July 13, 2012

Amazon-front “New Harvest” close to launch, but booksellers still say no


Independent “booksellers have become more entrenched about their decision” not to stock or display books published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt imprint New Harvest—a front for books acquired and published in ebook by Amazon Publishing’s New York office—reports Judith Rosen in a must-read Publishers Weekly report. The entrenchment is not good news for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt or Amazon, which together plan to launch the debut New Harvest title on August 1st.

The two largest U.S. book chains, Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million, announced earlier this year that their stores would not sell titles connected to Amazon or New Harvest. They were later joined by Canada’s Chapters Indigo. (See the previous MobyLives reports here, here, and here.) Months later, despite some conjecture that the company might change its mind, Barnes and Noble’s decision stills stands. According to a spokesperson who spoke to PW: “We have not changed our position.” There is no sign that Books-A-Million or Chapters Indigo have backed down either.

As for independent stores, Rosen reports that:

Choosing not to carry a book because of who publishes it does not come easy for booksellers opposed to censorship. “My inclination is not. Over 37 years I’ve only ever refused to carry very few things,” says Vivien Jennings, co-owner of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans., naming only two, Madonna’s Sex and O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It. Although Jennings hasn’t bought the Houghton fall list yet, she no longer sells CreateSpace self-published titles from Amazon, even though she likes to support local authors. “Even if I’m super busy,” says Jennings, “I explain to [CreateSpace authors] about the sales tax thing and the DoJ. I just wish people had taken a stand sooner. That’s the way bad things roll; good people do nothing.”

“We can’t buy them,” says Becky Anderson, president of the American Booksellers Association, but speaking solely in her capacity as co-owner of Anderson’s Bookshops in Naperville, Ill. “We have to stand our ground. I do feel bad for the authors. They’re going to miss a lot of places where books are discovered.” Paul Yamazaki, head buyer at City Lights in San Francisco, echoes her thoughts. “We have no plans to buy them. Amazon has been so predatory in their practices. We feel at City Lights that they are so destructive of reading communities in general and booksellers in particular—and resistant to paying taxes.

Harcourt itself has downplayed negative reactions from booksellers large and small. Company spokesperson Lori Glazer told Publishers Weekly that “Reaction has been in line with expectations.” It’s hard to believe.


Kelly Burdick is the executive editor of Melville House.