Thursday, August 5, 2010
Amazon Enjoys Tossing Bovine Salad
A lot’s been written about the evils of bullying, hateful, baby-barbecuing Amazon (or not). But lately they’ve been doing something more insidious, and I don’t see a single word about it. Instead of a retailer, Amazon is becoming a wholesaler.
I’m not talking about the deal Andrew Wiley signed with them for exclusive rights to audio versions of his author’s books, a much-derided (and even parodied) decision which makes them a publisher, or even CreateSpace, their self-publishing arm. I mean that sometimes at Books & Books, we have to order from the A-Word to make our customers happy.
To clarify for non-bookies, there’s a difference between a publisher and a wholesaler. Publishers put a variety of authors into print, distributing them to bookstores, retailers, and wholesalers across the world.
Wholesalers carry a variety of publishers. Let’s say you’re a bookstore, or a retailer that sells books, and you want to carry Heidi Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky because it rocks the socks right off your feet. Basically, you can order it directly from the publisher for a better discount, or from a wholesaler if you need it fast.
Books & Books orders from hundreds of publishers. Although several warehouses which were operating when I started bookstore life have closed, there are still half a dozen we order with regularly.
In February, Nicholas Sparks published Last Song in paperback on a Tuesday. Thursday, we couldn’t get it. Hachette (the publisher) and Ingram (the biggest wholesaler in America) were both sold out. In fact, none of the wholesalers had it – not Baker & Taylor, not Southern Book Service, not Partners East, Partners West, or Bookazine.
Lately, this is happening more as publishers play it safe with low print runs. Demand for a new book exceeds what they’ve printed (or an author dies, or wins a Pulitzer) and we end up waiting weeks for a reprint. But Nicholas Sparks? Come on. Hachette would not be caught by surprise that a best-selling author is in demand.
Meanwhile, Amazon had plenty of Last Song in stock. I had a choice. I could send my neighbors’ dollars to this online retailer in the Northwest, or I could disappoint the Books & Books customers who had ordered the book. I tasted bile in my throat when I sent Miami money 2,700 miles from my community. To add insult to injury, we got a 42% discount and free 2-day shipping, the same terms we’d get from a wholesaler if they had it in stock.
How in holy hell do you compete with that?
Before you start shouting about free market and competition, please understand we pay publishers much more per book than Amazon, so we simply can’t offer the same discounts. Sorry.
Amazon did the same thing with S.C. Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon. The New York Times Book Review salivated over it and Amazon bought every printed copy available, effectively making themselves the exclusive distributor. This has happened with two other titles lately, but I can’t remember those titles because we didn’t actually break down and go A-word.
It’s useless, but I can't help getting all bent out of shape about giving our hard-won sales to the biggest online retailer on the planet. When they’re so proud to buy at their local independent, how would our customers feel if they knew?