June 21, 2012

Amazon launches her books, and Nancy Pearl says she wears a “disguise” to go into bookstores


Nancy Pearl

Her series of books with Amazon has begun publication, but many booksellers are refusing to sell them, and to make matters worse  things have remained so hostile that Nancy Pearl says she has to wear a disguise when she goes into bookstores, according to a Washington Post report.

The report by the Post’s Nora King says there’s still considerable rancor in the bookselling and library community against Pearl for joining forces with Amazon for her series of “formerly out-of-print novels” (see our earlier report) — a series Pearl says was turned down by 20 New York publishers. (We noted in another MobyLives report that there aren’t 20 reprint publishers in New York to take it to, and the more likely publishers who have reprint lines — NYRB or Melville House, for example — say they weren’t approached. In this new report — perhaps due to the pick up on our comments — Pearl says she and her agent only approached “several” publishers.)

But lessening the fib hasn’t reduced the ill will against her, it seems. It remains extreme enough for Pearl to tell the Post “I am feeling a little bit not eager to go into places I was formerly eager to go into.” The story also reports Pearl “suggesting” that she feels she has to “do so in disguise.”

Meanwhile the report notes that it’s not just indies refusing to stock her books. Management at Politics & Prose and Kramerbooks — the city’s most famous indies — as well as local Barnes & Nobles say they won’t be offering any of the books in the series.

To be fair, it’s not just because of animosity toward Pearl.

“I don’t want to stock a book and have Amazon get the money,” says Mark LaFramboise, the head buyer for Politics & Prose. He says he can’t support a company that wants “nothing other than our total annihilation.”

And indeed, Pearl’s decision to go with Amazon seems to have made for a situation whereby it will be difficult for booksellers to stock the book whatever they think of Pearl or Amazon. For one thing, the ebook version of Pearl’s titles will simply not be available to them — it will only be available for the Kindle. For another, as King explains,

Any brick-and-mortar bookstore can buy the books from wholesalers in much the same way it would buy titles from any other publisher, according to Amazon. The problem is that the list price of the books could be as much as twice what it is on Amazon. “We have to pay the people who work in the store,” said Emma Bell, a manager at Barnes & Noble in Bethesda.

It’s a policy that takes the concept of loss leaders (which are illegal when over-used, by the way, according to the Robinson-Patman Act) to a new extreme — not only will Amazon take a loss on its own books (something it’s been doing on other people’s books for years, and which led to the situation which inspired the recent Department of Justice lawsuit) … but it insists that other booksellers do the same. If they don’t — that is, if they refuse to sell the books at a loss so they can compete with Amazon’s price — they’ll drive that business to Amazon, which will therefore lose still more money on those titles …

In short it’s dizzying what Amazon is willing to do to — as Mark LaFramboise put it — “annihilate” booksellers.



Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives