June 24, 2011

No mystery, says Seattle bookseller


The Seattle Mystery Bookstore

On Wednesday, Amazon rolled out a press release announcing that it had swung a major deal — 47 books — for a major author — the late Ed McBain — to pump up Thomas & Mercer, its new mystery publishing imprint for print books.

On Thursday, J.B. Dickey, owner of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, announced he wouldn’t carry a single one of them.

It’s hard to say which announcement has kicked up more of a furor.

Dickey’s announcement came in the form of a post on the store’s blog where he posted an exchange he had with a Thomas & Mercer author who wanted to do a reading at the store. Dickey tells him,

We cannot do anything to support, help or benefit Amazon. They’re the enemy of independent bookshops and aiding them in any way — mainly ordering their books and selling them and promoting them — would be suicide. Things are tough enough without cutting our own throats.

But the author doesn’t take no for an answer. He writes back,

I understand your concerns. But please know that the opposite is happening nationwide. Amazon is reaching out to independents everywhere and offering to send hundreds of thousands of Amazon emails promoting an individual bookstore. Happily sending Amazon customers to independents … It is a tremendous show of support for the independents.

At which point, the gloves are off, and Dickey unloads on him or her. Some highlights:

… this is a huge corporation that has not only taken massive amounts of sales away from me over the years but also sales reps (which means the attention of publishers) and has waged a price war with the NYC publishers over their e-books. Remember when they removed ALL St. Martin’s titles from their site in retaliation for St. Martin’s insisting that they no longer undercut the price structure for e-books that the others were observing? Remember, too, that Amazon is the company that reached into the private devices of individuals and deleted e-books (one of our very good/long time customers is a computer worker and had downloaded a technical book from Amazon and make copious notes in her reader — Amazon deleted the ‘book’ and she lost all of her notes/ and then they also deleted — what was it, 1984? — from people’s e-readers). And let’s not forget that they appeared to buckle to outside pressure to remove gay and lesbian fiction and, when caught, blamed technical problems, not mendacity. I cannot tolerate censorship of any kind or by anyone. If these people are not intentionally evil, they come damn close to it by their actions and policies.

You want me to buy books from them? Pay them money to continue their efforts and to have books in my joint that clearly say “Amazon”, to give them free advertisement as well?

If they’re like NYC publishers, they’d demand that I open an account with them. That means giving them my personal info (this shop is a sole-proprietorship), tax numbers and bank accounts and, probably, the account information from three other businesses (either publishers and/or wholesalers) as references. Sorry – not a chance in hell I’d give all of that to Amazon. I do not trust them.

… I don’t doubt that they’re doing good things for you authors. It is fully within their interest to do so. First of all, they’re launching a mystery/crime imprint and want to do all they can to promote it and its authors. Secondly, they want you to promote it and talk about it and to have more authors want to sign with them and to make more and more sales. I would bet that the intent is to take more and more business away from the major publishers who are very good at letting sales slip through their fingers.

… I’m the owner of the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. You are working for Mr. Potter. And Mr. Potter is always buying.

Of course, MobyLives has commented on one or two, maybe more, of these issues, not to mention the larger subject of Amazon’s impact on indie booksellers. But it would be interesting to hear if other indie booksellers plan to carry Amazon’s books … or whether they, too, plan to resist?

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