘The average American blah-be-dee-blah. The average American says…’ They want–the big corporations, the media that controls all sorts of outlets–they want us to be average. They want us to be scared of being different. They want us to be the same. And this consolidation of power, which has been implemented by hometown Rochester companies like Gannett, and companies like Barnes & Noble in New York happens because they restrain information about how to compete against them. Okay?”

“But in fact we can compete against them. We can launch our own independent newspapers, our own independent bookstores, our own independent publishing companies. We can make our own independent music on our own independent labels. We just have to take action. We have to do it. And this is the remarkable thing about this guy Sander Hicks. He is a publisher before anything else. He believes in giving people their voice back. He published over seventy-five books when he was with Soft Skull Press. The reason that you should vote for a publisher for Senate is because this is a guy who’s committed to alternative music, alternative poetry, alternative fiction. Independent investigation of politics. Independent thinking. This is the kind of person that we need for the Senate. Someone who’s into giving other people their voice. And so I’m really happy to be on this platform supporting Sander Hicks for U.S. Senate in New York. Thank you very much.”

 

It was eight weeks later that I stepped off the music club stage of another Sander-and-Andy political event—this time in Washington D.C. on the Saturday night of the 2006 B.E.A. convention. I was feeling great: Rebel Bookseller had won the 2006 Independent Publisher Award for best book on the subject of writing and publishing—I’d collected this award the night before. And now, on Saturday night, I had once again followed a policy speech of Sander’s with a fun but rather irrelevant diatribe of my own.

Acknowledging the applause of a small crowd, I drifted outside to encounter Sander talking agitatedly on his cell-phone. He hung up and informed me, “I’m going to Albany tonight.”

“Tonight? Why?”

“I was planning to go this weekend anyway: they’re holding the Green Party caucus, choosing their candidates. I need to leave right away. They’re sabotaging me. I have to stop them.”

“Is something going wrong with your nomination?”

“They found out about the contribution to the R.N.C.”

“What are you talking about?”

Sander was looking away from me. “They’re making a big deal about something and twisting it so it looks bad. Someone told them about it. I think I know who.”

“Sander.  What happened?”

He looked at me. “A few months ago Cortelyou Merchants Association got an invitation to contribute to the Republican National Committee and I was able to confront Dick Cheney about 9/11. Why are they trying to nail me for confronting Cheney?”

“So, you had the Neighborhood Association give money to the R.N.C.?”

“No, I did it with my own money. There were photo-ops for everyone there, and I got a chance to confront Cheney in person, when they took our picture together. I asked him point blank, ‘What do I say to all these people who say 9/11 was an inside job?’ Cheney says, ‘Just look at the evidence, it’s not true.’ They hustled me away to let the next guy have his picture with Cheney. So I didn’t get much out of Cheney…but you could definitely see he was hiding something.”

I knew that back in March, Sander had interrupted an Eliot Spitzer press conference by standing up and demanding a new investigation into the 9/11 attacks, getting himself grabbed by security guards for his trouble, and landing on the evening television news—so I grasped that the Dick Cheney incident fit into a pattern of direct action. “Okay, Sander, how much was the contribution to get you into this Cheney event?’

“Five thousand dollars.”

I gasped, then started to laugh. “You gave five thousand dollars to Dick Cheney and now the Greens know?!”

He didn’t seem to think it was funny. “I’m going to Albany tonight and I’ll pull this out.”

But Howie Hawkins was the Green Party candidate opposing Hillary Clinton that Fall.

 

Here’s a link to my article in the May/June issue of Horn Book Magazine, entitled “Don’t Shoot the Middleman.

 

Back in 2006, TV producer Skye Van Raalte-Herzog created this video interview with me on a pro bono basis, because she believed in the message of Rebel Bookseller. Thanks, Skye!
The Bookish Rebel

 

From Publishers Weekly, March 25, 2011:
"In another filing yesterday, Borders submitted a motion to return pre-petition merchandise for post-petition credit. In it, Borders notes that as their financial difficulties increased, vendors refused to accept trade credit or returns. The retailer, which pre-bankruptcy returned 31% of its merchandise annually for credit, has attempted to have publishers ship books under normal terms with limited success."

While I have been saying for years that superstore chains return twice as many books to publishers as independent booksellers do, chain-store employees I know have been objecting to my statements.

