March 1, 2012

Day 10 of Amazon vs. indie publishers: Support grows, but so does the pressure on IPG


The Independent Publishers Group (IPG) and its 400-plus indie publishers from around the world took a serious blow this week in their battle against (see our earlier reports here and here), from the very colleagues you’d have thought would be their firmest allies: the nation’s two other distributors of indie publishers, the National Book Network (NBN) and the Perseus Books Group –— who abruptly signed deals with Amazon, leaving IPG hanging out to dry.

Of course, this could have been expected from Perseus — the company loves to bill itself as some kind of indie, when in fact it’s a dictionary-definition conglomerate of numerous publishers (Basic Books, Da Capo, Running Press, Public Affairs, Nation Books and more) and distribution companies (PGW, Consortium), and is in fact owned by a hedge fund, and not-so-shockingly always behaves as such. Still, after that hedge fund bought up 80% of the distribution of independent publishing in the U.S. in 2007, it became the country’s number one distributor of indie publishing, and in selling out to Amazon — don’t believe them when they say they didn’t get a special deal from Amazon, in a p.r. move that makes it look as if Amazon isn’t actually beating up indie publishers — this was a serious blow against number two, IPG. It leaves them far more beleaguered and alone than they’d already been.

Nonetheless, other admittedly-lesser players in the community continued to respond in outrage to Amazon’s boycott, and the story continues to get world-wide coverage (see this story from Australia’s Bookseller and Publisher about Australian and New Zealand books distributed by IPG and thus now being blacklisted by Amazon).

For example, the Education Development Corp. (EDC), which publishes children’s and educational titles under the Kane Miller and Usborne Books and More imprints, pulled its entire line of books from Amazon in sympathy with IPG, according to a report from its hometown newspaper, the Tulsa World. CEO Randall White said the company was doing so because Amazon is “somewhat of a predator.” The report says that EDC “will stop selling to distributors that sell through Amazon in an effort to cut all ties to the Seattle-based company.”

In a Publishers Weekly report, White adds that the move is a response to Amazon’s attempts to “gain control of publishing and other industries by making it impossible for other retailers to compete effectively.”

Likewise, according to an io9 report, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America announced that in response to Amazon’s boycott of IPG, “SFWA is redirecting links from the organization’s website to other booksellers because we would prefer to send traffic to stores where the books can actually be purchased. To that end, our volunteers are in the process of redirecting book links to, Powell’s, and Barnes and Noble.”

And numerous indie booksellers continue to call out IPG books, too — one of the more notable indies to join the list in the last day or two has been Carmichael’s in Louisville, Kentucky, which makes a special pitch for IPG books on its website.

In short, while support grows, IPG faces longer odds than it did just a few days ago, and it’s hard not to believe that many of its publishers are in dire straits regarding the continuing loss of Amazon sales. At the same time, it’s hard not to wonder what’s going on with every other major publishing group in the U.S., which — unlike NBN and Perseus — hasn’t gotten special terms and is still holding out against signing a contract with Amazon, three months into the new year.

Will IPG be ale to hold out much longer? Will the Big Six be bold enough to take a similar stand? If they do, it wold mean Amazon has nothing left to sell, and it would be all over. Perseus and NBN would look like fools. A long shot? maybe, but stay tuned anyway.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.