When the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books unveiled its list of participating authors on Tuesday, the event caused a stir among local booksellers who immediately noticed the list featured buy links to Amazon. That the festival would partner with Amazon instead of the IndieBound affiliate program is not sitting well with the bookselling community that has long supported the literary event.
“Exhibitors at the Festival put an enormous amount of time and money into making this event a success for their stores,” said Mary Williams, events manager of Skylight Books in Los Angeles, “and for the authors who appear, while serving the hundreds of thousands of people that attend. Having sales siphoned away from that effort is disheartening, to say the least.” Williams hopes that the Festival staff will consider adding the IndieBound program, which allows customers to order through independent bookstores’ websites in advance of the Festival’s author events.
The Festival of Books launched in 1996 on the campus of UCLA and has grown considerably over time; for many Los Angeles bookstores it is the biggest event of the year. The L.A. Times successfully moved the location of the Festival to the University of Southern California in 2010, and it will be held there April 12 and 13.
The team of Festival organizers, which is generally well liked by members of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, did not make the decision to name Amazon its affiliate seller. Rather, according to Williams, it was an agreement made by Amazon and the L.A. Times advertising department and apparently encompasses more than one page of buy buttons on the Festival website. Emotions are running high through SCIBA members, however. Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach and San Diego said, “We have been exhibiting at the Festival of Books since its second year, and it would not be overstating the case to say we feel a deep sense of betrayal and concerns over today’s posting of links to Amazon for book purchases.” Terry Gilman, Hart’s business partner at the store, said, “This demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the struggles of independent booksellers and the role that Amazon has played in that struggle.”
Indie publishers also exhibit and sell at the Festival, where the price of booths begins at $950. Colleen Dunn Bates, publisher of Prospect Park Books in Pasadena, cites the booksellers and presses as a key factor in promoting the Festival and making it a success. “I appreciate that the organizers are linking authors to their books,” she said, “but find the effort terribly misguided. The link should be to each author’s web page, and if they don’t have one to one of their books on IndieBound.”
Hillary Manning, director of communications for the Los Angeles Times released this statement last night. “The Festival of Books is proud to have worked with writers, publishers and booksellers of all kinds over the past 18 years. We look forward to continuing our tradition of celebrating the written word in all its forms, and connecting the Festival’s large and diverse audience with the authors and books that they love to read, for years to come. Today we unveiled the 2014 Festival of Books website with new artwork and initial information about this year’s event, which includes our current affiliate program with the Amazon marketplace. We will be adding to and updating the site with programming and additional e-commerce programs as we countdown to [the Festival].”
This is an indication of flexibility on the part of the Times’ and its Amazon affiliate program for the Festival, although whether or not the exhibitors will be appeased in the long run remains to be seen. “The Festival takes place in this community and the money is spent in this community,” said SCIBA executive director Andrea Vuleta. “I don’t see why we’d want to be sending that money away. But we (SCIBA) plan to work with the festival team to help them build a more successful event next year.”