In fact, over the years several highly placed chain-store employees have informed me that it is only new titles that are heavily overbought. Backlist titles, they say, generate very few returns because the sophistication of superstore computer systems ensures that correct quantities are ordered.

Now here is a report from Borders that has emerged in the midst of their legal proceedings, stating clearly that they have traditionally returned 31% of purchases, in toto.  That is more than double the 15% industry average that independent booksellers have reported for many years.

Had publishers refused to process the excessive orders from Borders all these years, publishers would be in much less trouble today — because Borders would not have been able to carry so much publisher debt. 

In addition, publishers could have kept prices for books lower all these years, since they wouldn’t have had to absorb the costs of disposing of the excessive returns from superstores. 

Perhaps the implosion of Borders will finally provide an opportunity for publishers to review their openness to tolerating huge levels of returns from Barnes & Noble.

 

We were knee-deep in planning our own independent bookstore. It would be a community gathering-place, a center of literary life, a crazy dream we’d make real. But in a Boston hotel conference room, after the first day of the 1984 American Booksellers Association’s school—a day spent sharing plans and fantasies with 60 other prospective booksellers, guided by four accomplished bookstore owners—my partner had a question for the association’s Education Director. “Why don’t you open a bookstore yourself?”

“Because there’s no return on investment,” the Education Director replied.

It was a straightforward, depressing response, and I have learned over the years that thousands of experienced independent bookstore owners will concur with that former ABA staffer. Indeed, there’s no question that if you operate a socially responsible community bookstore focused on passionately selling marvelous new trade print books, you’ll probably get a poor return on capital and your chance of ultimately selling your business for a profit is minimal. A more likely outcome is that after years of dedicated bookselling you will lose your original investment when you close your store down. Your only return on investment will be the pride you take in the work you have done and the gratitude of your former customers. (The exception is when bookstore owners buy their buildings and the value of this real estate grows.) If you’re not prepared to accept the reality that there’s no return on investment in the bookstore business, it’s unwise to launch your own bookstore. Every year, more than a billion dollars worth of books are sold by bookstore owners who know they are sacrificing return on investment in order to benefit society.

And yet, if there’s truly little possibility for return on investment for owners in the trade bookselling business, how could Tom and Louis Borders have sold the Ann Arbor, Michigan bookstore company they founded in 1973 for $126 million to K-Mart Corporation in 1992? How could Len Riggio, creator of the modern Barnes & Noble company, have gone from a single college bookstore in 1965 to a personal net worth of more than a billion dollars today? How could Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos have made so much money in the past fifteen years that he can afford to dabble in the space tourism business?

The U.S. new-book market has been stuck at about $24 billion for many years, so what’s been the business secret of these highly profitable booksellers? (It obviously wasn’t selling more books to more readers; instead according to Nielsen Bookscan readers’ choices are getting less diverse.)

The big booksellers have specialized in leveraging the customer traffic that promoting low-margin new books attracts to then sell products and services that in some manner do provide decent return on investment. Then when their popular companies’ perceived value has been high, these owners have sold part or all of their ownership stakes to outsiders.

It’s the loss-leader approach: hyping low prices on some products to sell different products and services—and then company shares—high.

For instance, both Borders and Barnes & Noble have made lots of profit on high-margin publishers overstock discount books (authors earn no royalties on these; that’s partly why they’re cheap). B&N has supplemented that with proprietary books they publish themselves (similarly: few author royalties paid).

B&N and Amazon have earned great profits from publishers’ promotional payments (this payola is a secret; readers believe these companies’ featured books are selected for quality and popularity).

For years Borders sold inventory management services to other bookstores; the company could then use data they collected to open bookstores that competed with stores they’d once serviced.

Amazon has done well with brokerage fees and commissions charged to used-book sellers (somehow these fees just go up and up and up), while keeping costs low by evading sales taxes (too bad for communities that utilize sales taxes to fund local services).

All three companies have sold lots of high-margin non-book items—in fact Amazon sells more non-book items than books, though they retain their customers by hyping their high-status image as a bookselling company.

Big-league booksellers are today plunging into digital bookselling because in the constricted marketplace of the no-growth book industry they preside over, they must innovate to compete with one another to continue generating the consumer traffic that will ultimately be converted to some other form of profit-making enterprise.

