Monday, August 4, 2014

The Pledge of Independents

photo by John Sandel

Lately there's been a good deal of backlash against The company's been called a "bully" for holding a hard line against giant publishing companies to keep ebook prices low. Probably for other things, too, I don't know. Let's face it. Amazon is BIG.

But this is a Goliath vs. Goliath fight. New York publishing companies are monumental and impenetrable, unless you're Janet Evanovich or Stephen King or another household name.

The publishing industry is pretty scared of Amazon, and you hear a lot of "if we let 'em get away with it, they'll own the industry" kind of stuff. I don't know if that's true, but so far Amazon hasn't "gotten away with" anything illegal. In fact, it was the publishing companies who got their hands slapped by a judge for price fixing and collusion.

Now, thanks to the Abbey Bookshop in Paris, there's a Pledge of Independents, to "recruit readers, writers and bookshops worldwide in the defense of diversity and fair practices in the book trade." 

"As a bookseller wanting to take the Pledge, you promise to not buy or sell any books through Amazon or its affiliates. Moreover, you are expected to give costumers (sic) that have taken the Pledge a 5 % discount..."

As a customer, "You can take the pledge if you believe in supporting independent bookshops and if you agree that most of your books should come from independent bookshops - and that no business that is dominating the market should get your support." 

This disturbs me.

I don't defend Amazon, they can take care of themselves. I defend the independent author/publisher like myself, and small publishers who publish only a few titles per year. Local independent bookstores don't always carry our books. My locals have been supportive, and I appreciate it. But most readers are not aware that it costs me actual money to shelve my book in many stores, and more actual money to get a reading/signing.

There's good reason for this. Everybody and his brother can publish a book right now. This, by the way, is thanks to Amazon's CreateSpace and other reputable self-publishing sites like Lulu and Blurb, as well as hybrid publishers like SheWrites Press and Lucky Bat Books.

But small publishers are not on the same playing field as the big New York guys.

In the old days (like, 5 years ago), if you didn't have famous parents or if some junior gatekeeper in publishing didn't think your book would sell, you didn't have a chance of getting published. (This explains conventionally published, grammar-free semi-porn, as well as the "literary fiction" that's really just tales told in a dull voice and a bad mood.)

Today, if you're willing to work hard to write, publish and sell your book, you can. If you're online. If you're on Amazon.

But you can't get your book into most stores, independent or not. It doesn't matter how well-reviewed your book is. I can't walk into stores around the world and pay them to stock my titles. I can't afford the travel and stocking fees. Even if I could, most stores would refuse because they don't have the space to stock everything.

If I can't sell my book online, I can't sell it.

I suggest you support your local store when you can. If you are in the Pasadena area, you can buy Camelot & Vine at Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, Hoopla! in Altadena, and the Pasadena Museum of History gift shop (it'll be back at Vroman's soon).

If you don't live in Pasadena, please buy my book from the bully.


Shell Sherree said...

I've bought both the soft cover and eBook from 'the bully' and living on the other side of the world, I'm glad they were available there ~ otherwise I'd have had to enlist the help of others to procure them {which I'd have done as I couldn't have possibly missed out ... but I'm glad it was as easy as a few mouse clicks and a very reasonable postage rate}. I like your balanced approach, Petrea ~ I still love book stores, including second hand ones. And other times, I will zap online and sort it. I do think there's room for both. And thank heavens for writers having access to such means of getting their work out where we can enjoy it.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

Where I live, we had ONE independent bookstore... we also had Borders.. which turned into Gold's Gym.. The only bookstore we have is Barnes &Noble which has turned into part toy store... staff is below avg. in knowledge... u are right amazon has taken over... and I admit, I buy from them.. Borders disappeared as soon as kindles, etc. came into being.. I still don't own one.. by choice.. I prefer a book.. guess u can say I fight change.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

It is indeed complicated - this big box verses independent. Example - Buy a plant at a independent nursery for 1/3 to 1/2 more. If it dies, your out of luck. Buy a plant from a big box store for 1/3 to 1/2 less. If it dies, you have a year to return it and get your money back. I'll still go to an certain independent nursery - but it's because they allow for special orders.

Re Kindle - what happens when that becomes pass'e? will they transfer your e-books to a competitors devise? or, like google (when it got into the online biz of selling programs) decide to opt out and take our purchases with them? To be fair, they did offer me a coupon to either TGIF or a big box theater as an exchange WTF - wrote them back and said I wanted my money back instead. I did not say please.

Now maybe they would have offered me an exchange of Apps for iPhone .... if I had an iPhone.

