The board of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association has issued a two-part statement to publishers challenging the practice of direct sales to consumers, both individuals and institutions. The association argues that, through the practice, publishers undermine the work of the booksellers, negatively impacting their potential earnings and diminishing their role in the community.
The first part of the statement, issued yesterday, addressed direct sales to consumers, arguing that the deep discounts offered online potentially cannibalize booksellers' sales and diminishes the relationship they have with customers. “NAIBA expects every publisher to respect the relationships between the local bookseller and members of their community. NAIBA opposes any publisher's decision to offer books directly to consumers below list price,” the statement reads.
The second part of the statement cites direct, deeply discounted bulk sales to institutions, such as churches and schools, as directly impacting booksellers' revenue. “This goes to the heart of our stores' financial viability and erodes our standing in our communities,” Eileen Dengler, NAIBA’s executive director wrote in a press release.
The NAIBA Board added that it expects publishers to take these realities into account before proceeding with direct sales strategies. The organization said it "expects every publisher to respect the relationships between the local bookseller and members of their community" and that publishers who do direct sales will be "damaging" their "historic partnership with local booksellers." NAIBA added that it "expects every publisher to develop policies that emphasize directing special sales to local independents.”
Todd Dickinson, NAIBA board president and co-owner of Aaron’s Books in Lititz, Penn., said that these issues have been fomenting for several years, but became more acute after two particular episodes.
In the first, a publisher offered a popular front-list title at a 40% discount on its on sale date. The move quickly caught the attention of consumers and, in Dickinson's opinion, siphoned off sales from booksellers.
Citing examples of institutional sales, Dickinson said, “We heard of one recent instance where a bookseller lost a sale of 1,800 copies of a book to a school because [the school was] able to order [the books] from the publisher at a 60% discount." The discount was one "the bookseller could in no way match,” Dickinson said. “The amount of money lost from that sale was the equivalent of three months' rent. Not only that, the bookstore will never get that customer back.”
Dickinson said that NAIBA has worked over the years with publishers to identify problematic sales. “There are serial offenders,” he said, “but for the most part it ebbs and flows among publishers. They try to work in good faith, we know that, but it is still a problem. And while we don’t want to publicly shame any one publisher, we felt it was important to make a general statement now.”
Dengler said that the organization has shared its statement with other bookselling associations, including the American Booksellers Association, and is encouraging the groups to consider making their own public statements.