$15 minimum wage in LA

I am disappointed in the unequivocal “all good” op-ed piece in the NY Times regarding the minimum wage in LA going to $15 an hour.  Everybody supports the idea that low wage earners should get a raise but like every visible hand economic effort there are waves of unintended consequences.

Some of the extreme good against income and wealth inequality that could suffer  is the diverse base of small businesses that are already vulnerable. Any business that has less financial strength is going to have a tough time absorbing these changes. Large corporate businesses in the same industry and those small and medium companies that flout employment laws regarding immigration and wage law will be empowered.

Any business in an industry that has competition that can fulfill online sales;  pharmacies, groceries, clothing, books, and on and on could  be negatively impacted by this legislation.This would result in an impoverished city with less diversity of business ownership especially in those communities that already suffer from a dearth of goods and services.

There are certainly enemies of income and wealth equality and low wages are among them but there are also forces which serve income and wealth equality. Small business and diversity of ownership are and have always been a powerful enabling tool of the best of Americans. Small business entrepreneurs are often stepping out of low wages and the diversity of ownership is the heart of the solution to America’s income and wealth divide.  To in any way make more vulnerable this last bastion of diversity in this great division of the spoils is folly. It is folly because forcibly raising the minimum wage this much this fast may have an adverse affect on the very forces which serve the same purpose so well.

A considered look at our cities, especially the great city  of Los Angeles, has to include a broad perspective on what kinds of businesses serve us well. We must ask more questions and produce more answers about what is best for our communities in terms of jobs yes, but also goods and services. Beyond that we must ask ourselves who benefits from these businesses by virtue of their ownership.

We are at a great moment in recognizing the economic and moral benefit of income and wealth and opportunity equality. Let us be sure that our efforts serve the greatest good.

Je suis Charlie

In answer to why we have put the posters in our window with Je suis Charlie.

We must stand firm in defense of free speech.  It is one thing to not sell or read or ally ourselves with what we see as destructive imagery or language, it is another to say nothing when there is a fundamental attack on free speech. Book Culture is in the publishing business and as such we are obligated, without equivocation,  to support that right.
We are not defending “Charlie Hebdo” or any idea or publication no matter how offensive or acceptable to us. We are defenders of the right to free speech.
Standing for the rights of only ourselves, our views of what is acceptable, proper, meritorious or warranting the right to publication, is not standing for the right at all. We are committed enough to stand up for the right to free speech for others. This is the commitment we must make if we are to uphold free speech as a right.

It is perfectly right and just that somewhere at the far edges of decency where Charlie Hebdo and super right wing literature exists we find ourselves deeply offended. We can see the devastating effect that inciting anger can have in Rwanda or Bosnia or Nazi Germany for example and we can make sense of the idea that some of this stuff ought to be censored.
But it is only in those places where censorship has won that day that we see the awful results of living in a place where the fundamental rights are not guaranteed to all. Every genocide in history has come in a land without the right to free speech.
We stand with Charlie Hebdo now because free speech has been attacked, and those attackers are asking for our complicity.
Je suis Charlie, means we believe in democracy, human rights, the right to dialogue and the power of ideas and writing over violence and coercion. Je suis Charlie, means that we will not review the content of our book shops to ensure we are not offending someone. Je suis Charlie, means that as coworkers in the business of publishing and  books we support, above the ideas themselves, the right of those ideas to be published. Je suis Charlie means that we’re booksellers and it’s a badge of honor. I say- where it well.

In 1988 Salmon Rushdie had published Satanic Verses in England and was almost immediately condemned and threatened with death because in an Ayatollah’s view it was blasphemy. Penguin in New York almost withdrew the publication and when it was eventually published the major chains and many smaller bookselling outlets didn’t offer to sell the book because they were afraid. Many indie booksellers including the founders of your shops,  did sell it. Because we were one of the few outlets that did, we put a mountain of 500 copies in the front of the store and sold 800 copies in a weekend because people didn’t want to be threatened and have their rights infringed upon. Another of the stores that did in Berkeley, Cody’s, was bombed. The question of offensiveness in the book was without question.

If the few outlets that sold the book didn’t what would that say about our democracy, about our commitment to the first amendment?

Where would we be without the first amendment?

We never have issues of free speech when the material being defended is without critics and universally regarded as culturally beneficial or innocuous.

We only have to defend free speech when it is being attacked, that is the nature of the right. If we don’t defend others rights to free speech we cannot claim it for ourselves.

As booksellers, as independent booksellers, we are committed to free speech. It is what we do. We offer a place to criticize governments, religions, ideas, each other. We do not condone or agree with all the ideas, nor do we purvey language that we do find hurtful or denigrating to others without merit.

We do however stand firm on the right to Free Speech.

Chris Doeblin

msrp and me

I have been advocating that publishers ask retailers to adhere to the price that is put on books on honor the value proposition inherent in that.

I was under the mistaken impression that this was acceptable practice in our country because there was no collusion involved if one company acted on it’s own.  In fact there have been cases where companies have been sued and lost who have required retailers not to discount.

