April 13, 2010

The "tin cup strategy"


MobyLives has restrained itself from commenting on a recent Publishers Weekly report that struck an accusatory tone against publishers for pressing indie booksellers to make timely payments and for “treating everyone as an identical risk.” In response to this seemingly outrageous tactic, the report said the American Booksellers Association has “set up a new subcommittee to work with publishers.”

Well, Moby may have restrained itself, but Melville House‘s former distributor, Don Linn, did not. As he puts it in a scathing comment on his blog, “So much wrong here.”

Says Linn,

… this story makes me want to bang my head against the wall not only as a stand-alone but also in the context of what has been a years-long concern I’ve had about what a good friend calls indies’ “tin-cup marketing strategy”. It also points out the ineffectiveness of the ABA in bringing real solutions to the very real problems all independent retailers face.

Even before Amazon’s spectacular rise, many (not all) indie booksellers have taken what can only be described as a whiny approach in appealing to customers. We hear pitches like, “We’re special so we deserve your support”‘; “The competition is undercutting our prices”; and “Communities need independent bookstores”. As much as I love you, you don’t deserve or have a right to anything; you’re not the only business facing price competition; and communities only need you if you make yourselves indispensable to your community.

And while you may feel like you “deserve” better credit terms than others and that your credit risk is somehow different from some other credit risk, it’s just not true. Publishers and distributors already act as the bank with relatively generous terms and, in case you haven’t noticed, you get to return anything you choose to at anytime for full credit forever. So spare me the whining about credit, which is an extension of the “we’re special so cut us some slack” tin-cup strategy.

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