At Borders, amid management turmoil over the past decade, business innovation slowed. The company was created in 1973 by book-lovers, and the Borders brothers’ original commitment to books attracted scads of customers from whom the company could earn profit in creative ways. But the thrill is long gone for former Borders customers. Its 90s-era business plan served for a decade (music sales were key)—and in particular the company succeeded in destroying many independent bookseller competitors, keeping the marketplace constrained to its own advantage—but Borders then failed to invent new profit-making techniques once music CD sales slowed with the arrival of digital downloading.

Still the Borders brothers themselves did earn a great return on their initial investment, and this year’s Borders bankruptcy should serve as a reminder that money-minded owners can indeed generate personal wealth in the bookstore business, if that is their objective. They can take a lesson from Tom and Louis Borders: get out while the getting’s good. Don’t just sell low; sell out high.

Andy Laties has launched five bookselling companies in the past thirty years. In 1987 he won the Women’s National Book Association’s Pannell Award for his innovative community outreach work at The Children’s Bookstore in Chicago. After ten years as an American Booksellers Association School instructor, Andy wrote Rebel Bookseller: How To Improvise Your Own Indie Store And Beat Back The Chains, published by Vox Pop, which won the 2006 Independent Publisher Award for best book about writing and publishing; a revised and expanded edition entitled Rebel Bookseller: Why Indie Businesses Stand For Everything You Want To Fight For, From Free Speech To Buying Local To Building Community is due out in July 2011 from Seven Stories Press. Andy holds a Masters degree from the School of Community Economic Development at Southern New Hampshire University. He co-founded and still manages the museum shop at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, which Parents Choice called “the very best bookstore for picture books in the entire world.”

 

 

1) Last year Barnes & Noble superstores sharply reduced book inventories and ramped up sidelines.

2) A few weeks ago Len Riggio of B&N complained that if publishers offer Borders extended terms in order to help stave off a Borders bankruptcy, Barnes & Noble should get these special terms too.

3) Today, Barnes & Noble fired many long-time national book-buyers.

What do these steps mean?

Back in the early 80s, American Bookseller Magazine published an article in which Barnes & Noble reported that by reducing the number of different titles in its children’s book section and facing the remaining titles out, it was able to cause profits to jump sharply.

I’ve experienced this in my own stores, and in my children’s book-fair company. If you have a solid lock on your customer base, the most profitable thing to do is reduce title diversity and face most of the remaining (bestselling) titles out. By concentrating on selling more of what’s selling, you reduce your operating costs and get better discounts from suppliers.

B&N is returning to that discovery of theirs from the early 80s, and applying it to the entire storefront bookselling operation. That’s because since Borders has been put on hold by lots of publishers, it’s safe for Barnes & Noble to cut back on the number of different titles stocked: there can be no unfavorable inventory-depth comparison by customers of B&N to Borders.

Why maintain a full staff of specialty book-buyers in New York if your new buying strategy is to use your (incipient) monopoly on national shelf-space to force publishers to pay for access to the (upcoming) bestsellers-only, face-out space in your stores?

No more will publishers be able to simply assume that B&N will be open to stocking “just any” high quality book that has a known readership. Publishers had better get used to ponying up lots more promotional money to get their books into B&N. (Where every book in the store will be a FEATURED book.)

Even worse for publishers, if Borders DOES end up getting special terms from publishers to help avert a bankruptcy, then Barnes & Noble will not WAIT to be offered those same terms. B&N’s “request” for equal treatment from publishers is actually a warning. B&N will simply TAKE extra time to pay publishers: this will be the way they retaliate against publishers for helping save Borders. No publisher will be able to stop this, since no publisher will be able to stand up to B&N, with Borders on the ropes. Publishers will need B&N’s newly constricted shelf space more than ever!

There is only one solution for publishers to this dilemma, and it’s not eBooks (which will always be a market that is subject to intense bestselleritis, since an online selling environment tends to cause readers 1) to be acutely aware of what other readers are reading most, and then, 2) to choose principally from among these most popular books).

The solution to regain a marketplace where great diversity of titles are on display is for publishers to join in the upcoming push for more indie bookstore openings all over the country.

In the 80s, 3,000 indie bookstores opened in just seven years. With the current collapse of shelf-space at Borders and Barnes & Noble (and with last year’s closing of 700 Walden and Dalton mall bookstores), the time is right. Publishers must take part. Their businesses are at stake.

