BAM Plans to Cut Off Nose to Spite Face

Hard on the heels of the news that B&N won’t stock books published by Amazon is this moment of temporary insanity. Publisher’s Weekly has confirmation from a senior manager at Books-a-Million that this 250-strong bookstore chainis following in B&N’s footsteps.

Specifically, they won’t carry any of the books distributed by HMH under the New Harvest imprint. This imprint was launched as part of an expansion of Amazon’s partnership with HMH. And yes, this is a stupid move.

When B&N made this decision, they did it out of the principle of having the same titles available both in print and digital. They have a huge ebookstore with a significant chunk of the US ebook market, and there is some sense in defending it this way. By refusing the books, B&n struck back at their strongest competitor. It’s only a moral victory, but it is still a victory.

BAM, on the other hand, doesn’t have an ebookstore worth mentioning. BAM is not one of the big 4 US ebookstores (Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo); they are one of the many that when combined make up about 5% of the market. What’s more, BAM doesn’t even sell their own ereader; they sell the Nook.

BAM has no ebookstore to defend, so there’s not much of  reason to decline Amazon’s books. This move looks more like a general cluelessness than a principled stand. It’s also coming from  less than healthy company, and I suppose that we might now know why BAM has been losing money these past several years.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Richard Adin3 February, 2012

    Nate, I disagree. BAM is defending its own bookstore. Why would you sell a book that puts money in Amazon’s pocket? B&N isn’t likely to put BAM out of business, but Amazon could. Quite frankly, I think every b&m bookstore should refuse to sell Amazon books. However, should Amazon agree to pay the bookseller 70% of the list price on each sale, I might rethink my position.

    1. Nate Hoffelder3 February, 2012

      Refusing to sell something doesn’t protect you, it only costs you customers. They’ll get it elsewhere. And I strongly doubt that BAM would have paid anything more than their existing discount with HMH (say, 40% of retail).

      1. Richard Adin4 February, 2012

        Nate, you underestimate the importance of b&m stores to book selling. I grant that importance is eroding, but it still is important. B&m stores help promote books in significant ways at little cost to publishers. Amazon will have its work cut out for it going that road by itself.

        More importantly, let’s not forget that pbooks still constitute 75%+ of the book market. eBooks are the fastest growing segment, if not the only growth segment, but Amazon’s books are losing access to the largest segment of the current marketplace. I think if other chains follow the lead of the bigh chains and if the indie bookstores also follow that lead, Amazon sales will not be as great as expected and they will not get the blockbuster exclusives they expect.

        1. Nate Hoffelder4 February, 2012

          Perhaps I do underestimate the value of stores. Indigo is following suit in blocking Amazon’s books.

  2. willem3 February, 2012

    I actually saw a comment – at Motley Fool of all places – that lays out the reasoning why a B&M retailer would be negative on Amazon’s publishing arm. It refers to B&N but BAM’s reasons would be pretty much the same:

    ”Not carrying the Amazon titles in stores, is the right business decision, if you remove any emotion from the equation.

    In e-tailing, there is no inventory cost or associated risk, and an infinite inventory is possible. So it is typically cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face to avoid selling a product for any reason. That’s why BKS is still carrying the Amazon books on its website.

    But with traditional retailing- an infinite selection is not possible, and the store must make a cash investment in every single product it chooses to keep in stock. Therefore, stores can only afford to keep in stock products they have a good reason to believe will sell well. With bookstores this is particularly true because there are literally millions of books to choose from and nowhere near that many spots.

    And Barnes and Noble has no particular reason to believe the Amazon books will sell well. For one thing, books in general aren’t selling that well- they want to diversify into other products. But even for the book-dedicated shelf space that remains- these books would be particularly hard to sell in BKS stores than others because they are associated with Amazon- meaning people would be even more likely than usual to buy them at Amazon rather than elsewhere- and because there would be no nook version available.

    If Barnes and Noble knew for sure that one of the titles would be a red-hot seller than they could make an exception- they’ve already said they would carry Harry Potter books no matter what the digital availability is. The problem is that there’s no surefire way to predict what books will sell best in advance, and Amazon has not demonstrated a dramatically above-average ability as a traditional publisher. Thus, Barnes and Noble’s best bet is to simply stick with stocking books from suppliers who don’t place them at a obvious disadvantage when trying to move product.

    That’s probably the key to understanding why this move is a slam dunk good call for BKS- they simply have too many better options for the shelf space and can’t do both.”

  3. fjtorres3 February, 2012

    The question for BAM is pretty simple.
    Will they refuse to carry them at all? B&M and online?
    If they don’t carry it *anywhere*, then I have no issue with them. I think it is a mistake but it would at least show some backbone. I can respect that.

    B&N gets no respect, though.
    They’re weaseling it for cheap PR.
    I don’t see the B&N move as “defending their ebookstore” because they will still carry the books at B& Either they have principles and don’t carry them at all or they carry them everywhere.
    And they *could* carry the books in the stores without investing anything meaningful; just carry them as “special order” items. That way, if an Amazon-published book becomes a must-carry they don’t look like moneygrubbers for “making an exception”.
    As is, they get the worst of all worlds; they look like vindictive whiners now and moneygrubbing weasels when Amazon gets a bestseller.
    It’s all about PR.

    Let’s wait a few months to see if they have the courage of their advertised “convictions” and pass up a bestseller or start “making exceptions” for a few coins.

    1. Richard Adin4 February, 2012

      Felix, they will be special order books at the local B&N store. When you special order a book at B&N, you are really just ordering it from their online store — at least that has been my experience over the years and I have special ordered a lot of books from my local B&N. I doubt that will change.

      1. fjtorres4 February, 2012

        So, you;re saying they’re *not* refusing to carry them at the stores after all?
        Heh! Sounds like pure PR to me.

  4. […] the books would be available on their website. Then later this week, Books-a-Million confirmed that they were following suit. And late Friday afternoon Indigo, Canada’s largest bookstore chain, joined the club. They […]

  5. Sharon L Reddy6 February, 2012

    Personally, I opted out of distribution through B&N. Bertlesman, which owns it, Ingram and a preponderance of mass-market print publishers is the nastiest player in the game. I’m not saying Amazon is ethical. It too is a corporation, a corporation is a thing and only people can have ethics. However, compared to Bertlesman’s tactics to hinder competition, over the last thirty years, it’s a sweetheart.

  6. […] the American Bookseller Association announced that they were joining Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and Indigo Books & Music in the general boycott of all books published by Amazon whenever […]


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