January 24, 2012

Northwest booksellers “pushback” against Pearl’s deal with Amazon


“There’s been pushback,” says America’s most famous librarian (and former indie bookseller), Nancy Pearl, about the announcement (see our earlier report) that she would be publishing a line of reprints with Amazon.com‘s publishing imprint.

Pearl, famous for being an ardent champion of public libraries and independent bookstores—two things Amazon is fairly famous for not being ardent supporters of—tells Lynn Neary in this story on NPR’s Morning Edition that the pushback has been “that I’ve gone over to the dark side and allied myself with these people who are destroying the book business as we know it.” (Full disclosure: I’m quoted in the story expressing surprise at Pearl’s deal with Amazon.)

Pearl doesn’t describe the “pushback” in any more detail than that (she’s only quoted saying how happy the Amazon offer made her and her agent—telling word, that) but a front page report in her hometown newspaper, the Seattle Times, does:

The reaction from the brick-and-mortar bookshops — which have struggled first against competition from the big-box chains, and then the price-cutting Amazon — was immediate.

By Friday, some 50 store managers and owners had emailed Thom Chambliss, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association in Eugene, Ore.

That’s a sizable number, considering the group has 160 to 165 total members.

“Consternation,” is how Chambliss describes the content of the emails.

Some put it more bluntly than that. “By aligning herself with Amazon, she’s turning her back on independents. Amazon is absolutely antithetical to independent bookselling, and, to many of us, truth, justice and the American way,” says J.B. Dickey, owner of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. He also agreed with the reporter’s assessment—offered with incredulity—that the 67-year-old Pearl was “a greedy betrayer of the small, sometimes-struggling, bookshops that so supported her.” (In a blogpost, Dickey responds to news that Pearl laughed at his comments when they were read to her.)

The Pacific Northwest Booksellers—which may be feeling particularly aggrieved as it gave Pearl its “Lifetime Achievement Award” just a few months ago—has requested a meeting with Pearl, says the Times.

A brief report in the Seattle Weekly, meanwhile, quotes Vladimir Verano of Third Place Books, one of the city’s biggest indie bookstores, as saying, “I kind of feel disappointed that Nancy’s choice will have a sense of betrayal with a lot of librarians and independent booksellers across the country, not just Seattle.”

Earlier, it was Paul Constant who broke the story, in a report for Seattle’s other alt-weekly, The Stranger, where he presciently reported that ”many of the local librarians and independent booksellers who supported her and her Book Lust TV show and series of books will feel disappointed, and even betrayed, by the move.” (Note Constant’s smart update detailing more than disappointment.)

Of course, Nancy Pearl is no idiot, and surely she foresaw this reaction, and understood that she would be a public relations coup beyond previous imagining for Amazon. While there may be speculation about why she did what she did, in the end, we can only take her at her word on it: She says she was driven by her desire to see these books back in print and readily available to a wide readership.

But what she hasn’t really explained is something else she must be equally aware of:  Why those books aren’t going to be nearly as readily available as they could be. After all, as has been oft-reported, and as outrage against Pearl may insure is even more widespread than originally thought, many if not most brick-and-mortar booksellers—including not just indies but even Barnes and Noble—are unlikely to be stocking any books at all from Amazon.com.


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