Category Archives: retailers

Will books survive if Barnes & Noble doesn’t?

There is no shortage of articles that have been written over the last few years (and beyond) about the death of publishing. There’s little doubt that the industry has changed dramatically since I became an agent in 1999. Back then we had meetings to talk about digital books, and the consensus was it was not going to happen, at least not anytime in the near future and not in a way that would have a dramatic impact on the sale of print books. Well, we all know what a big impact digital publishing has had on the book market in recent years. The good news is publishers are still finding ways to maximize print sales as well as digital sales so it’s another revenue stream to mine that has cost benefit to publishers.

This recent piece in speaks to a specific, if not new, concern for publishers and the book business – the potential demise of Barnes & Noble. Bear in mind, this has been a topic of conversation for many years and despite rumors, challenges and financial constraints, B&N is still in business.

Alex Shephard mentions in the piece: “In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits.” That might be true, but we’ve been seeing this for a long time. Same with his assertion that “Literary writers without proven sales records will have difficulty getting published, as will young, debut novelists. The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all.” This has been a refrain we’ve heard on repeat for years.

My sense about the retailer’s impact on the book business if it were to shutter its doors is that it would be a significant and negative impact, but not an insurmountable one. No question, B&N has been a wonderful partner for bringing books to a wider audience. They provide some very nice opportunities for books and authors, from in-store events to co-op advertising (front of store placement) to their now 25 year-old Discover Great New Writers program. And while publishers still rely heavily on B&N’s feedback on many things, including covers (I’ve had several covers change at the last minute because B&N didn’t like it), the truth is that the number of books they purchase for their stores has dropped dramatically over the years. Yes, they still carry lots of copies of the big bestsellers, as do all the retailers, but they take a lot fewer copies of almost everything else.

This, in part, has resulted in smaller first printings for most books from years past with the hope that if the book starts selling, publishers can quickly hit the reprint button and fulfill market demand. But that doesn’t feel like new news to me. I hope B&N can survive and find a way to thrive in a very difficult market, but I feel strongly that even if that doesn’t happen, authors, publishers and agents will figure out a way to make it work, just like we’ve always done.



A case for military books

I have always had a healthy appetite for military books because they sell.  Books—both fiction and non-fiction—about the Civil War, and the two world wars sell particularly well.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to browse in a bookstore in Quantico, Virginia—where the FBI is based and where marine officers receive their first qualification and training.  I found the range of titles they carry very interesting.

I was at Quantico because my son was graduating from Officer Candidate School in the Marines and, in fact, he and his classmates had read many of the books (though obviously not all) that I found below:

There were books like this one about policy: IMG_2366


Reference books: IMG_2367


Children’s books: download


Related titles for women: 51ZLJlvzBHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Books by bestselling authors: TheGunsatLastLight


Books about leadership: IMG_2371


Books to improve our intellect and make us think:  FotorCreated


And bestselling fiction: IMG_2375

(Interestingly Battle Cry is a book that my father both edited and published.)

All of this underlines the fact that books about military subjects hold a real fascination for the reading public.  Now that my son is an officer, it’s a category I will follow more closely.  What are your favorite military titles?




Amazon is entering the real (vs. virtual) world

Amazon StoreSo the news last week was that Amazon has opened its first brick and mortar bookstore—this one is in Seattle where the company has its headquarters.  Twenty years after Amazon began as a website selling books (and before they were pushing lawnmowers and groceries), this could be an exciting beginning for those who love to browse in actual bookstores.

Evidently, most of the books in this new store are displayed cover out which could be seductive to consumers because titles will be easier to find.  The other thing that is interesting here is that it was announced that the books will be the same retail price in the store as they are online (where merchandise is usually discounted).

Given the fact that Borders went out several years ago leaving a huge gap in the print bookstore business and that Barnes & Noble seems to be floundering, this is very good news—for consumers and  for publishers.  Hopefully, this new venture will be so successful that Amazon which, after all, began in the book business will expand their  bookstores  to other cities in the years ahead.  One can only hope.

I’d be curious, though, to know what you think of this new development.


What you can do about the DOJ lawsuit

Following up on my previous blog—and having read a huge amount in the last two weeks about this matter—I feel more strongly than ever that we all, agents, authors, publishers, independent bookstore owners, and readers, can and should do something about the settlement the DOJ is proposing.

In order to try to stop the Department of Justice there is something called The Tunney Act, which allows members of the public to comment on any proposed settlement by the government on a civil antitrust suit.  The “Competitive Impact Statement” filed in court by the Department of Justice on April 11th states that the Depart of Justice will cause written comments received from any person to be filed with the court and published in the Federal Register.

