Yesterday 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 Amazon retains the ebook as an exclusive.
The ABA is going to delist all of Amazon's books from their IndieCommerce program, which will make it very difficult for participating bookstores to sell those books online. The ABA also went a step further than the major chains. They created a new policy that states “only publishers’ titles that are made available to retailers for sale in all available formats will be included in the IndieCommerce inventory database.”
Update: It turns out that IndieCommerce decided on their own to delist Amazon's books. The ABA management was not consulted until after this was announced.
This is so not a good idea.
But first, a little background. IndieCommerce is a program that the ABA launched a couple years back. It's intended to make it easy for an independent bookstore to run a website (and sell books and ebooks via the website). The ebooks are supplied via the Google eBookstore, and the paper books are supplied from where ever.
There are actually a couple reasons why this is not a good idea.
Not carrying in-store is one thing; people might browse and buy something else. But when IndieCommerce refuses to list the title online, they're not helping anyone. They're not going to hinder the sales of those books; the customer will simply open a new tab and buy it from Amazon. All this will do is cost the local bookstore money.
Before you come down on the side if the ABA, consider this. What is more important, encouraging people to buy from local bookstores, or striking a symbolic but pointless blow against Amazon's exclusivity?
If you think the principle is important, let's first please follow through on it. When fully applied, it turns out to be a rather poorly conceived idea.
The ABA has committed itself to only stocking paper books via the IndieCommerce program when it can also stock ebooks. This is going to be problem because over the years I have come across any number of niche publishers who only offer ebooks via their preferred platform. It might be library ebooks or it might be their own DRMed app, but it doesn't matter. It's exclusive, so the paper editions will have to be delisted from the IndieCommerce program.
Update: I just remembered a publisher who will have to be delisted: Cambridge University Press. CUP only sells ebooks via www.ebooks.com. This is a major academic publisher, and they will have to go.
And then there are the titles which simply aren't available in the US as ebooks. Those will have to be delisted as well because they were not "made available to retailers for sale in all available formats". That is where the principle starts to be self-destructive; now it includes such classics as Roald Dahl's Matilda series and it includes the Harry Potter series (when the Pottermore ebookstore opens). Those books cannot be had in the US as ebooks, so they will need to be delisted as well.
Now do you see why I don't like this idea?
And with this new policy, IndieCommerce will offer a poor selection of books compared to B&N, Amazon, or anyone. How does that help the bookstores, exactly?
Folks, IndieCommerce was conceived as a way to give customers a chance to support their local bookstore while buying online. If this new principle is fully applied, IndieCommerce won't exist to support local bookstores anymore. It will be turned into a program which is dedicated to only selling the same content in both paper and digital. That sounds great, but I wanted to give my local bookstore some of my money.
What do you think?