Monday, July 29, 2013

This blog begins to breathe again. Or, swimming against the big, bad, river.

Blogs are like gardens. They need care and attention or they can go feral and get out of control. Or die. So I welcome you back here with some big happenings from the book business over the weekend.

Shelf Awareness is the one thing that almost everyone in the book biz peeks at, if not daily, at least with some regularity. Yet I was surprised when I saw an e-mail from them in our inbox on Saturday morning. Here it was. Since then there has been much heated response and debate about what it means.

And it's funny because one of the main reasons I took a break from the blog is that there was this one post I wanted to get done and get it done right. Not with irony or being glib. Well-reasoned and even-handed with the right amounts of anger, resolve and uncertainty. I couldn't pull that together in a way that made sense to me. So I took a break altogether mostly out of frustration with myself. I had promised myself(and a couple regular readers) that I would get back at it in August. And I do have a yellow legal pad with a dozen or so ideas scribbled down and none of them had anything at all to do with Amazon. Yet here we are again. Here is another summary from Melville House.

If I were to take issue with anything that has been said it would be that this is 'an open declaration of war against the industry' part. Because, to me, that declaration was made a very long time ago. To my mind this is a very specific battle within that war. It might be to go after in part. Mainly, this is Amazon attempting to land the last blows against B&N. Amazon is going big-game hunting and to rid themselves of Borders and B&N in a relatively short period of time would be a major victory for them. Everyone else? Well, I feel the same now as I did then only knowing that this would be much worse for everyone besides Amazon(of course). Because this is about totally securing the sales of the blockbusters to the price-chasers and'ers and smart-phone zappers. It is about getting loyalty from a kind of consumer that has been hard to pin down. It is about nailing the coffin.

There are things that come to mind like: why don't some indies band together and buy these books at outrageous discounts(at least 20% higher than what we get)to resell? The John Green book, in particular, is one that would make the biggest difference for us. Yet that's a simple and not real solution for me. The larger questions are:why did we let Amazon do this to our industry? Enticed by their sales numbers and all-powerful website that could sell anyone anything at anytime of the day or night. So easy to not be bothered with actual store hours--we are now facing the windows being boarded at the two major chains. Here again is the irony--who are some of the biggest supporters of the online sales tax initiatives? Not just mom and pops--but Target and Best Buy. Nearly everyone is trying to stay afloat.

Now, much like the NY Yankees, we're seeing what happens when too many eggs get placed in one basket. Amazon will likely end up being our Alex Rodriguez--once considered the savior, once so young and pretty only to become a broken and overpaid nightmare. And in A Rod's case: a total cheater.

Adding insult to all of this was the news that President Obama would be speaking this week in Chattanooga at an Amazon fulfillment center.

And am I disappointed in Obama? Yes, of course. I'm not sure what adjective to use but his decision or the decision made by his handlers/decision makers shows so little effort or thought about how our current economy does and does not work. And what is and what is not good for small business that it's shocking. Or appalling. Or disappointing. So there are a few to choose from.

A customer asked me over the weekend what I thought the biggest disservice that Amazon had done to the book industry. I said, at the time, that I wasn't sure. After giving it some thought I would have to say that it is the idea that retail is 'way too expensive.' Standard retail price isn't a dirty thing. We're not marking up handbags or watches to make couture items. It's a price that has been decided. Yes, I understand free-market economics and the idea that people can sell items for what they choose. Yet when one group decides to undercut the industry standard in such blatant and far-reaching ways it makes it quite difficult for anyone else to play the same game.