February 11, 2013

Why isn’t B&N taking books from Simon & Schuster?


B&N and S&S are in a “dispute over terms.”

On January 30th, subscribers to Publishers Weekly’s email newsletter received a special “News Alert” with a red rectangle across the top.

Simon & Schuster, Barnes & Noble in Dispute Over Terms” the headline declared. But the message itself was cryptic, offering no details about the terms involved or a clear explanation as to why there was a dispute to begin with. PW managed to get one quote from a B&N spokesperson:

As we indicated in our holiday sales report earlier this month, sales of our core business, inclusive of books and magazines, exceeded our expectations, especially physical books. In fact, we believe we gained share in the physical book market this holiday. As the nation’s largest physical bookseller, Barnes & Noble supports publishers who support our bookstores.

According to a piece by Peter Osnos in The Atlantic, the “support” that Barnes and Noble expects from publishers and is disputing with S&S refers to “the size of discounts and advertising.”

On January 31st, The Bookseller (the publishing industry news source in the UK) connected the notion that “publishers should support bookstores” to a statement by Foyles CEO Sam Husain, who recently wrote a letter urging publishers to offer deeper discounts to bookstores to help keep them open and create an “equal playing field” between bricks and mortar bookstores and online retailers.

Meanwhile, the comments to a post on the The Passive Voice speculated about who was pressuring who in the B&N / S&S scenario, attempting to tease out motivating factors — including credit lines and using returns to pay for front list titles — while analyzing why B&N would decrease orders for physical books just as they issue a statement that physical book sales were “exceeding expectations.” How will B&N continue to increase their physical book sales and share of the market while decreasing physical book orders and closing stores? Maybe those expectations were really low to begin with?

Ultimately, B&N must have the upper hand here, as there’s no reason why S&S would want to cut out their only major retailer after Amazon and the independents, which will mean a drastic reduction in the number of books they can get out for front list titles like The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult or Clive Davis’s autobiography coming out this month.

Take The Love Song of Johnny Valentine by Teddy Wayne for example, which went on sale February 4th. The book has enjoyed an all-star media lineup with a daily New York Times review by Michiko Kakutani, NPR interviews on “All Things Considered” and the Leonard Lopate show, and appearances on The Awl, Oprah.com, Vice, in USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Gate, PBS, and Interview magazine. While the book is still listed with the ability to order online on the B&N website, an in-store book search reveals that it’s out of stock in stores across the country.

As Dennis Johnson wrote a month ago on this blog, the apparently immanent decline of Barnes and Noble has serious ramifications for the publishing industry. It appears that Simon & Schuster might be dealing with that nightmare scenario already.



Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.