When “always” doesn’t mean “always”: The ABA tries to have it both ways

ABAA rather galling post recently appeared on the Publisher’s Weekly website with the title “ABA Thanks Amazon.” It features a logo created by the American Booksellers Association that reads “Independent bookstores sell books from all publishers. Always.”

The problem with this fun little jab at Amazon? It isn’t true. For example, many independent bookstores specifically refuse to stock books put out by my publisher, 47North, despite the fact that 47North has published books by sci-fi luminaries like Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear, and has published books that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, like Evan Currie’s Odyssey series and Sheila Redling’s Flowertown. Why won’t these bookstores stock our books? Because 47North is owned by a certain online retailing behemoth whose name starts with an A.

When I mention this to the indie fanboys, the response is predictable: “Of course they won’t buy books from Amazon! Amazon is trying to put them out of business!”

There, fixed it for you.

Whether or not that’s true, it’s beside the point. You can’t claim to sell books from “all publishers, always,” when you refuse to sell books by a major publisher. And I realize that indie bookstores can’t stock all books by all publishers. I’m not talking about bookstore managers making decisions about what to stock based on limited shelf space and commercial appeal. I’m talking about independent bookstores telling me, Rob Kroese, “No, we won’t stock your book, because your publisher is owned by Amazon.”

Let me be clear on this: I have no problem with bookstore owners refusing to do business with Amazon, or with any other publisher or business entity. It’s their store; they can do what they want. But for the ABA to claim that indie bookstores “sell books from all publishers. Always” is, to put it mildly, disingenuous. You can’t slam Amazon for retaliatory behavior against a publisher while engaging in retaliatory behavior against a publisher.

I recently left a comment on the Indies First Facebook page (which prominently displays the “Thanks, Amazon” banner) to this effect, and was given the usual smokescreen about how “not even the largest indie can always carry every title from every publisher all the time” — completely sidestepping the issue of book sellers making the choice to stock books based solely on who publishes them, as if these stores just happen to run out of shelf space when it’s time to order from 47North or Thomas & Mercer. I was also told that “I’m sure you understand that independent stores make their own decisions about what to stock.”

The obvious response to this is: if indie booksellers make their own purchasing decisions, then what is the basis of the claim that indie bookstores “sell books by all publishers. Always.”? In other words, if the ABA can’t speak for all indie bookstore, why is it speaking for all indie bookstores? No response on that one yet.

It’s time to choose, indie booksellers: keep trying to shame Amazon for playing dirty, or keep playing dirty yourselves. You can’t, in good conscience, do both.