Books-A-Million hates Indie authors. There. I said it. After jumping through hoops with their extremely reluctant to talk corporate guys via email I’ve been told that there is no wiggle room. It doesn’t matter that I have a following in an area near a store I wanted to do a signing at, not does it matter that the manager was excited and wanted me to come. Under no circumstances will they carry a book that was printed at a POD press. If it hasn’t sat on a shelf in a warehouse somewhere, they refuse to let it in a store. Of course, they still want you sell it through their online portal where they can enjoy the convenience of making profit without the overhead of storage (the main point of POD) which is just hypocrisy.
Their iron-clad principle is a huge slap in the face of indie writers across the board. It shows their unwavering allegiance to the giant book machine that churns out only mass-produced rewrites of the last “big thing” that corporate suits decided was good literature and guards against any new voices in the industry. It stifles the creative ones and force-feeds readers the same old stuff. Not that all of it is bad (I enjoy Crichton and King, but wouldn’t have read some great stories had I not also read Indie books). Really, there is much truth in Pierre Tristam’s column when he responded to a New York Times Article about bookstores, BAM in particular. (see https://flaglerlive.com/65608/end-of-bookstores-pt)
Tristam predicts that they will eventually go out of business because of their self-serving interests. “They’re to literature what Steak and Shake is to good food. They have merchandise, but they have no soul… When’s the last time our Books-A-Million hosted a writer’s reading, an interesting lecture, a book party of any sort? The company is too interested in pushing marketing gimmicks to care much about books and writers.”
I anticipate the rise of Indie bookstores—places that care about you and what you are reading, and even have recommendations. I go into chain stores and love the smell, but I’m increasingly discouraged by employees who clearly haven’t read a book since grade school. (“How do you even work here?” “I know how to brew espresso; I don’t need to know how to read.”) I’m envisioning a place like the record store in John Cusack’s High Fidelity…and I’ve been in stores just like that. Hopefully they can figure out how to work with Indie authors and not see them as a revenue source to be exploited (see other article’s I’ve written). That will mean not screwing over writers with terrible consignment terms and demands for wholesale pricing terms lower than market norms… it will also mean Indie retailers ought to find a familiarity with a work they agree to carry and not pretend to be a mini-me version of the soulless bookstore giants in an effort to make a couple bucks.
If larger stores (and smaller ones too) don’t figure out how to connect with real people again they fall the way Family Christian Stores and Borders have done. We can cry about the decline of brick and mortar or stores can try and retain their relevance. Tristam doesn’t even think that Amazon killed the retail giants—rather, they shot themselves in the foot. The internet does a much better job at being a nameless, faceless conglomerate that has everything in stock at any given time—and that’s where Books A Million will fail: they can’t stay afloat if they try to compete while limiting their stock, remaining as the fifty shades of beige that is their consumer appeal, and poking Indies in the eye at the same time.
Maybe BAM doesn’t hate indie authors—but they certainly don’t like us very much.