March 6, 2014

L.A. Times Festival of Books goes full Amazon


L. A. Times Festival of Books, it's like we don't even know who you ARE anymore, y'know?

L. A. Times Festival of Books, it’s like we don’t even know who you ARE anymore, y’know?

The L.A. Times Festival of Books was so cool when it first got its start, man. It was just a scrappy up-and-comer, ready to work hard, a dream in its heart and stars in its eyes. Somewhere along the way, though, all the fame and money must have gone to its head. The Festival has a strange accent, now. When you call its number you get routed to some guy named Mitch. The Festival never really looks at you when you talk to it anymore, it always seems to be scanning the room for other faces.

Worst of all, the L.A. Times Festival of Books has started palling around with Bezos and his crowd.

As Bridget Kinsella reported in Shelf Awareness, the festival sent out an announcement of this year’s participating authors on Monday. Beside the name of each author was a “buy” button linking to Amazon. Kinsella writes, “although the e-tailer is not listed as a LATFOB sponsor or exhibitor, the Festival has quietly become an Amazon affiliate, earning a commission on book sales by the e-tailer originating from its website.”

The Festival brings together artists from around the country but, most importantly in this context, the festival involves local bookstores. It used to know their names, back when it was looking for its break. It was so appreciative, so polite. But now, with the fake tan and the underhanded kickbacks from “friends in Seattle,” it’s like the Festival has forgotten about these bookstores entirely.

Kinsella quoted Mary Williams of Skylight Books “I was alarmed to see the buy buttons and even more alarmed because so many local booksellers exhibit at the festival. The Festival of Books is a huge part of the L.A. book scene–but then, so is the L.A. bookselling community. We’d like to see the festival support us like we try to support the festival.” Even with this misstep from the Festival, Williams was polite enough not to mention the recent work it seems to have had done around its eyes.

Worst of all is the way that even the Festival’s most informal correspondence seems to have been shaped by a handler, now that they’ve been swept up into Amazon circles. Back in the day you could just grab a beer with them, chat, but now, well, Here’s the Festival talking to Kinsella:

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is proud to have worked with writers, publishers and booksellers of all kinds over the past 18 years. We look forward to continuing our tradition of celebrating the written word in all its forms, and connecting the Festival’s large and diverse audience with the authors and books that they love to read, for years to come.

It’s not that I blame them for sounding like robots: the tabloids are vultures and will twist your words. It’s just sad to see the small town kid we all loved become so guarded, so removed.

We’ve discussed Amazon links before here on Mobylives. For authors linking to their own books it’s not a good practice, but their motivations are understandable. For an institution like the Festival it’s oversight, callousness to local bookstores or, most likely, just a tale as old as Hollywood itself.



Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.