When the LA Times Festival of Books unveiled their new website last week, many local booksellers were dismayed to discover that the site listed the authors who were participating, and linked to where each author's works could be found on Amazon.com.
As one bookseller put it: "I was alarmed to see the buy buttons and even more alarmed because so many local booksellers exhibit at the festival," said Mary Williams, events coordinator at Skylight Books.
Amazon is neither an exhibitor nor a sponsor of the festival, though they are in some ways a financial supporter. The book festival is an Amazon affiliate, and will earn a commission from any Amazon purchases made after you click that link.
This is the latest installment of a long running argument concerning whether (as one side would argue) one should support local bookstores or (as the other side would argue) make it easy for readers to buy books.
That is what many have asked for this past week:
Acting on its own, San Diego's Warwick's sent a letter directly to Festival organizers that said in part: "Why would a literary festival that celebrates the physical book allow a virtual retailer with no history at the festival to siphon off potential book sales? The festival is a huge undertaking for independent stores, many with limited resources, and the amount of preparation required to order books, facilitate load-in logistics and staff the booths is both costly and physically challenging. With a simple click of the mouse, the "buy" button on the festival website sends sales to Amazon thereby giving this online retailer an unprecedented and unfair advantage."
Both SCIBA and Warwick's have asked the Festival at least to provide an equal affiliate opportunity for IndieBound, for book buyers who want to purchase from an independent bookseller.
This blogger is usually not one to take sides in this argument, though I am on the side of readers, but in this case I think that the booksellers do have a point in that the book festival erred in linking to Amazon.com.
Let’s see. I’m an author who lives in Tucumcari and I link to Tucumcari Books and Tackle from my website.
Of course, everybody knows there are neighborhoods on the web and all the people in Tucumcari spend almost all of their time in the Tucumcari web neighborhood checking out the latest news at Tucumcari High School, home of the Fighting Rattlers, and the city council meeting schedule. So most of the visitors to my author website will be within easy traveling distance of Tucumcari Books and Tackle and will go there to buy my books.
Anybody who lives in New York and, by mistake, wanders into the Tucumcari web neighborhood will, of course want to buy my books from Tucumcari Books and Tackle because TBT always stocks copies of all my books at prices far below the publisher’s list price and will ship anywhere in two days at no charge.
Ebooks? TBT has great iPhone and Android apps that let me download any ebook I want in seconds at really low prices, sometimes even free.
One could perhaps argue that the book festival should link to a central site where readers from all over could search for and find their local bookstore. This is a good idea, and there is a page for this on the American Bookseller Association's website.
Unfortunately, the ABA's search page simply does not work, rendering this suggestion moot. Also, it does not include all bookstores in the US, much less the world, so even if it did work this would not be an ideal solution.
At this point I am sure many readers will assume that by eliminating the alternatives the only option left is to link to Amazon so readers can find and buy an author's books.
Well, no, and here is where both the book festival and the local booksellers got it wrong. While it's simply not practical for the book festival to find all of the sites where each author's works are for sale, much less crowd the page with links, there is a better option.
The book festival's long term goal is a literary focus (more so than a commercial focus), and as such it should promote book culture, reading, and all that jazz. The goal should be to connect readers with authors, not to connect readers with retailers.
In short, the book festival's true error was not that they linked to Amazon, but that they neglected to link to each author's website. This is an unfortunate oversight, but luckily it is also one which can readily be repaired.
This would not only resolve the bookseller's complaint about linking to Amazon, it would also better serve the purpose of the book festival and it would be more useful to readers. Of course, most of those authors also link to Amazon first, but that is another matter.