Jul 09, 2012
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Citing Amazon Ties, Booksellers Say No to New Harvest
Jul 09, 2012
Earlier this year when Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced a licensing agreement with Amazon to publish and distribute all adult titles from Amazon Publishing’s New York office under the newly created New Harvest imprint, independent bricks-and-mortar booksellers as well as the nation’s two largest chains, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, said that they would not carry them in their stores. Among other reasons for the ban, they cited the fact that Amazon would retain exclusive rights to the e-book edition. With the first two books about to ship—Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine’s Outside In (shipping Aug. 1) and Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?(Aug. 8)—PW got back in touch with booksellers to see if they have changed their minds about stocking their competitor’s titles and found little has changed. In fact over the past five months booksellers have become more entrenched about their decision.
One contributing factor is the growing awareness of the lack of transparency in the way Houghton sold previous one-off titles licensed from Amazon. This helped to account for strong bricks-and-mortar sales for novels like Oliver Potzsch’s The Hangman’s Daughter, which had been originally published by Amazon as an e-book before being sold by Houghton in print. For book two in the series, Dark Monk, a full-page ad in the New York Times Book Review in June made no mention of either Houghton or Amazon, another irritant to booksellers. The fact that indies said that Houghton sales reps have been up front that New Harvest titles—that are in the fall HMH catalogue-- have been licensed from Amazon hasn’t made them anymore likely to carry the books.
In addition, the book world has changed dramatically since the winter with the April filing of the Department of Justice lawsuit against Apple and five publishers over agency pricing of e-books. Many independents cite Ken Auletta’s recent New Yorker article and blame Amazon for the suit. Without the agency model they feel that they have no possibility for significant entree into the e-book market.
Choosing not to carry a book because of who publishes it does not come easy for booksellers opposed to censorship. “My inclination is not. Over 37 years I’ve only ever refused to carry very few things,” says Vivien Jennings, co-owner of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans., naming only two, Madonna’s Sex and O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It. Although Jennings hasn’t bought the Houghton fall list yet, she no longer sells CreateSpace self-published titles from Amazon, even though she likes to support local authors. “Even if I’m super busy,” says Jennings, “I explain to [CreateSpace authors] about the sales tax thing and the DoJ. I just wish people had taken a stand sooner. That’s the way bad things roll; good people do nothing.”