J.A. Konrath addresses proposed bookstore boycott

stirredI just posted about how Amazon, via self-publishing and agent-based publishing, poses a threat to publishers who still haven’t updated their business model to compete. Here’s a post from self-publishing booster J.A. Konrath’s blog that points out one of the reasons why Amazon is such a threat.

Responding to one bookstore calling for a boycott of Stirred, the book he’s publishing under Amazon’s new Thomas & Mercer imprint (and which will consequently be placed as printed editions in bookstores as well as published electronically), Konrath points out that he has done a lot for bookstores over the years, and the reason he’s publishing with Amazon is that, after his traditional publisher dumped him, Amazon has treated him a lot better than any traditional publisher he’s been with before.

Amazon allowed me to get into bookstores–something self-pubbing couldn’t do for me without a lot of extra work on my part. They offered me a terrific deal, and have done more marketing and promotion than any of the publishers I’ve previously worked with.

They’ve treated me with nothing but respect, listened to and implemented many of my ideas, and have been an absolute joy to work with.

They’re the new publisher on the block. But they’re already doing it better than anyone else.

Konrath and his co-author Blake Crouch have a number of suggestions for bookstores feeling the pinch of e-books, including selling used books (if they don’t already), playing to their strength as independent book experts, holding author events, selling e-books, and—most intriguingly—going into publishing themselves. Crouch writes:

If you’re an indie store beloved by authors, ask those authors for a story to put into an anthology, which you can then publish in print or as an ebook. Or ask favorite authors with out-of-print backlists if they’d like to partner with you to re-release those books. If Amazon is becoming a publisher, why can’t you?

Between Joe and I, we have over twenty book-length works available. If you’d like to publish any of them and sell them out of your store, contact us. We’ll give you an 85% royalty, send you our already formatted interiors and covers, and you can print and sell as many as you’d like. Or we can do the printing, and ship them to you signed, and give you the same 40% discount the major NY Publishers give you per book.

Shifting print-on-demand to a bookstore operation is an interesting idea. It’s the idea behind the Espresso Book Machine, of course, but a store doesn’t need to have its own copy contraption to benefit from print-on-demand if it wants to put together an order to a print-on-demand supply house or even a local printer capable of doing small print runs. (Printing technology has improved to the point that a lot of print shops are capable of doing smaller, more economical runs than used to be feasible.) Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have done something similar for quite some time, operating “SRM Publisher” to sell chapbooks of Liaden short stories and story collections they couldn’t bring to press through a traditional publisher.

Of course, it would be going outside the core competency of many bookstores, which do not have experience with publishing—but then Amazon didn’t have any experience with publishing either before it got started, and just look how well that’s gone for it.

Like publishers, bookstores are caught in the middle by the e-book revolution, and it remains to be seen how well they can adapt. Hopefully at least some of them will manage it somehow.

6 Comments on J.A. Konrath addresses proposed bookstore boycott

  1. I suspect that bookstores are not really going to be that interested in stocking Amazon published print titles. The only one that really matters here is Barnes and Noble. At B&N shelf space is shrinking and they have their own imprints to push, thank you very much. As someone noted at Konrath rumor had it that Amanda Hocking had doubts that B&N would carry her print titles if published via Amazon.

    If you do get into some bookstores expect little attempt at handselling them.

    I’m also intrigued to know Amazon’s plans to get supermarkets and Walmart to carry any of their new imprint titles.

  2. Felix Torres // May 22, 2011 at 2:01 pm //

    It’s easy to boycott the midlist. But bestsellers?
    Not so easy.
    Bestsellers are a lot like a lottery, though hardly anybody ever wins, pretty much anybody has a shot at winning. Which means that over the next few years Amazon has as much of a chance (if not more) of catching lightning in a bottle and ending up with a “must-have” title.
    That’s when we’ll see how viable a boycott of their print books really is.

  3. Interesting advice. I think if a bookstore is willing to try out something new they might succeed. I they aren’t will to try something they will lose the market.

  4. What Konrath seems to be overlooking is that the booksellers aren’t complaining about there being a new publisher on the block. They’re complaining about the inherent conflict of interest of a *bookstore* being a publisher, especially when it’s the dominant bookseller.

    Totally hypothetical example of the danger: Amazon publishes a book with a list price of $19.99, and (as is typical) sells it wholesale to the other bookstores for $10. Then after the other bookstores have already bought their stock, Amazon starts selling it for $8.99.

    I’ve seen this happen in other industries. It almost never turns out well for the small business. Granted, in those other industries there were only one or two major durable products, not a number of relatively ephemeral products like book titles. “Fool me once” was enough to cause a lot of pain.

    Still, there’s this issue: every dollar the small bookstores spend on Amazon-published books is a dollar that helps strengthen their biggest competition. Borders contracted with Amazon for a number of years, and that’s being called one of their major blunders.

  5. @Doug – “Totally hypothetical example of the danger: Amazon publishes a book with a list price of $19.99, and (as is typical) sells it wholesale to the other bookstores for $10. Then after the other bookstores have already bought their stock, Amazon starts selling it for $8.99.”

    Why would Amazon bother, as that trick would only work once and then no other bookstores would trust them again?

    I can’t see Amazon even wanting their published books to be carried by other bookstores. Amazon always crows loudly when they land an exclusive distribution deal, and by publishing their own they have self-made exclusives. Why share?

  6. POD in the bookstore is something I’ve been talking about for several years, mostly to friends though because I always thought it was too out there to mention somewhere like my blog. But I think that’d be the best of both worlds. For those who love my books but want a print copy, how awesome would it be to be able to walk into your local bookstore and order a print copy right then and there? I’m sure many of my readers would do it too. Again, I don’t know how realistic the idea is, but you know, bookstores and publishers must do something. Sitting around trembling as the market changes isn’t going to help them. Like Joe says, you must be proactive. Be flexible.

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