If you are in agreement that the terms of the settlement are onerous for publishing and bookstores, you  need to write a letter and send it to:

John R. Read, Esq.
Chief, Litigation III Section
Antitrust Division, United States Department of Justice
450 5th Street, NW, Suite 4000
Washington, DC 20530

You may also submit your comments attached in an email to (with a copy to

Please be sure to reference the name of the litigation in your comments.  We suggest the following or similar reference:

United States v. Apple, Inc. et al., No. 12-CV-2826(DLC) (S.D.N.Y.) – Comments on Proposed Final Judgment as to Defendants Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster

All public comments received will be considered by the U.S. Department of Justice and will be filed with the Court and published in the Federal Register (the Daily Journal of the U.S. Government).

These letters and e-mails must be received by June 23rd so please read all you are able to about the issues and write and mail your letters expressing your opinions as soon as you can.

I feel strongly that we must keep the publishers and bookstores alive—both independents and the remaining chains.  I hope you all will help.


Is the Department of Justice’s Suit Against Publishers Good for Authors?

Last week, the Department of Justice sued five publishers and Apple and charged them with collusion in the implementation of the agency model for e-book pricing. The charge is civil, not criminal.  Three of the five publishers, Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster are settling their suits, but Macmillan U.S. and Penguin Worldwide are not.  Here is what Publishers Weekly reported followed by statements from John Sargent CEO of  Macmillan and John Makinson, Chairman and CEO of the Penguin Group.

So, what does this mean to authors?

Ultimately it means that Amazon, which has had a very strong market share in discounting e-books recently with Barnes & Noble starting to catch up under the agency model, will now virtually have a monopoly on selling e-books.  The company, which as we know, sells many products other than books, can afford to lose money on their sales of e-books because they have so much other merchandise to make a profit from.

Barnes & Noble and other accounts, however, cannot afford to lose money and they will do if they are forced to compete with Amazon’s steep discounting.  In fact late last week, B&N stock took a substantial dive for this very reason.

And, if as a result of this, Barnes & Noble is forced out of business, it will be a disaster for publishers and authors alike.  There will be nowhere to display physical books any longer.

I am not a lawyer and so I can’t discuss the legalities of any of this.  What I can suggest is that if authors agree that giving Amazon a true monopoly in the e-book publishing business will be hugely destructive to the business as a whole, then they should blog, write op-ed columns, and get as much publicity possible in order to attempt to turn this situation around.  It is myopic, in my humble opinion, to believe that allowing Amazon to become a monopoly in the e-book business will ultimate benefit consumers (see David Carr’s piece in today’s New York Times).

What do you all have to say about these developments?


Censor censure

I’ve been on a bit of a Words With Friends kick lately (okay, more a debilitating obsession than a kick but no one’s kicked me off a plane yet) and one of the frustrating things I’ve found about the game is how it censors what it considers unacceptable words. Not sure what geniuses (or algorithms) decide what works and what doesn’t but when you’re behind by 15 points and you’ve got the letters to wipe your opponent out with a word you know is a word but that WWF won’t allow…well, it makes you a little short tempered.

Thing is, censorship is all around us and, by and large, we tend to overlook minor instances of it as long as the big freedoms aren’t compromised.   I can shake my head and keep playing WWF, say, because who cares about a silly app game.  But, is that the right attitude?  When you hear about Seth Godin’s experience with Apple refusing to carry one of his “manifestos” because there are links in it to the Amazon store, the whole Big Brother thing becomes a bit sinister.  This is censorship seasoned with monopolistic bullying, in my opinion.

How much freedom of speech can be guaranteed when behemoths like Apple and Amazon censor what is available to consumers for any reason other than that the work(s) in question poses a real physical threat to individuals?  Sure, a privately owned retailer may choose what goods and services it wants to offer, but when you have two or three entities responsible for the dissemination of vast amounts of information, it seems to me that it should not be morally, ethically, or legally okay for those entities to decide what consumers may or may not be able to buy.

Those of us in the publishing business have a rather bedeviled relationship with Apple, Amazon and B&N (especially the first two).  On the one hand, we need them in order to place our authors’ wares.  On the other, we are increasingly concerned with the practices of these soulless corporations whose only interest is the financial bottom line and for whom books and the entire publishing world are but a blip in their massive spreadsheets.  Is it time for the government to step in and regulate how content is served up?  What can we do as consumers (and book lovers) to safeguard our ability to buy any book (or story or manifesto) we want?  Should we be outraged or should we shrug our shoulders and lump this with the Word With Friends shenanigans?

What’s your take on all of this?  Am I over- or under-reacting?


Book love: a contest

UPDATE: Some great entries so far!!  I guess it probably would’ve made sense to set some deadlines and such, huh?  We’ll keep collecting entries till Friday at noon, and then Rachel will announce the winners that afternoon.  Keep ’em coming!

Now normally Valentine’s Day is not my thing—in high school I established a cabinet for when I take over the world specifically to delete 2/14 from the calendar—but when Rachel sent me this adorable video, my icy cold heart melted just a bit.

