Now that the laydown date is here for the Silkworm by J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith)—one of the biggest books Amazon removed the preorder button for, as part of its ongoing terms dispute with Hachette—just how much of a difference has the indie market and other bricks-and-mortar stores made? To find out, PW staffers contacted more than a dozen indies, along with Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble, to see whether customers followed Stephen Colbert’s advice and walked into a store to click on a person.
From the removal of the preorder buy buttons on Amazon to the book's release today, indies had less than a month to take advantage of Amazon's move. Add to that the fact that indies specialize in promoting new discoveries, as opposed to selling established bestsellers, and the results have been mixed.
Typical is the response of Alice Hutchinson, owner of 1,300 sq. ft. Byrd’s Books in Bethel, Conn., who has been waiting for Father’s Day to pass so that she could put in a window in support of Hachette. But it won’t be up too long, because her July Where’s Waldo? promotion brings in a lot of customers. “I ordered more copies of Hachette titles in the last two weeks. I wanted to be supportive,” she said, adding that she’s discounting The Silkworm 20%, something she doesn’t typically do. “I’m little and I’m new, and I don’t like saying negative things, but this is predatory. I think [Hachette’s] very brave to take a stand.”
A few indies have tried to promote preorders of The Silkworm. Third Place Books in Seattle, which offered a 20% discount and free local delivery, netted 50 preorders. Their plan went viral when it got picked up by the Geekwire blog, where Rowling saw it and tweeted, “I love Third Place Books.” According to managing partner Robert Sindelar, at the bookstore’s request Hachette sent t-shirts and tote bags to give out to those customers who preordered.
Moderate discounting is something a number of indies have been planning. At Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, N.C., The Silkworm is part of a Hachette display, which has newspaper articles with it so that people can read more about the dispute. In addition, the book is splashed on a front-of-store display as an ”instant bestseller.” The book is also being discounted, by 20%, according to general manager Sarah Godin.
A number of other stores, though, couldn’t fit much in. “We thought about doing a special promotion,” said Adrian Newell, a buyer at Warwick’s Books in La Jolla, Calif. “But then we found out that Hillary Clinton is coming in for a signing. We’ve dropped everything to organize that.”
Other stores, like Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis, try to avoid blockbuster titles altogether. “We tend to wave the white flag at the bestellers,” said co-owner Gary Schulze. “We can’t compete with 40% off at Costco.”
At Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Ariz., efforts that might have been devoted to a Silkworm promotion were, instead, focused on expansion; the store just opened a new location in Phoenix. Co-owner Gayle Shanks said she ordered “a ton” of copies anyway, because she loved the prequel, The Cuckoo’s Calling; now the book is simply included in a display of new Hachette titles in the front of the store.
At Powell's, the bookstore mini-chain which got an on-air shout-out from Colbert, The Silkworm is being discounted 30% as a “New Favorite,” and had been #2 on the store's list of bestselling titles.
Vivien Jennings, co-ower of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans., called Colbert “a hero” for standing up to bullies, and said she was in the midst of phoning 100 customers who bought The Cuckoo’s Calling and alerting them to the availability of The Silkworm.
Larger chains were better positioned to take advantage of the last-minute opportunity to capture a portion of Amazon’s preorder customers. (At Amazon, preorders made before May 22 will be honored.) Books-A-Million, president and CEO Terry Finley said the chain has been "featuring The Silkworm prominently both in stores and online." He continued: "Online preorders were better than average for us. We are hoping for a good launch this week.”
Barnes & Noble had a similar response. A spokesperson said: “We’ve been doing preorders since the book was first announced and it has risen to #2 on the bn.com bestseller list. We have partnered with Hachette and are putting our full marketing assets behind The Silkworm.”
Some indies also said that they feel one thing that has happened as a result of the controversy, particularly once Colbert stepped in, is that customers are are more aware of the dispute. This, they added, has been a boon.
At Wachtung Booksellers in Montclaire, N.J., owner Margot Sage-EL said she is hearing "more comments dropped about boycotting Amazon." She also said business was up "significantly" this month. The uptick, she thinks, is thanks to an expansion the store is completing, Father’s Day, summer reading, "and the heightened awareness of the importance of independent booksellers.”
(Note: An earlier version of the story indicated that Gibson's Bookstore took preorders; it did not.)