Everything is changing. I for one have decided to hold onto paper as long as I can.

btw - I think I see the light. A different one. Good photo John

Petrea Burchard said...

You guys bring up some interesting points.

Shell, we've been spoiled by Amazon, because we can buy any book whether it's published in our own country or not.

KBF, what if you had no bookstore at all?

And PA, I agree, it's complicated. No way would I want my local stores to be squeezed out of business and that's happened elsewhere. As for Kindle, I can't help you there.

altadenahiker said...

Regarding the pledge, the horse left that barn a long time ago.

Petrea Burchard said...

Yeah. One store may not be able to make much of a noise, even if it is in Paris.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

@Petrea: If there was no bookstore, I would panic.. B&N is my go to to check the books physically... or if worse came to worse, I would go to Santa Monica, W.L.A ..I wouldn't like it but I would make that trek. My heart dropped when Acres of Books in Long Beach closed their doors. That was my inlaws go to place. My husband had loads of first editions from that store!.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

btw, kudos to John for that photo! reminds me of 'Under the Dome'... when the sky gets fact it looks like its coming for u, P.

Petrea Burchard said...

We had a B&N in Pasadena. It was their corporate policy not to sell independently published local authors. By the way, that store is no longer here.

William Kendall said...

It is complicated. I can think of a couple of local shops here that might be inclined to stock independent local authors. Other than that, Amazon's the way to go.

Petrea Burchard said...

It is indeed complicated, William. The landscape is changing and locals are becoming more willing. But I'll have to be a much bigger business before I can ship quantities of books overseas, or even to Canada.

Book Dragon said...

I purchased several ebooks from a large independent (print too) and when they decided to stop supporting the format I had, I can no longer unlock my books on a new device :-(

I worry about the customer service of an independent that must have a Pledge to draw in customers. That is what they're doing, right? That's their hook?

Too early in the morning for me to appreciate the photo

Petrea Burchard said...

John put the photo through his favorite new app.

So, BD, it's an independent bookstore that started the Pledge. I think Hiker's right and it's too late for such a thing to do much good or damage. The independent stores are afraid of digital books.

altadenahiker said...

Something else occurred to me -- I look at all the prices on Amazon -- whatever Amazon itself offers, as well as the bookstores they broker (or whatever the term is). Often I buy from the indie (tho Amazon serves as the cc liaison).

Petrea Burchard said...

That's an interesting point. Those are "Amazon Affiliates," and often they're cheaper.

Ann Erdman said...

I don't believe a boycott of Amazon is necessary. This is a matter of awareness. It is incumbent on all of us to promote independent bookstores in every way we can, especially using social media. Every time I see big news online about Vroman's Bookstore, I post the link to Facebook and Twitter.

Petrea Burchard said...

I think it's true of all our local shops, Ann. I'd rather buy my clothes from a local clothier than a chain store. It's not always possible financially but I try, and at least I can say you'll never see me in a WalMart.

TheChieftess said...

I'm an equal opportunity book shopper...I love browsing in bookstores...I buy from Amazon...especially my photography books as they're prohibitively expensive at the independents...and I've done a kindle or three!!! Also...when I find an author I really like, I go to their website and often order straight from them!!!
Thank goodness for stores like Flintridge Books and Vroman' them!!! (I buy from the grocery store too!!!)

Petrea Burchard said...

Chieftess, that makes sense. You remind me that movies didn't kill radio, TV didn't kill movies, and video didn't kill anything either.

The music industry may not be so lucky, but all industries evolve. They have to.

Right now, readers have so many choices of not only where to buy books, but in what format to read them. That can only be good.

TheChieftess said...

Shame on me!!! I forgot to mention how cool I think the pic is!!! Yay John!!!

Patrizzi Intergarlictica said...

I'm still having fun tabbing around from the previous post. This is fun. Your enthusiasm is catchy.

Lori Elliott Webster said...

It's an honor to carry your book, Petrea, and I hope that you'll let us carry the new one as well.

What to say about Amazon? As I've always said, there's a place for the big guys, because us independents can't be everything to everyone. It surprises me, though, that more independents don't sell locally authored books. Or books at all. Books should be available everywhere, at all times. Why charge for putting a book on a shelf, or for a reading? I do understand the need to create a revenue stream, but we're talking about books! There's nothing more honorable than supporting your local creatives, imho. And Hiker's right regarding the pledge.

Petrea Burchard said...

Comments are showing up in my email! I think the fix has worked.

I love this pic, Chieftess. Just about my favorite ever.

Patrizzi, I get enthusiasm in spurts and must use it while I can.

Lori, you and Scott have long been greatly supportive of local artists of all types. I'm grateful.