Via Word Brooklyn, Rachel’s favorite bookstore, via Riverhead, comes this video from LA’s Skylight Books of books that are totally gettin’ it on throughout the store.  It’s charming and adorable.  (Except that dead Steve Jobs should probably not be participating in spin the bottle.  That’s sort of icky.)

But it made me wonder about what kinds of books actually would love each other.  Fortunately, Rachel helped me brainstorm some ideas:

The Great Gatsby would be all about EmmaLord of the Flies and The Hunger Games would go steady for sure, until their romance ended tragically and prematurely.  Animal Farm and Charlotte’s Web could be a good couple since opposites attract.  And I could see a strong future for The Imperfectionists and Then We Came to the End, as long as one or the other managed to win the lottery so they didn’t have to bicker about how to pay the rent.

Which books do you think should hook up this Valentine’s Day?  Rachel and I will each select a favorite entry from the comments below to receive a DGLM mug!


Bricks and mortar (and Lego Men)

I’ve gone on the record here a number of times about my pro-bookstore bias, so I won’t go into it again, but let me start by saying this isn’t a physical vs. digital post.  For now at least, we can all agree that physical bookstores exist, and there are people who still wish to patronize them.  I am one of those people, but I respect that there are people who have other preferences.

I wandered around the B&N behemoth at the top of Union Square the other day and thought about the ways that stores innovate in what are not the easiest times.  As I passed the sizable Lego section of the store on the escalator (and glanced down at the enormous book-reading Lego Men that I’d strongly consider purchasing if they were for sale), I realized that it’s well past the time that I cringed in response to non-book space in the store.  Don’t get me wrong: when that particular store expanded their Nook…nook, I was very happy they found space from the DVD/music area and not the bookshelves.  But even when I forced myself, I found I was happy that people who might not go out of their way to buy books have to pass tons of books on their way over to build at the Lego table.  What use are shelves and shelves and shelves of books that will be returned if no one goes into the store to buy them, after all?  However complex the economics, eyes on books seems better than not.

Over the years, we’ve seen stores adding cafés and media and toys and games.  We’ve seen stores try to find a home for themselves in a world of e-books with things like the Nook and the customized e-book shelf talkers that Melville House offers indies, as recently reported by Laura Miller in Salon.  When I worked at B&N, the store I was in had recently begun an events program (which was nothing new in general, but it’d previously been deemed too small to find the space for them), with signings, readings, story time and writing groups.  Whatever the results may be in this time of great change for the industry, I’m pleased any time I see that a piece of the intricate publishing ecosystem won’t go down without a fight (so long as it’s not at the expense of authors, of course—the rest of us are nothing without them).

For those of you who sometimes shop in physical bookstores, what do you see stores doing in a bid for survival?  Any great ideas that you think should be adopted more widely?  Any ideas you wish they’d try?


Humor helps

This has been a week of major Amazon consternation here in publishing land. First, they bought the 450-title trade list of Marshall Cavendish, a small, independent publisher of high-quality books for children. The reaction from booksellers was quick, including one tweeting that she was looking forward to shipping back all the Marshall Cavendish titles. Agents were (and still are) very curious to hear from the publisher about just what this means for our authors. Then they announced a fun promotion in which they’re asking customers to go to brick-and-mortar retailers, find items they want, scan their barcode with Amazon’s app, then get $5 from Amazon for doing price research for them! While this program does not include books (because as Josie Leavitt points out, they already know how much their competitors charge for books–no research needed!), booksellers and some authors have been up in arms about Amazon’s audacity. It’s certainly a ballsy move to proactively promote such behavior, though the app (and others like it) have been around for some time.

But one bookseller, Roxanne J Coady, has a modest proposal for Amazon that could help even the playing field. I won’t spoil the fun by giving anything more away, but please do take a look. A little levity never hurts.

How would you save the book biz?

We’ve all heard the horror stories over the last couple of years about the end of publishing and books basically becoming obsolete and going the way of the VHS tape.

Those of us who work in publishing do our part to help keep the business afloat. Writers by writing, where it all begins; agents by selling writers’ works; publishers by publishing and getting the books to the consumer. We work hard, despite the changing landscape and gloom and doom mantras, to get our books into the marketplace, especially those hard-to-sell titles that fall into the “labor of love” category, of which I can list my fair share from over the years.

Now bestselling author Ann Patchett has made the front page of the New York Times (rare for a publishing story at all, and a positive one at that) talking about opening an independent bookstore in her hometown of Nashville. I loved Ann Patchett before (State of Wonder was definitely one of the best books I read this year) and now I love her even more for using her own time and resources to help give back to her community, and by extension, to the publishing industry.

I can’t think of a quick-fix to transform the biz, but new successful indie stores will help, and as Patchett notes in the piece: “If you like this thing, it’s your responsibility to keep this thing alive.” Meantime, I will be continuing to try and sell books that make a difference in people’s lives, and I will be more mindful of supporting my local bookseller as we approach the holiday season.

If you could do one thing to help save the book business, what would it be?