As many writers—and readers—out there know, Amazon is now in the publishing game. This prompted Barnes and Noble in January to announce they would not stock anything published by the online book retailer due to “Amazon’s continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent.” As a result, a number of books were instantly banished from Barnes and Noble stores. You can read about it at the Author’s Guild website.
This parochial approach to publishing and book selling hurts authors and readers. Why can’t book retailers simply do what they’re meant to do, which is sell books? This sort of attitude was a major source of frustration several years ago when my book War of Words was published by Union Square Press in 2009. Union Square is a subsidiary of Sterling Publishing, which is—or was, at the time—owned by Barnes and Noble. When the publisher purchased my book, I was promised great placement in all Barnes and Nobles across the country. They all but guaranteed I’d have a bestseller on my hands.
The book details the colorful newspaper wars in 1800s San Francisco, focusing primarily on the bloody birth of the San Francisco Chronicle and the deadly public feud between that paper’s founder and the sex-crazed Baptist minister who became the city’s mayor. I thought having the book released by a publisher backed by Barnes and Noble would be a major benefit—instead, it came back to shoot me in the foot.
I travelled all over Northern California, pitching my book to independent bookstores prior to its release. The vast majority of stores I visited refused to carry the book because the publisher was tied to Barnes and Noble. Most Borders I visited rejected the book for the same reason. The real humdinger came when Barnes and Noble stores I visited outside the San Francisco Bay Area refused to stock the book. They said no one outside San Francisco would want to read it. Right—and no one outside of Holcomb, Kansas, wants to read In Cold Blood? What about folks outside Chicago reading Devil in the White City?
It seems to me book retailers are placing far too many restrictions and guidelines on what they’re willing to sell–especially when brick-and-mortar bookstores seem to be an endangered species. How about simply stocking books and letting the customers decide what they want to read? Perhaps I’m being naïve.