So currently, it is probable that such a policy coming from a publisher would start a lawsuit or get the DOJ involved.

More soon.

James Patterson, Book Stores and Amazon

Yesterday at the BEA, Book Expo America,  James Patterson’s $1M give away to independent book stores was celebrated and another round of checks was handed out. Several book sellers recounted their use of the funds while a group of Hachette people sat in the front row. James’ effort that grew out of reading with his son is attached to his  www.readkiddoread.com effort and website. It’s about getting kids to read because they have so much better a chance to grow up to be good people and parents.

He’s absolutely right and so many of the booksellers here today to participate at BEA have made their life’s work ensuring that our children become better adults by making books part of our lives.

To me, the support of book stores, independent bookstores,  is hugely important at this moment with the distribution of Hachette’s books disrupted and slowed down by Amazon. It’s a message which requires action.

A website may have a roll in distribution but it has little value compared to getting kids and families into book stores and discovering reading.

One of the strongest remarks anyone made yesterday was James’ claim that we go out and do something. It isn’t enough to attend a lecture and go out and feel good about. We need action on behalf of book stores and’ the good that they do.

When we put those remarks and the $1M effort to support bookstores into the context of James Patterson’s own books being subject t’o the hostage crisis Amazon is inflicting on his publisher, Hachette, we have quite a picture.

It’s time for Hachette and every publisher big or small to do something. It’s time to act on behalf of our industry and the fundamental value that it provides our society, our communities and especially our future. We need book stores. We need publishers to be in control of pricing and distribution. We need no more monopsonistic distribution models.

James Patterson is doing is part to show leadership in this industry. It’s time we had a leader in one of the major publishing houses take a stand and leap into. a new future for bookselling. A future where bookstores are not given lip service while giant destructive discounting retailers put us out of business. We need action to unfold the integrated industry where publishing uses all it’s tools including Amazon and the big boxes as best suits our industry as a whole. Book stores’ sales must be given their due as the most beneficial to our industry.

Everybody sells on publishers’ terms. Publishers set the price. Book stores will flourish. We can take you there.

Our children’s being better adults is what’s at stake. Ask James Patterson.

Thanks again James. Chris

The future of books is books, the prize is a diversified retail network.

As publishers fight Amazon  was the big page one story in the Times this weekend. I don’t agree with David Steitfeld and Mellissa Eddy’s proposition that “the real prize is control of e-books, the future of publishing.” There are many billions of dollars of printed book sales to come for years and there is no strong consensus on e-books ever replacing or even dominating printed books.

But I could agree that the prize is  control of distribution. What we are arguing for here is that that control is attainable by publishing and ought to be in publishers’ control.  Publishing cannot be responsible for the authors and agents and readers it serves without controlling the distribution and terms of sale. A very diversified set of retailers, all operating within the terms of sale dictated by  publishing is the path to ensuring that our cultural treasure is in the hands of those that treasure it.

Repeatedly capitulating to one or several  giant retailers has been the short term strategy that has centralized the power of those giants. It ought to be evident that their dictates would crush competition and cause their control to grow. That is what they are here for.

But now we are at a new low for book publishing and a new level of distrust and disgust of Amazon. Hopefully it is clear that any future for the book, in any form is not safe outside the houses of book publishers. Decentralizing the retail network will decentralize retailers’ power.

The fact is that small retail stores and giant big boxes and Amazon have very different cost structures. In order to have the high value retail sales that occur in stores that carefully choose and present books in local communities,  those kinds of retailers need to be profitable too. That is why publishing needs to insist on its price point and honor its value proposition.

All of the retail outlets must be accommodated but none to the exclusion of others.



The following clips are all from the New York Times’ articles on the expansion of Barnes and Noble in the 1990’s. They are being rewritten for this decade and Amazon is the center of the discussion. Comments and discussion are all too familiar, and these stories


many people — whether or not they would admit it — clearly liked what Barnes & Noble had to offer: the wide selection and deep discounts,

For three years, Shakespeare & Company waged a battle against the sprawling Barnes & Noble bookstore that had moved in one block north and lured away half its business.

Publishing executives also expressed concern with what they see as a troubling national trend. “It has been happening across the country for the last couple of years,” said Richard Hunt, the director of marketing and merchandising at Bantam Doubleday Dell. “From the publishing perspective, we value each of our customers equally

“I was just in Shakespeare and Company yesterday,” he said. “I went in because I heard it was closing. People were coming in not to buy books, but to reminisce. I bought three books out of guilt. But I shop at Barnes & Noble because it’s cheaper.”

Fans of the stores, including publishing executives, say they have brought a breath of fresh air. The stores are prospering, they say, because they are well run and a pleasure to visit, with a wide selection of titles, many at discounts.

What the small store cannot offer are the discounts and the number of titles available at the superstores. Barnes & Noble stores, which carry as many as 150,000 titles (compared with 35,000 at Endicott’s), offer 20 percent off all hard-cover titles, 30 percent off hardbacks on the New York Times best-seller list, and 20 percent off paperbacks on the list.