 

Many years ago, when Len Riggio and Barnes & Noble used $275 million of Michael Milken’s junk bonds and bought B. Dalton’s 779 stores, which controlled one billion dollars of bookstore market share, Riggio promised the publishing industry that he’d maintain the B. Dalton company as a separate operating entity from the Barnes & Noble chain.

From The New York Times, 1986:
“Mr. Riggio, whose 35 Barnes & Noble stores are situated mostly in the New York City area, said that he would continue to operate the two chains independently…He specifically said that Barnes & Noble would continue to sell only discount books, and that B. Dalton…would continue to sell the major portion of its wide selection of stock at full price…When one bookseller buys another…there is concern within the industry that the combination will restrict the number of authors that appear on bookshelves, and industry insiders expressed those concerns over the purchase of B. Dalton. Though all stores carry the same best-selling books, their stock of midlist books—the industry term for lesser-known [new] titles—differs from one chain to another. If one buying office begins to buy for both B. Dalton and Barnes & Noble, those insiders say, the variety of books available to consumers in the market could be reduced….Mr. Riggio insisted that the purchase of B. Dalton was not ‘connected’ to his strategy at Barnes & Noble. The ‘center of gravity’ for B. Dalton, he said, ‘will remain in Minneapolis; B&N’s will remain in New York.’”—Lisa Belkin, “Discounter Purchases B. Dalton: Barnes & Noble Adds 779 Units To Book Realm,” New York Times (November 27, 1986): D1.

Instead, today there are no B. Daltons in the country; they have been steadily closed down over the past 24 years. Wherever Barnes & Noble stores opened, B. Dalton stores were closed.

In those years, B&N also bought the Doubleday bookstore chain: twenty stores that were subsequently closed down. B&N bought Bookstop and closed all the stores…. And so we see that this is the Barnes & Noble technique. Get access to someone else’s money (for instance, in the 80s and early 90s by running up huge debts to publishing houses, selling the books those publishers provided, then taking a very long time to pay the publishers for the sold books), and use the cash so obtained to take more and more bookstore competitors out of the market, by acquiring these competitors and shutting them down.

…And then…turn on the people who provided the money to do this (the big publishers) — and manipulate these publishers to act in a manner that’s unprofitable for them, by dictating what they should publish….or by making publishers pay for in-store display.

Blogger report from an educational program in 2009 with B&N buyers:
“As the morning progressed, it quickly became clear that book buyers have a lot of control over what publishers publish. Not only do the buyers get the final say on whether a book appears in their store, Edward and Sallye emphasized that they may influence a book’s packaging (from the cover design to its trim size), price, publication date, and even store category and placement. From this standpoint, it appears that publishers are far from having the upper hand in their relationships with book buyers.”

http://nyupubposts.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/publishing-buying-power-at-work/

Publishers Weekly report from 1994:
“Among the examples of illegal practices mentioned in the suit…was Barnes & Noble’s ‘bestseller pricing’ system which requires publishers to pay for their titles to be discounted as bestsellers—even though [sic] may never be true bestsellers—by having them pay fees of at least $18,000, terms that are not available to independents. To illustrate the financial effect of the illegal policies, ABA’s [Executive Director Bernie] Rath noted that Barnes & Noble had said in 1993 that publishers had paid it $11 million in coop money, substantially more than the chain’s profits….”—John Mutter and Maureen O’Brien, “ABA Sues Five Publishers,” Publishers Weekly ABA Show Daily (May 28, 1994): 1.

So much is well understood inside the book industry. B&N is a big bossy bully. We knew that. Publishers have to publish with B&N in mind (and the books so published get sold through all channels). Publishers have to pay B&N to get the books thus created also displayed in decent spots in-store.

Len Riggio did not tell the truth in 1986 about his plans for the future of his company’s relationship with publishers. He planned to use his control of the market in order to manipulate publishers, and he proceeded to do this very quickly.

Well, how should we read stories about Barnes & Noble’s big plans for the future? Should we believe anything they say? Should we assume they have the interests of publishers, authors or readers at heart? Whose interests are they really serving?

From a recent investor conference call, as reported in Publishers Weekly:
“[Mitchell] Klipper said the children’s department continues to be the fastest growing area at the stores, and that over the summer B&N will roll out its educational toys and games and school departments to 400 stores….”

