Signs and Portents

A day or three ago, I started to see some interesting signs on social media. Comments about the big ebook distributor, Draft 2 Digital. Then I saw the actual link, and boy, did it catch my attention. I’m afraid I waxed rather sarcastic in my initial comments about the whole thing in private. I shouldn’t, really. It’s just that… It’s complicated, and it goes back a long time.

I grew up in an era when there were no Barnes & Nobles stores. Now, they existed. According to their site, they have existed since the nineteenth century, and they have been in expansion mode since shortly before I was born, having been the first bookstore to advertise on television in 1974. But I was not aware of them, because I didn’t live in any urban centers, or indeed, for a large portion of my formative years, within several hundred miles of any bookstores. Bookstores, to a kid like I was, were therefore rare and magical places. It was there that the fringes of Nirvana could be tasted. Titles you’d been hunting for in the tiny local library could be found, for a price. New books glistened and gleamed on the racks. I was an adult before I could walk into a bookstore and be able to walk out with an armful of books. By then, most of the Indie bookstores had lost the battle. There were two bookstores in my neck of the woods in northern New England: Borders, and Barnes & Nobles. Borders was closer to us. Then they were gone, and there was only one.

Now, there’s an ominous sucking sound. It’s distant, but if you read this initial announcement from D2D about the royalty situation, I think you’ll hear it. In case of internet memoryholes, I’m including a screenshot of that here as well.

Yep, you read that right. B&N, through their online Nook marketplace, isn’t paying it’s authors. Or not much, anyway. Oh, they say they will, and they say this is only temporary. But I really have to wonder how they thought they were magically going to come up with that money in the future if they haven’t got it now. Peter Grant shared an article about the buyout and reshaping just last month. Just as everything was closing down, B&N was in turmoil and already closing stores to shrink it’s losses.

Now, a day later D2D had great news! Um… I’ll let you tell me what you think about this second announcement.  Again, I grabbed a screenshot. I don’t want this to vanish when some bright bulb realizes just how much the spotlight of public awareness shows of the circle being made around the drain.

The explanation here is… strange. I know what I think about it, and why this update was made. Especially in light of this bit from Smashwords I caught from Dave Butler on social media.

Don’t get me wrong. I love bookstores. I’m not over here cackling maniacally as I see the looming demise of one. Not even though that one was a juggernaut who crushed all the others in it’s progress to the top.

I am sitting here wondering what the post-pandemic world holds in promise of bookshops. Will we see the Indies come back? Please?

I’m also sitting here wondering if this is a Very Bad Sign of things to come for independent publishers like myself. Even though I have put most of my work on Amazon’s KDP marketplace, it was more for ease and that’s where the money was. I’ve been waiting and watching for competition to come up. The Nook wasn’t it. The Nook has never been ‘it’ and I have known this from very early on, through some research I did back when I was a librarian. The Kindle was a better ereader for ease of use, and I knew that was going to make it win. Now that I don’t even need a dedicated ereader? It’s too late. My library is with Amazon. I still don’t like having all my eggs in one basket. If Barnes and Nobles slips down that drain to the end of all things, there will still be readers. There will still be readers like me, who like the smell and look of a bookstore. Last time I was in a B&N I briefly skimmed through the books, but I knew there wouldn’t be any I wanted to buy. Their selection was sucky. What I did buy was a drink and a pastry in the connected coffee cafe, so I could sit and write. Oh, and I bought a pen at the stationery section, which was ballooned to a quarter of the store in footprint versus bookspace. Because it was an art pen I wasn’t expecting to see there.

The ripples of the pandemic are just going to get bigger. We’re starting to see them turn into waves of change. My only hope is that they don’t keep amplifying into a tsunami.

 

16 comments

  1. I think the closing down because of the Wu-Flu Pandemic will have pushed a lot of failing businesses over the edge. They were going to go under anyway – but the Wu-Flu pushed them over the edge.
    A lot of us indy authors were wary of Amazon from the get-go, especially when they tried to pressure a number of POD publishers (like Booklocker) to use their in-house print provider. Amazon turned off the “buy now” button of authors pubbed by those houses, in an attempt to force them to do that … didn’t work. We all tried to do at least as much through B&N but were defeated by their relatively clunky website. And they started playing games by anonymizing reviewers – reviewers who saw years of reviewing work go down the drain.

  2. Smashwords, one of my three independent publishers, now has the same deal as D2D, namely B&N is going to pay them what they are owed. On one hand, where does the money come from? When I buy an ebook, I pay for it immediately, so paying ebook authors is a non-challenge. On the other hand, not being able to pay main publishing houses says they were using sales of the books they received from the publisher today to pay for the books they received and sold yesterday, which is an MBA trick with lethal consequences if sales suddenly drop.

