Author Barry Eisler signed THE LAST ASSASSIN at a small, independent bookstore in the mid-west and then left and signed stock at two nearby big chain stores in the same town. Barry reports that this did not sit well with the independent bookseller, who wrote:
stock at chain stores signals to the people who did take the time to
come to your [our independent bookstore] event and support you that
their effort was not necessary. More importantly, calling attention to
that fact that you need to leave to do such a thing is insulting to
your hosts. If that was something you felt compelled to do, you
probably should have done so without drawing attention to yourself. I
chalk it up to you not understanding the dynamics of the situation.
Other booksellers may not be very forgiving. Some in particular that we
know would simply stop carrying your books without comment.
[…] Like many of the key independents, we’re in the business of selling
books and we also produce author events. In order to drive the
publicity for an event, particularly for genre fiction, there has to be
a unique quality to the experience we’re offering. Part of that
uniqueness is the opportunity to meet the author and purchase a signed
book. If someone can go anywhere in town and purchase a signed book,
then that unique aspect of the event marketing is lost.
Is the independent bookseller over-reacting or did Barry make a mistake? Barry doesn’t think he did:
I can’t apologize for signing stock at chains, my friend. They’re
important distributors in my business, and I can’t make a living
selling through independents alone (nor would I have been able to build
my business as I have without the backing of independents). If I
insulted you by doing I see as best for my business, I regret it, and
am somewhat surprised, as it’s not a reaction I’ve run into before.
If you’d like to have me back for another event, I would be delighted,
as you, along with other key independents, have done a tremendous
amount to get me where I am, and where I hope to go. You also run a
first rate signing and seem like good people. But whether I do a
signing with you or not, you should know that I’ll also sign stock at
as many chains in town as I can. This is a business decision for me,
not at all personal, and you shouldn’t feel insulted by it.
What do you think? Was Barry right or was he wrong? I’m not in my friend Barry’s league, but I can see both sides of the argument.
I know one independent bookseller who was very upset to find out that a week before they were hosting a signing for A Big Bestselling Author, signed copies of his book were being sold at the Costco two miles up the street (he’d signed thousands of copies at their distribution center) and he’d signed stock at the Barnes & Noble less than a mile away a day earlier.
After the signing at the independeant bookstore, the Big Bestselling Author made sure he stopped by the nearby Borders, too. The independent booksellers were pissed…but there wasn’t much they could do about it. They still sold a lot of his books, just not as many as they could have sold if they weren’t undercut by the much cheaper signed books at Costco and B&N.
On the other hand, people who came to the independent bookseller’s event got to meet the author…something they couldn’t do at Costco, B&N or Borders. And they presumably were willing to pay a little extra for that priveledge. I do believe the indie offered something unique that the other stores couldn’t, and that the people who’d buy the signed book at Costco aren’t necessarily the same customers who’d attend an author signing. One doesn’t necessarily cancel out the other.
Like I said, I can see both sides.
I wonder how the independent feels about authors who do signings at another indies in the same city? I know it happens all the time in L.A. area and authors are very upfront about it. Mystery/thriller authors frequently sign at Mysteries to Die For the same day as Mystery Bookstore and Book’em… and even ask for directions (as Barry did, asking the indie how to get to B&N). If the indies here mind, they haven’t said anything about it that I know of…