What Fresh Hell Is This?

Josie Leavitt -- January 26th, 2012

Elizabeth and I were having lunch yesterday and we were talking about the latest Amazon assault of having Houghton Mifflin Harcourt be the publisher and distributor for their New Harvest line of adult books. I think Elizabeth summed it up best when she said, “What fresh Hell is this?”

It’s funny how quickly a happy mood that is largely because I’m focused at work and working on my budgets and trying to make this year more profitable than last year, came crashing down when I read the news about Amazon’s latest deal. I feel attacked by Amazon every time I turn around. If it’s not the ridiculous discounts, the Kindle ereader that drives folks away from bookstores, it’s the constant feeling that Jeff Bezos won’t rest until all the Amazon competitors are out of business. Now it’s the co-opting of one my favorite publishers. This move by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt underscores that the publishing playing field is shifting away from indies. Amazon is turning into the Walmart of the book world who dictates prices with threats of Buy Now buttons being removed, the insidious price checker app, etc.

Of course it might make sense for HMH to team up with Amazon, who knows how many more books they’ll sell through this deal. They have a bottom line they need to attend to. I’m sure Amazon sells more books a year than all the indies combined. I wonder if there will be a time that publisher backlists will only be available to Amazon customers or the lucky few bookstores that can afford an Espresso Book Machine. The book world is changing very fast and all the indies are doing their best to keep up with the changes, but when a favorite publisher gets into bed with Amazon, it’s hard not to take it personally.

I am tired. I’m tired of publishers I’ve supported wholeheartedly for the entire time I’ve been open, now forcing me to choose between buying some of their books and supporting the very company that seeks to put me out of business, or buy not buying the books at all and potentially losing those sales to the company that seeks to put me out of business. On dreary winter days this dilemma almost feels overwhelming. I love HMH books, but this new deal really makes me view the whole company differently. I know they’re just looking out for themselves, but it sure doesn’t feel good right now.

So, rather than lament and stew endlessly, I will have a drink as Ms. Parker would recommend and I will keep doing what I know how to do best: sell books and recommend unique  books and offer the kind of personal service that Amazon will never be able to. I will be proud to be an indie, and will fight for my bookstore with my purchasing dollars and continue to create a space that makes all readers feel welcome as I continue to point out the differences between Amazon and the Flying Pig.

I just hope that’s enough.