As American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher remarked when he kicked off the last of 12 ABA Bookseller Forums that have taken place around the country this spring, “a few things have happened that you may want to talk about.” The issues that have been roiling the industry—the DoJ, e-books, showrooming, the credit squeeze, and tax fairness—were front and center at Wednesday afternoon’s discussion, part of the educational programming at the New England Independent Booksellers Association’s All About the Books gathering in Medford, Mass.
Teicher began with a discussion of Google eBooks as several members of the ABA Digital Task Force, including Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C.; Matt Norcross, co-owner of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich.; and Jack McKeown, co-owner of Books & Books in West Hampton, N.Y., looked on. “First of all,” said Teicher, “this was hardly a big shock. We had realized for quite some time that it was in our interests to look at other partners.” The ABA is in talks with a half dozen potential partners, all with experience in the book business, including Apple and is “100% confident,” said Teicher, that a new partnership will be in place before the holidays.
Much more divisive was Teicher’s question as to whether booksellers want to be in the device business. Responses ranged from “no” to only if it’s an iPad, only if it’s branded, and it would have to be a tablet. The split between those who want one and those who don’t was just about even. “Pursuing a device or not, it’s important to get the indie app to make it compatible with all devices,” said Josh Christie, a frontline bookseller at Sherman’s Books and Stationery in Freeport, Maine, a sentiment that was echoed by several booksellers.
In the case of the DoJ, Teicher said, “I know there’s significant disappointment. The DoJ only looked at part of the market. If you look at everything, prices have come down.” His feeling, and what he told the DoJ, is, “if you can prove there was illegal behavior, punish the illegal behavior. Don’t make the rest of us collateral damage.” Teicher urged booksellers to begin a letter-writing campaign. Very few people comment on this kind of thing, he pointed out, and the department does count letters. In regards to a question about how the lawsuit will affect e-book prices, Teicher said that Random House was not part of the suit and has not said that they’re changing their pricing. As for the publishers who settled, there’s a 60-day comment period.
David Didriksen, president of Willow Books & Cafe in Acton, Mass., raised an ongoing concern, credit. “Publishers have announced their most profitable year. If they wanted to keep us around, they could do something—agency model, consignment.” Teicher reiterated as he has on several occasions since he first announced it at last year’s BEA that dozens and dozens of tests are going on about how the bookselling model should be changed. “People understand,” he said, “about the showrooms we’re operating and how we’re driving sales everywhere else. It’s not obtuse anymore, and everybody gets it. We’re still keeping the heat on.”
Although he has no proof, Michael Herrmann, owner of Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, N.J., said that he suspects that Amazon gets better deals than ABA booksellers do and asked what booksellers can do. “Do I doubt that deals are being made? No,” responded Teicher, who went on to point out that Amazon’s not interested in books per se. “Amazon has made a decision that we’re all loss leaders. Amazon is thinking of your customers, because they want to sell them a computer or a flat-screen TV. “
“Amazon is still the great Satan,” said Didriksen, who used that as a segue to update booksellers on the status of the sales tax fight in Massachusetts. He noted that the robot company that Amazon recently purchased, Kiva Systems, is in North Reading, and that Amazon is about to open an office in Kendall Square in Cambridge. “They now have nexus,” he said. “The governor is dragging his feet on this. My feeling is some deal has been worked out with Amazon.” And he encouraged booksellers to contact their representatives to try to stop this. “I know there’s frustration about [tax fairness],” said Teicher. “I think we are getting there. They’ve got employees working here; it doesn’t pass the giggle test.”