Digital Book World, editorializing on Cambria Herbert’s open letter to Barnes and Noble calling for them to sell self-published books, says “What this all comes down to is respect. The self-publishing community is a passionate one, believing its authors have just as much of a right to publish a book as do authors who have traditional publishers. Moreover, many of them believe their mode of publishing is the right one. At the end of the day, they just want to be treated as authors, not self-published authors. ”

Well, OK. But unfortunately being an author of any kind doesn’t entitle you to have your book available for sale in every (or any) Barnes & Noble bookstore. God knows there are plenty of non-self-published authors whose books are not available there (though they can it’s true probably be special ordered as apparently can #Nerd — but that can’t really be the beef, as anyone can easily “special order” any book, traditionally published or self-published, for themselves on-line). As DBW says it’s all about respect.

To me this comes close to wanting to have your cake and eat it too. If you disdain the publishing business surely it ill behooves you to bitch that you don’t have full access to the distribution chains that the book business has built up over the years. Any retailer is free to deal with whatever suppliers it wants to. B & N doesn’t sell books published by Amazon; and why should they have to? If Amazon wants to eat the booksellers’ lunch by retailing books, why should B & N support them by facilitating their efforts to become pukka publishers too? Amazon is allowed to take down the Hachette buy-buttons as a negotiating ploy, and B & N’s allowed not to stock books by any publisher they chose not to stock. We may not like this, but we can’t do anything about it except voice out complaint. Neither B & N nor Amazon, is a public utility, regulated by the state to the benefit of the public. What they sell is what they choose to sell. Now if I was B & N, I would probably decide not to carry self-published titles for a couple of reasons: 1. the difficulty of assessing which of the millions of offerings might be of interest to my customers; and 2. a fear that if one such book did become a big seller I might find it hard to replenish stock. Traditional publishing has evolved methods of eliminating those problems: publishers reps call on B & N and tell their buyers which titles will sell well, and publishers have sales and distribution systems which bookstores know they can rely on.

DBW says “I’d like to see Barnes & Noble create some sort of mechanism for finding indie books that are worth putting on its shelves. The books without question exist, and the retailer is doing its customers a disservice and losing potential money by not doing so. This could be as simple as creating a position within the company in which the person’s role is to research self-published books.” That’s just fine and dandy, but a person employed to research self-published books has to be paid. Then, if they identify a book which they’d like to stock they have to find the author and negotiate terms. One of the reasons these guys hate publishers is that they think they should get 70% of their book’s price from the publisher. Welcome to the real world, self-publisher. B & N isn’t going to stock your book in return for 30% of the retail price, even if they do manage to locate you and to trust that you actually do have cartons of inventory just waiting for their order. And they certainly cannot afford to indulge in negotiations with each and every indie out there: they have enough problems of their own without adding thousands of discrete negotiations to the overload. Sure there are exceptional indie books, and one might like to see some of them in bookstores: and as Cambria Herbert indicates this can indeed happen even at a Barnes & Noble branch. But even if your books are great, and your approach to the book trade is professional, business-like and efficient, at the end of the day you cannot force anyone to sell your wares. Self publishers opted for the independent line: unfortunately this means they have to be independent.

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