Oh Steve Riggio No!

(Update: B&N has responded, both on Smart Bitches and to Galleycat.

Joe Gonnella, the VP of trade merchandising, responded on SBTB’s comments thread:

Barnes & Noble does not have a policy to boycott books because authors don’t link to us.

Everything is bought in anticipation of in store or online customer orders.

We do encourage authors and publishers to link to our website as part of a comprehensive marketing approach to drive sales in all channels.

I would be happy to address any specific concerns that are out there!

And to Galleycat via Twitter:

@GalleyCat We love author links. We ask for links. And we want them to be “fair.” But we don’t do that is suggested here.

So, good to know that it’s not required.  I’m going with my guess that whoever sent the request to authors from the publisher used strong wording to get authors to act.  If anything else comes up, I’ll update more.)

Look!  More wtf-ery, this time from Barnes & Noble.

The Smart Bitches received word from their publisher that if they didn’t have a link to B&N on their site, B&N wouldn’t order their books.  Other authors confirmed it in the comments.

Like they said, would it have killed B&N to ask rather than threaten?

Though, let’s also keep in mind that the request came through their publishers — it’s possible that the B&N wording was a bit more subdued than what authors received from whoever sent it out at their house:

One of our major accounts is now checking author websites, and is REFUSING to put in an order if their site is not listed as a place to go to buy….

The particular account is B&N, but we anticipate that in the future more sellers will have this requirement….

Please do this ASAP…. I’m not exaggerating when I say they WILL NOT ORDER the book unless their site is listed.

I don’t know if that came from an editor, an editorial assistant, someone in marketing, or what, but it sounds extremely dire.  Which, believe me, things can get kind of apocalyptic when one of the big chains says “OMG DO THIS NOW BECAUSE WE SAID SO.”

No matter how you look at it, though, it sucks.  Whether they asked or threatened, a major bookseller is dictating what content should go on authors’ websites.

Galleycat’s asking a good question in their post about this:

The deeper question, it seems to us, is: How much influence should one vendor—any vendor—exert over the marketing plans of authors and publishers? Are we being naively idealistic, or does that kind of hardball tactic from a bookseller cross the line?

Looking at it from a business perspective, I can see why B&N would want to be sure they’re represented on authors’ sites.  So many people just slap up a link to Amazon and call it a day. They don’t link to B&N, they don’t link to Borders, they don’t link to IndieBound or their own local bookstores.  That Amazon has become the default online bookstore is disappointing all on its own.

So are they within their rights to go to publishers and say “Hey, could you please ask your authors to link to us in addition to Amazon and other online bookstores?”  Absolutely.

But to say “If you don’t comply, we’re not ordering your books, period, the end” is throwing their weight around just like Amazon’s doing.

This should have been an opportunity for B&N to rise above Amazon’s tactics, to be supportive of authors and publishers alike.  There’s that whole catching more flies with honey thing.  Ask nicely.  Don’t throw out ultimatums.  Go to the publishers with numbers:  “Here’s what sales look like for Author A who doesn’t link to us.  Here’s Author B (someone comparable, from the same genre and with similar average in-store sales) that does.  Look at how much better Author B’s sales are through B&N.com because of it.”

Here’s the thing: authors want their books to be in bookstores.  You can all pick yourselves up from the floor now.  I apologize for the shocking revelation.  I realize that if I ever get published, some agent or editor’s probably going to be /facepalming at me for calling Amazon out here.  Because, guess what?  If I get published, I’m going to want them to carry my book.  Because I want people to read it.  But if they come to me and say I have to put a big huge “I love Amazon” banner at the top of my blog and link to them and them alone, it’s going to be an interesting conversation, to say the least.

Because, here’s the other thing (hold onto your chairs, cats n kittens): authors don’t like being bullied. It’s not a good feeling, whether it’s the big kid in your first grade classroom or whether it’s the big bookseller on the block.  Someone is telling you “You will do this,” and they’re taking away your ability to say “No, I don’t think I will.”

It’s so much easier, so much more pleasant, to work with someone.  A store comes along and says to an author “Hey, I think if we do this thing here, we can sell more of your books.  What do you think?”  With very, very few exceptions, the author’s going to say “Oh hell yes!  What can I do to help?”

So why not just ask?  Why threaten dire consequences if the author doesn’t comply?

