February 10, 2012

Bombshell Correction: PW’s early report was wrong — the ABA has NOT joined the Amazon boycott


After a request from Matt Supko, the Director of IndieCommerce, the e-commerce platform of the American Booksellers Association (ABA), Publishers Weekly has changed the headline and text of its story that was originally headlined “ABA Says ‘No’ to Amazon Publishing.”  (See our report from yesterday synopsizing the PW story.) As PW’s report broke the news and cited material that was otherwise unavailable online — including an email notification to IndieCommerce members and a statement of policy change made available to them by IndieCommerce — PW’s story, and headline, were cited in reports around the world.

The story is now headlined “ABA’s IndieCommerce Site Dropping Amazon Publishing Titles.”

The initial report’s lede sentence read, “The American Booksellers Association is the latest to weigh in on Amazon’s publishing program following the decision by Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and Indigo Books not to carry their titles.”

It has been changed to read: “On Wednesday the American Booksellers Association’s for-profit subsidiary, IndieCommerce, began removing all Amazon titles from its database.”

PW has not explained nor even noted the changes on the revised story.

What gives? Has the ABA finally joined the chains in standing up to Amazon or not?

Apparently … not.

In an email to MobyLives, Supko explained that “IndieCommerce did not in any way suggest a boycott of Amazon or other publisher products.  Indeed, the IndieCommerce statement explains to its subscriber booksellers how to add back any of the deleted titles they may want to sell from their online presence.  Booksellers are also reminded that they are free to stock these titles in their store or fulfill them through other means.”

As for the policy change statement, says Supko, “Although ABA owns IndieCommerce, the policy change was made by IndieCommerce personnel, was announced to IndieCommerce subscribers and affects product fulfillment through IndieCommerce to those subscribers.  It has nothing to do with those ABA members at large that are not serviced by IndieCommerce.”

As we noted in our citation, the PW story was murky: “While neither the PW report nor the brief bit of the ABA statement it quotes makes it quite clear, it seems as if the organization can only prevent its members from selling books via its e-commerce platform; presumably, it can’t enforce a rule against members stocking the book in their brick-and-mortar locations.”

Pretty much accurate: IndieCommerce was removing Amazon’s books from the site (although allowing members to sell them anyway if they wanted), and wasn’t addressing the larger, brick-and-mortar membership of the ABA.

At the same time, we understand PW’s reading of IndieCommerce’s actions: It does seem strange that a wholly owned subsidiary of the ABA would make policy that was not reflective of their ownership, and that it would think its moves would be seen as some kind of rogue action. Likewise, IndieCommerce has not denied that it removed Amazon titles from its database, as PW reported. That’s something far more than a “suggestion” of a boycott of books—it is in fact a boycott.

Nonetheless, however we are to read IndieCommerce’s initial actions, their subsequent reaction to the coverage has been to make one thing clear: The ABA is not standing up to Amazon. They’re leaving that to the chains.

Which just leaves one question: Why?


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.