The biggest draw at the recently held San Francisco Book Festival was singer Patti Smith, who brought in more than 1000 fans and signed books for over two hours. But the main topic of interest at the festival was the announcement of the Barnes &Noble/Ingram merger. The tone was generally morose, though many thought it might prove a blessing in disguise for the smaller niches in the industry. As Chris Kahn, former marketing rep for PW and now actively selling the high-tech Rocket eBook (itself an investment of both Bertelsmann and B&N), noted, "It's all information delivery, and there's room for everyone."

On the other hand, independent consultant David Cole, original founder of the SF Book Festival and currently at work on The Complete Guide to Book Marketing (due next year from Allworth Press), predicted that the merger would squeeze small and medium publishers the same way the chains have squeezed independent bookstores. Cole's recommendations to his clients: work more on direct sales, association sales, any kind of Internet presence. "They must cultivate direct relationships with their readers and buyers," he explained.

Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, which had a large booth at the festival, was sanguine about the proposed merger, though clearly up in arms. "It's not the end of the world," he said. "B&N did not buy Ingram to get us. This is a good opportunity to remind everyone that while B&N is busy merging and acquiring and outwitting its Internet competitors, independents are busy selling books and trying to keep the literary tradition alive."

The NCIBA is actively encouraging its members to send letters of protest to Janet Reno and the FTC. "This is an opportunity for an industry outcry," Landon declared. "And one thing Ingram people should understand is that as far as we are concerned, Ingram d sn't exist anymore. When they say it's business as usual based on their reputation, it bears no credence, because to us, they're Barnes &Noble now."

Landon is already having discussions with publishers on the East Coast about establishing a more direct partnership. "Roger Williams of S&S wanted to know how we might communicate better," he said, by way of an example. Bay Area booksellers are in an enviable position, Landon pointed out, since there are several wholesalers and distributors serving the region from which to choose. States such as Wyoming and Colorado, on the other hand, have been completely dependent on Ingram for next-day delivery (even Baker and Taylor hasn't been able to match it), and they will feel the pinch, since there's no one else that they can turn to.

Several letters were already on their way to Washington from the West Coast even as many of the festival's 15,000 visitors were unaware that a major industry shift was afoot.