Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Indie Bookstores:
This Is How You Stage An Uprising

(a lesson in rebellion, brought to us by a bookstore we've been unsuccessfully rebelling against for years)

First, there was this announcement, made at Publisher's Weekly:
Chelsea Green Publishing is crashing a book on Obama in time for the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month. President and publisher Margo Baldwin said the book, Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency by Robert Kuttner, will go from final manuscript to bound books within four weeks. The publisher will produce 2,000 advance copies, and make the book available early exclusively on Amazon—two firsts for the eco-conscious independent publisher.

Three days later, indie bookstores responded -- via email:
Via PW: Chelsea Green’s sales team has received e-mails calling the move “a money-grubbing sellout,” a “slap in the face,” and “another blow to independent bookstores.”

The publisher (predictably) scoffed at these self-righteous, crybaby emails:
Via PW: “This is about a publisher’s commitment to its author to get one of a very few pro-Obama books out into the marketplace in the shortest amount of time,” Baldwin wrote. The house is printing 75,000 copies, its largest first printing ever. But, Baldwin pointed out, that number “pales in comparison to anti-Obama books flooding the market.” She continued, “I wonder how many booksellers are happy to sell another few thousand ‘abomination’ books while being ‘outraged’ by Chelsea Green’s decision to make its book available as fast as possible.”

Oh, and they refused to change their plans.
(How did the indies respond? More emails!)

That's when Barnes & Noble -- hardly a defender of the little guy -- publicly announced their plans to fight corporate bullying with corporate bullying:
Via PW: Barnes & Noble has canceled its 10,000-copy order of Obama’s Challenge, a book by Robert Kuttner that Chelsea Green is making available early exclusively through Amazon.com. Chelsea Green president and publisher Margo Baldwin said the chain will make the book available on BN.com and will special order it, but that it will not stock it in its stores.

Ouch. Sorta makes us indies look like wussies in comparison, don't it?
But let's face it. If The Inkwell was to announce a similar stratagem, it wouldn't even rate as a blip on C.G.'s radar. So what can a small shop only planning to order a fraction of B&N's number of Obama's Challenge do? Well, don't, for starters. Or do, but offset your order by sending Chelsea Green even more sure-to-be-ignored emails. If nothing else, we might get lucky and crash their website. And to a publisher putting internet sales over brick and mortar hand sells, that would be like kicking them in the privates.