Someone in the Galleycat comments thread mentioned that some indies have also threatened the same, long before this came out:  link to IndieBound or we won’t stock your books. It’s no more excusable with a small bookstore than it is with the behemoths.

(Updating to note: The Galleycat poster didn’t back up the comment with a source, so (and thanks to IndieBound’s Paige for calling me out on this in the comments) remember that this isn’t something all indies are doing.  It’s maybe a handful, and they don’t represent all independent bookstores everywhere.  The following paragraphs are not intended as a scolding, more of my musing on an opportunity.  I’ve reworked it a bit, so I hope it better represents that. )

This is every bit as much a chance for independent booksellers to win authors over to their side — hell, it’s even more of one.  If people brush off what Amazon and B&N are doing as a privilege of their success/market share, then this is where independent booksellers shine.

They work with the authors.  They can show them the benefits of independent bookstores and their communities, and the idea of linking to IndieBound isn’t a chore or something you feel forced to do — it’s appealing.  It’s a mutually beneficial experience.

(This is the part where I put on my If I Ran a Bookstore Hat)

If I ran a bookstore, I’d set aside a page on the store’s site highlighting authors who linked to either IndieBound or Books That Don’t Suck.  At some certain interval — maybe once or twice a month, maybe weekly, depending on the response — the site would feature one of those authors’ books on the front page.  It would take a bit of audience participation to make it more than just a random cover image, of course.  In a rose-colored world I’d be able to post something from the author to go along with it:  a Q&A, a blurb on how awesome they think indie bookstores are, etc.

Would it take some coordinating?  Yes.  And there are plenty of authors out there who just plain don’t have ten minutes to do an email interview.  I wouldn’t necessarily expect to get, say, Stephen King on board,* but hey, reach for the stars, right?  And hey, why not promote a new author who’s trying to grow his or her readership?  Thanks to the interwebs, it’s easier for authors to connect with their fans.  This is another way they could do that.

There are times I feel like the bookselling community — which includes not just booksellers, but publishers, authors and readers, too — forgets that whole being a community thing.  So many opportunities out there to work with one another and get some really wonderful books into the hands of eager readers, and we spend all this time working against that.  There has to be a better way.

*Though, he did a coast-to-coast tour of indies when Insomnia came out, so you never know…

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3 Responses to Oh Steve Riggio No!

  1. paige says:

    “Someone in the SBTB comments thread mentioned that indies have also threatened the same, long before this came out: link to IndieBound or we won’t stock your books. ”

    I didn’t see anything about this in the comments thread. Perhaps I missed it—would you provide a link?

    I’ve never heard of this happening. I’ve heard one or two stores say they may not do an event with an author who doesn’t link to their store and/or IndieBound. And even so, that’s one or two. There are thousands of independent bookstores; please don’t lump them all together as though they were one big chain.

  2. falconesse says:

    D’oh! Good catch. That’s what I get for having two windows open at once. It wasn’t in the SBTB comments, it was in the Galleycat ones. Link here. (I’ve also updated the post to reflect that.)

    However, the poster doesn’t back it up with a source, so it could very well be hyperbole.

    And even so, that’s one or two. There are thousands of independent bookstores; please don’t lump them all together as though they were one big chain.

    Oh, no no no. That wasn’t my intent, and my deepest apologies for my poor wording. I’ve edited that part of the post and hope I got the point across a little better. Thank you for pointing it out. (And if I’ve failed in my editing, definitely call me on it.)

    My very first job was at an independent bookstore. My heart broke the day it closed. In my current job, I work with indie booksellers — I love how wonderfully different the stores are from one another. IndieBound (and Booksense before it) is an amazing way for small bookstores to stand together without all being lumped together, and in my post I did some lumping of my own. Again, my apologies.

  3. paige says:

    No apology necessary! Just wanted to put it out there—didn’t mean to scold! And thanks for your constructive criticism, too, for us and for booksellers.

    I think most indies stress community and are very involved with authors, and because there are so many diverse stores, not everyone will hear about it. Bookselling This Week and Shelf Awareness cover it, but only if *they* hear about it. And some bookstores just feel they don’t have enough time. So your post has got me thinking about ways IndieBound can help out with that, and other opportunities we can explore.

    Thanks for this, it’s always good to discuss these things. Discussion enhances community. And, btw, I loved your post on Banned Books Week and that poor WSJ editorial! Great stuff you found.

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