What American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher called Amazon's "bullying assault of a major publisher" was a key concern among indie booksellers at both Thursday afternoon's ABA Town Hall and Annual Meeting.
At the Annual Meeting, Teicher's report on the state of bookselling mixed upbeat news on the growth of independents for the fifth year in a row with continued threats, particularly "the aggressive discounting and strong-arm tactics of the dominant online retailer.... To put it plainly," he said, "the book industry is being held hostage by a company far more interested in selling flat screen TVs, diapers, and groceries. It is clear they are prepared to sacrifice a diverse publishing ecosystem to achieve retail dominance."
Following up on James Patterson's remarks earlier in the day about the Amazon monopoly, Dick Hermans, owner of Oblong Books & Music (which has locations in Rhinebeck and Millerton, N.Y.), asked what booksellers can do to shift the tide. ABA president Steve Bercu, owner of BookPeople in Austin, Tex., encouraged members to use Amazon's hardball tactics against Hachette to educate the community that "the convenience of Amazon isn't so convenient." ABA v-p/secretary Betsy Burton, owner of the King's English in Salt Lake City, said that she plans to follow Robert Sindelar's example at Third Place Books in Seattle and offer her customers hand-delivered copies of Robert Galbraith's The Silkworm.
To a comment from Hut Landon, Northern California Independent Booksellers Association executive director, about stores using the J.K. Rowling title written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith to do preorders on their websites, Teicher said that the ABA has already been in talks with Hachette. Arrangements for presales and sales of the whole Hachette list will happen, he added.
One of the few to consider the dispute something of publishers' own making was Chris Doeblin, owner of Book Culture in New York City. He placed the blame on a book distribution system that allows for a race to the bottom, rather than full pricing for books. And he called on PRH head Markus Dohle and other publishers to sell books at "fair trade."
But Amazon's tactics were only one of booksellers' concerns. Doug Robinson, general manager of Eagle Eye Book Shop in Decatur, Ga., questioned the legality of Amazon's Sunday delivery program using USPS. "We're going to keep raising the issue that if one retailer is going to have Sunday delivery, all retailers should," responded Teicher.
As to whether the Marketplace Fairness Act can survive, Teicher said that "the door's not slammed yet." While the ABA continues to work on a federal solution, he noted that 22 states have passed similar legislation. In the end, working with states may be the most productive route to the goal of leveling the playing field.
Other discussion centered on whether California Bookstore Day could become a National Book Day in 2015, possibly even linked with World Book Night. "One of the things we wanted to do," said NCIBA's Landon, "is have customers go into bookstores and buy books. I would be somewhat concerned about having the two events at the same time. That would dilute the message." The idea about making it a national movement, or possibly adding a few more regions, wasn't resolved.
Teicher's report also touched on another potential threat for independents operating on slim margins, an increase in the minimum wage. But despite the challenges, including a tough start to the year with a lot of stormy weather, he predicted another solid sales year in 2014.