“Klipper didn’t deny there will be fewer bookstores in the country, but both he and Riggio said B&N will be the beneficiary of the consolidation…. Riggio agreed that the number of traditional bookstores will be consolidated, he said given B&N’s strong numbers he expects B&N “to be the ones doing the consolidating.”

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/43738-barnes–noble-sees-bright-future.html

But, meanwhile over at The Eric Carle Museum (inside of which I operate an independent children’s bookstore), according to Publishers Weekly:
“The symbolism was not lost at this past Tuesday’s meeting of the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council, held at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., that Ken Geist, v-p and editorial director of Orchard Books and Scholastic Press Picture Books, and author of the picture book The Three Little Fish, should choose this setting to ask independent booksellers to get behind picture books. “I’m not finishing this year until we move the needle and sell more picture books,” said Geist, who added that he was not speaking on behalf of Scholastic. “I’m here to talk about what we can do collectively to raise the profile of picture books.”

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/43542-an-impassioned-plea-for-picture-books.html?utm_source=Publishers+Weekly%27s+Children%27s+Bookshelf&utm_campaign=aa98276b4c-UA-15906914-1&utm_medium=email

And, WHY was Ken Geist so worried about the future of children’s picture books?? Why was he begging of all people those legendary weaklings, the indie bookstore owners, to strive to save the picture book…?

As indie bookseller Josie Leavitt reported on her PW blogpost about the same presentation:
“One statement Ken [Geist] made that chilled me was that Barnes and Noble, in their store redesign, has removed the picture book back wall from its stores. Instead there are activity books and some picture books mixed in. No longer is there an unbroken expanse of picture books; the message that sends is enormous. If parents only see activity books or media tie-in books, then that’s what they’ll buy.”

http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/shelftalker/?p=1309

So — if the children’s book section is the fastest growing section of the B&N stores, as stated in the investors’ conference call, AND B&N is now dramatically backing away from children’s picture books and replacing these with activity books and educational toys…..well….what is the truth? Are they HAPPY with their children’s book sales….or, not??

When B&N talks, should anyone listen to what they say?

Let’s put this all together. Barnes & Noble has a history as a so-called consolidator, meaning that they specialize in controlling the marketplace by constricting it. They REMOVE bookstores, they REMOVE sales opportunities. Then, panicked publishers pay when B&N says pay, publishers publish what B&N says they should publish.

That is: Barnes & Noble has an abusive relationship with publishers. With every move B&N makes to tighten a noose around publishers’ necks, by “consolidating” the market, publishers make nice ever more energetically.

So the risk is that publishers will enter the eBook market with their eyes on Barnes & Noble…doing things the B&N way. …that publishers will pay fees for placement on B&N’s website, pay fees for write-ups in B&N e-newsletters, pay for display of images, chapters, pay, pay, pay to access the market they see B&N as providing.

But I wonder. With Ken Geist asking indie booksellers to help…. Is it possible that in this industry cycle, publishers will not be fooled again?

Is it possible that as B&N plays its consolidating game, closing stores, reducing shelf space for real books (bringing in toys) — THIS time publishers will stop running from the bully, and instead stand their ground and look the bully in the eye?

What could publishers do to end their abusive co-dependence on Barnes & Noble? Are they simply going to play along whenever Barnes & Noble sets up a new system of rules and regulations? As the new eBook market emerges, and Barnes & Noble endeavors to corner that market — will publishers permit this?

From the investors call, as reported in Publishers Weekly:
“Riggio and other executives, including CEO William Lynch, also stressed that B&N already has a larger share of the e-book market (20%) than it does of the bricks-and-mortar store market (17%). Lynch said given the investment necessary to sell a large number of e-books, he believes the e-book market will be dominated by only three or four players.”

Will publishers let this stand? Or will publishers ensure that eBooks are available for resale by a very wide variety of retailers? Will they ensure B&N cannot corner this market? It is for publishers to decide….and should they once again permit B&N to control their fate, then once again, they will pay the price, suffering editorial-unit dismemberment, corporate takeover, downsizing….

And it’s not necessary. Publishers, stand firm against Barnes & Noble this time! Work with indie booksellers to ensure you maintain your freedom to make your own publishing decisions. The eBook market belongs to the publishers. You can keep it that way.