Is closing Giovanni’s Room and Marcus Books good business?

For so many years we in independent stores longed to change the story about us from a relentless drone of bad news about closings and the death of our kind. It isn’t just morose it’s very bad for business. So a little boost went a long way and Borders closed and we really did find a new tune in the air that was almost cheerful. But don’t let’s get too excited about a recovery for book stores. Even for those of us with growth there are many segments within our stores that aren’t doing well and around the country many stores are still closing. And many of us are finding growth in new non book merchandise. And good news is good news compared to what. I see successful retailers in food and coffee and style and home goods spend a solid decade or more in their niche and their success seems more successful. From my point of view I see so many good good people doing so much for so little in an industry so at odds with it’s own.

I see in professional booksellers the intelligence, the analysis, the effort that other industries have. I also see more. I see people doing it for love; for the love of their community and  for the love of books. If you wander for a minute into any indie website you can see the smiling faces and the cheery postings about books and some incredibly thoughtful presentations that are marketing product in most industries and just love in ours. I suspect that in liquor and makeup and clothing and automobiles and software and headphones and all the rest of all the stuff that gets sold in this country no group loves their merchandise more than people who sell books. And no one gets paid less.

As long as publishers continue to sell books to other retailers who discount in order to take our customers and close our stores we’ve got a problem.

Like many of you I’ve got a google alert on book stores and book business and so forth and I see a relentless list of closing stores.

This week I was heartbroken to hear of Giovanni’s Room and Marcus Books closing. These two stores, both refuges (read the sign) , epitomize the cultural and community service that book stores are at their best. Their focus on their community and the literature of their community was an indication of their love and commitment to books.

But the point here is not about the cultural capital or moral good, this is just business. Here you have two exemplars of industry mavens  and taste makers. These kinds of stores are the equivalent of DJs that play your tune. They curate, host events, display your product in cities around the country and ask for nothing in return.  Any other industry would be making people that so promote their product rich. Literally. And the only reason these marginally possible businesses close is because publishers allow huge massive discounters to put them out of business.

We can have both. We can use Target, Costco, Amazon all we want and all our readers want, just make your value proposition and stick to it. If you put all your products on huge discounts from the moment they are announced, months before these stores can do their promotion, they will die. They are dying. And Publishing is losing its last most valuable assets.
Destructive practices are destructive. Closing retailers that so love your product and who extoll the virtues of your products so well is bad business.

The fear is that we can’t do without Amazon’s revenue, that we are stuck.

How do we get across the revenue divide? Isn’t it impossible to do without Amazon’s revenue? No. It isn’t. This isn’t the same world on line that it was in 1996. There are thousands of bookstores that sell on line and a national infrastructure with Ingram and Baker Taylor. And beyond that if Amazon pulls the plug how many major national chains wouldn’t shout out loud ” I’d be glad to sell your books on your terms”. Because we in books have a powerful brand.  Retailers will sell it at cost if you let them but they’ll sell it at your price point too. That’s good business.

You can never replace the kind of love for books that existed in these stores that have closed.

Read the signs.

Marker with flag

Had enough yet? Amazon slows down sales in dispute with Hachette

This came from the authors guild yesterday.

Removing buy buttons, hiding books from searches based on homosexual content and now slowing sales- these are the returns publishing gets from Amazon. It’s time to stop allowing them to dictate terms. Every publisher should write down it’s terms for sale, including especially a sane discount policy, distribute it to retailers including Amazon and let’s move into the new world. There is so much to gain for our industry and so little to lose.

Amazon v Stephen Colbert? Amazon slow-walks books by Colbert, Gladwell, others in spat with Hachette

Note: The books affected may not be limited to best-selling authors. Amazon has previously blocked sales of thousands of midlist books in the UK and US, including our very own Backinprint.com books a few years ago.

Hachette authors: we’re trying to get a sense of the scope of the problem. So please take a moment to check on the status of your books at Amazon. If any are delayed two to three weeks, please let us know by emailing staff@authorsguild.org. Put “Amazon” in the subject line. And let’s widen the net a bit: please forward this member alert on to your Hachette-published colleagues. Many thanks.

If you care to comment, here’s our blog entry.

In an apparent dispute over sales terms with big five publisher Hachette Book Group, Amazon is slowing delivery of select Hachette titles, The New York Times reports. Among the affected titles are James Patterson’s “Alex Cross, Run” and Stephen Colbert’s “America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t,” according to the Times. Amazon has used similar tactics in the past, including removing “buy buttons” from nearly every Macmillan title in 2010 over disputed e-book sales terms.

Amazon is in some cases delaying sales by format. All English language trade paperbacks by Malcolm Gladwell, for example, ship in two to three weeks, while Gladwell’s hardcovers ship immediately.

The availability of the titles Amazon delays appears to shift from time to time. “Alex Cross, Run” is listed as in stock this morning, while Amazon is still slow-walking “America Again,” which is available in two to three weeks in hardcover.

Self-interest protects certain formats: all titles appear to be available in Kindle editions.

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