    Diamond Distributors, the comics distribution quasi-monopoly, has the same problem, meaning that when matters turn on again, if they go under comics book stores have no way to obtains goods to sell.

    A distributor going under is even more serious than a store going under.

    Readers who write novel reviews of whatever length are invited to submit them to The N3F Review of Books and/or Tightbeam, at phillies@4liberty,net, the zines being visible at N3F.org

    1. A note here: Smashwords, and Draft 2 Digital, and others like them, are not publishers. They are distributors. The person uploading the files to them is a publisher, whether an individual (self-publishing) or an entity (like my Sanderley Studios) as an Independent publisher. Distribution can be handled by the publisher direct to the outlets, but for most it is simplest to use a mass distributor like Smashwords or D2D.

  3. Don’t write in other worlds, this one, quite a bit. That said, I grew up where there were libraries and used bookstores. Always hated B. Dalton’s but Crown and Borders were my favorite places to be for books. Miss them a lot. B&N is so so.
    The real place for ebooks is calibre. I won’t lose my library when any bookseller goes under. I have already stored them and can put them on any of my 4 kindles or 3 Sony books. What I like about Amazon is the availability of authors who don’t even publish in paperback or if they do their books never liven the sales registers at B&N or other book sellers.

    I write this in a 3 story house with bookshelves in every room except the bathrooms and surrounded by about 3000 or so hard back books I may never get around to reading. I’ve waited a long time for the etrade to start making available all the wonderful books that fell into the copyright extension gap. I missed Gallico, Nino Culotta, Howard Pease and scores of other authors who passed before they could sign ebook agreements.

    1. Amazon has certainly not embargoed receiving new books. I know of several titles that have gone live for publishing since the quarantines started. Their shipping of proof copies and POD copies is delayed, not canceled.

  4. Here’s another question few are asking right now. If B&N decided not to pay D2D and SW, how many indie authors who don’t use those platforms are they stiffing and who don’t have the social media platforms and attorneys necessary to force their hands? IMO, this has been coming for a very long time. Covid-19 simply sped it up. Even if BN manages to survive, much of the remaining goodwill it has will have gone down the drain.

    1. According to the notice D2D put out yesterday, B&N is claiming it only intended to stiff large publishers, that it fully paid the authors and small entities. Which I don’t understand the logic of that claim, but then again…? Why would they deliberately torch their relationship with Trad Pub? Like an abuser knowing their victim can’t survive without them? A reckoning is coming.

      1. Uh… you’re expecting a coherent policy from B&N, whose main claim to fame is consistently making bad business decisions?

      2. Why do I have a feeling they are moving the goalposts and saying whatever it takes to keep the masses of unwashed authors from rising up against them. Part of me doubts they had any intention of not paying the big publishers. Part of me wonders if they haven’t just gone from entity A to entity B etc until they find someone who won’t go public with what they are doing.

        1. My guess would be that someone threatened lawyers. Or simply that D2D shining the spotlight on what they are doing and letting the public know about it was enough to send them scuttling back into the shadows.

          1. Agreed. I find it interesting I didn’t see anything from Smashwords until after the D2D letter went public. Not saying it wasn’t there. Just didn’t see it.

          2. I think very much someone threatened lawyers. Mayhaps attached to the words “class action.” One thing about being a company limping around on life support, discovery is NOT your friend.

  5. Gee, a failing company is failing to pay people it owes money to? How amazing!

    Cedar said: “I am sitting here wondering what the post-pandemic world holds in promise of bookshops. Will we see the Indies come back? Please?”

    This is one of those “it depends” things.

    It depends first of all on people not developing a thing against shopping in person. If germophobia sets in, you can pretty much kiss retail goodbye. I shudder to think what the coming Christmas season is going to look like for stores if that happens. Miles of empty malls.

    On the other hand, mammoth Amazon warehouses require mammoth staffing, and as we learned from several meat packing plants in the USA and Canada, keeping your 3,000 people per location healthy to pack those boxes at every distribution center is more complex than people give it credit for. If the whole staff are on two-week quarantine like the Cargill plant in High River Alberta, that book ain’t going nowhere.

    What a “store” really represents is an inventory. Local stores mean inventory you can go chose from. B&N did well when they were the place that had the book you wanted, and a pen, and a coffee. Lately they’re doing badly because they don’t have the book you want, the coffee is overpriced and the pen is some terrible made-in-China thing with a 5,000% markup on it.

    Not entirely their fault, because publishers are not really printing the book you want anymore and the pens are -all- made in China. The super expensive coffee, they have to cover that rent don’t they?

    At some point it may be possible to have a little bookstore that makes money. But that time is not now.

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