On Books and Selling and Tycoons- an Open Letter to Everybody

Recently, Epicstream.com published a piece relaying the frustration of Author Fonda Lee who noticed that certain authors occupied a lot of space on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, space that could be used, in her opinion, to promote other authors. I am paraphrasing her tweets there a bit.

The articles tilts against her, with comments like “Just in case you’ve been living on another planet…” & “Lee goes on to decry that these popular books…” and pointing out that her picture posted with the tweet doesn’t display the correct amount of shelf space that she asserts. All of which are pointless to the discussion Lee looks to initiate and serve only to be petty distractions from her argument.

There is A LOT to unpack, on both sides of this issue, and there are opportunities to point fingers at just about everyone in any way connected to reading and publishing here.

Let’s Open This Up With a Leveling Statement:
Fonda Lee is more than welcome to her thoughts and frustrations. She doesn’t need content trolls spinning her social media for the purposes of click bait. She had written well enough to nab herself a Nebula Nomination, and she has caught the eye of Scholastic and Orbit, so let’s just set aside the pretense that she is not a professional, working writer posting from a place of “I want to have” lament.

We don’t need media painting content creators as negative and spiteful for the sake of creates page views. This article should have asked WHY she posted that, and Jake Vyper should be ashamed of the tone he took in the article.

Now, there is a much wider view than the one Fonda takes in suggesting people forgo B&N for local bookstores- because Barnes and Noble? Not the problem. Not. Even. Close.

B&N is Beholden to No One Except the People Willing to Open Their Wallets

This was a hard one for me to swallow, because I have seen what I believe are some tremendous opportunities for Barnes and Noble to not JUST even the scales with Amazon, but actually pull ahead.

People say retail is dead. Far from it. Amazon wouldn’t be buying retail grocery chains, wouldn’t be opening 4 star stores or 50+ book stores at this point if retail were truly “dead”.

By combining the tools Barnes and Noble have in the shed (Real Estate, Digital and Coverage), they could put the pinch on Amazon through speedy delivery, wider variety and that always important- personal customer service.

Knowledge gained through their eBook store should drive their POD engines to put physical copies of their best selling indie works into regionally identified hot spots and pull in the indie author for a signing with the eBook customer.

But I don’t run B&N, I don’t sit in the accounting office and look at the receipts coming in from each store’s daily sales. I don’t have a Monday morning meeting with analytics to get updates on what’s selling.  I’m not in Marketing to know what’s worked and what hasn’t.

In short, as much as it pains me- not my monkeys, not my circus.

Your Local Bookseller is No More Sympathetic to Indies Than B&N

This was bitter pill Number 2. You want that locally owned bookstore to be your ally, your champion, your cheerleader. You want them to be that home base where you know you can always come and sell a stack of books. They’re your neighbors, your friends. They would never betray you…

Rent doesn’t pay itself. Nether does electricity, internet, insurance, a myriad of other expenses or even the books themselves. That super kind employee they have that’s been with them for so many years and loves you? Well, he or she needs to eat. The store cat needs to be fed, and litter for the box. I could go on, but you get my point.

None of this is evil, and none of this is personal to you or your book. All of this is risk. Every day, the indies are risking their financial future- in most cases it’s one store, one location that has to cover the expenses for any number of employees. They don’t get the privilege of averaging out the receipts across the region to make up for one struggling store. It literally is, ALL OR NOTHING.

Every day, managers and owners are faced with decisions to put something on the shelf that people will be willing to pay for. In many cases, they WANT to do more, and be more for Indies, but the stark reality is that a book can be great- it can be well written and well edited. It can have a stunning cover. I know this- I believe I make these books. If people don’t walk in to the bookstore and buy it- it’s time there is limited, if it gets any at all.

The Indie Author Market is Flooded with Crap

One of the greatest benefits of the web 2.0 revolution was the disruption and diversification of the publishing industry. One of the worst side effects of the web 2.0 revolution was the disruption and diversification of the publishing industry. It has both freed the masses that were yoked by industry middle men and released a torrent of work not competently worked or edited.

The freedom afforded the writers and wanna be writers changed the gatekeepers of the industry from the Big 5 Publishers (at the time) to the retailers (at the time). That Amazon has both understood and capitalized on that is not evil- Amazon killed no one- ignorance and and unwillingness to embrace a new paradigm has killed plenty in the retail space.

The negative side effect of this great shift was that now, there were a infinite number of books written and published by a ton of previously unheard of authors and small presses, all banging on doors of retailers large and small like an army of zombies repeating Ad nauseam- “I’ve written a book- sell it.”

AND- there are a infinite number of authors that have felt entitled to be on that shelf space SOLELY because they had written a book. THIS begins to drive to the heart of this issue.

Today’s Culture Doesn’t Care About You, Your Books, or Your Well Being

If the Napster Wars should have signaled one glaring, in-your-face red flag, it’s that our culture has been trained to expect access to what we want, when we want it, at the minimum cost possible. As a First World country, and THE First World Country, we have the biggest case of Entitlement Blues since guys named Augustus and Romulus rolled heads for fun. We make the British Empire at it’s height look HUMBLE.

We are under the delusion that because there is so MUCH Content out there, we deserve access to it all for free, or as close to free as the NEW Gatekeepers, the Digital Tycoons, want to provide it for.

Nothing denotes that status more than Subscription Services. Subscriptions in software, music, books and food? We DESERVE to pay less for more. Our content is meaningless, the sheer volume of it overflowing server farms the size of small villages. Stream something on Spotify today? The Artist should be thanking you for that $0.0001223 per play you afforded them.

What that means? No, people are not going to pay “Full Price” for your book that just came out- not unless you sign it, bleed on it and maybe leave an organ between pages 10-11 that I can show my friends so they know it’s not like a book THEY could buy.

It means, that we have been trained by Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and the rest of the “New Generation”of Tycoons is that our carefully created story is a commodity, nothing more than something to be consumed and tossed aside for the next one.

What people are paying for is not the product, people are paying for the access to the product- they expect the product to be free.

It means that as the number of people that read for pleasure continues to erode- those that do still read, look for content that is worth their time, and in the end, gravitate to … “The Classics”- which are still in the bookstores because, well, people will pay for them.

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