Greed, boycotts and the impact for aspiring writers

Bookshop chain puts bite on small publishers
I’ve just been catching up on some of the news I’ve missed over the past week. Not sure how this slipped by, but apparently Angus & Robertson have started asking distributors and publishers to pay to have their books stocked and displayed in A&R stores. A&R is the most successful retail chain in Australia, one of the few to still be surviving despite increased sales for discount stores like K-Mart and Big W. I can’t understand what they’re doing; they’re practically shooting themselves in the foot. Getting people to support Australian authors is difficult enough, and now they want to alienate publishers so they don’t have any stock?

It’s created the bizarre situation that the leading bookchain in Australia will not be stocking the Miles Franklin Award winner for 2007, Carpentaria. And it seems like it’s all because of greed. A&R wants their smaller suppliers to subsidize losses for unsold books, and wants to make them pay before they even have the books on the shelves. Does that make sense to anyone else?

SMH published Michael Rakusin’s response to A&R’s decision. I was impressed by his letter. It’s articulate, angry, but doesn’t score cheap points; it’s not often you get to write a letter like that. Next time I get a condescending letter, I’m going to use “voluble hilarity” in the reply. From my point of view, I don’t blame A&R for wanting to increase their profit margin, particularly with strong market competition. But what the company has done is issued an ultimatum, and the people they’re really hurting are Australian authors. If publishing companies give in, advances will only be smaller, and while A&R won’t stock their works, that’s less exposure and fewer readers for their work as well. It’s a no-win situation. A&R claim they are “committed to stocking a wide range of titles and supporting Australian literature”, but right now that just seems like absolute garbage.

The Australian Society of Authors seems to think so too; they’ve condemned A&R and recommended book buyers boycott A&R owned stores over the new policy. I think I feel the same way. A&R appears to only want to stock books with guaranteed saleability, and for a company which is supposed to be proudly Australian, that is unacceptable. Where does it leave aspiring writers? Where does it leave people in small towns who can’t find books anywhere else? A&R are letting greed get in the way of their other responsibilities and we can’t just let that go.

I’ll be buying all my books from Dymocks and local book stores until A&R overturns their decision; seeing I have a birthday coming up in a month, that could be a few books. I’m glad to see that this has been gaining traction overseas as well, as it could set a dangerous precedent. Corey Doctorow lambasted A&R on Boing Boing, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden broke down the correspondence to make it understandable. Can you imagine if this happened in the US and Borders refused to stock Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? There’d be outrage; Oprah would be hitting them over the head with her microphone. Here, we’ll just have to see how much Angus & Robertson take before they reverse their decision.

One thought on “Greed, boycotts and the impact for aspiring writers

  1. That is just pathetic. Losses are a part of doing business. Each sector has its risks. They can’t expect suppliers to give them front money because of it. What they are doing is extortion or blackmail. That’s what it really is. Demanding payment for the right to stock a product is wrong.

    Retailers are supposed to be paying the suppliers, not the other way around. If they are concerned about unsold merchandise, then they should rework their agreement with the supplier. Many retailers have an agreement with suppliers that any unsold merchandise can be returned for a refund of cost. I’m sure publishers would be more open to this option than front money.

    CJ: It does seem like extortion; do as we say or we’ll put you out of business. It seems strange for a company with such a respected history. I mean, if they need to increase profits, A&R should be able to negotiate an increase in the write-up value of their merchandise… this will just drive people away.

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