There are many commonly held beliefs in book world: that AAP stats reflect the entire industry, that Nielsen can accurately track ebook or print sales, that The Authors Guild represents authors, and that the American Bookseller Association is made up of and speaks for indie booksellers.
Two of these four beliefs have been conclusively disproven in the past few years; TAG has been discredited as a publishers’ puppet, and almost everyone now understands that the AAP’s revenue stats reflect less than half the book publishing industry.
Now it is time to reconsider the assumption that the ABA represents indie bookstores.
I was reading a post about online book-buying today on Richard Hollick’s blog when he mentioned a post of mine before adding:
The DR’s objection is that the ABA are not really trying to sell books — but maybe that’s intentional. After all they are the organization representing independent bookstores, and they are quite explicit about wanting to “train” customers who visit the IndieBound site to go to an independent bookstore. I see no reason why they shouldn’t offer books to people at whatever price they want: their motivation is not primarily to sell, it’s to promote. If someone is generous enough to pay full price on-line, so what?
Richard repeats two common beliefs about the ABA, both of which are widely repeated but neither of which are true.
The first false belief is that the ABA speaks for indie booksellers. The second is that the IndieBound website is supposed to have something to do with indie booksellers.
Let’s take those in reverse order.
IndieBound is described as “a community of independent local bookstores”, which is not a good description. Rather than a gathering of indie bookstores, the site will only help you find ABA members.
If we search the site for indie bookstores in my area, for example, IndieBound will miss the several bookstores which I know for a fact are open while at the same time returning results which include the college bookstore at Mary Washington University and the Hudson newsstand at Dulles International Airport. The former is not independent, and the latter is not a bookstore (it’s also part of a chain).
Both of these retailers show up in the search because they are ABA members and not because they are indie bookstores.
As I explained back in July, the ABA may brand itself as representing indie booksellers but it will accept just about any type of retailer as a member. We can see that in the membership stats. At least twenty of the 51 ABA members in Virginia are not independent bookstores:
Four college bookstores in Virginia are ABA members, including two stores run by Follett. The membership roll also includes two online booksellers (one is just down the road from me) and an online retailer as well as the Marine Corps Association, three national parks, a toy store in Staunton, a museum, a community center, a holistic store, and five Hudson News airport concessions (actually around a dozen locations in five airports).
With a lot of bookstores not members of the ABA, and 40% of ABA members not bookstores, it is past time that everyone accepts the fact that the ABA’s branding doesn’t match up with reality.
Really, the ABA represents indie booksellers the same way The Authors Guild represents authors. Both claim to do so and they have had some success in getting the uninformed to repeat the meme, but in reality the facts do not support the claim.
In the case of The Authors Guild, we have an organization which repeatedly took positions which supported the book publishing industry and went against its member interests. It also repeatedly remained silent on critical issues like Penguin buying Author Solutions and using the vanity press to exploit authors.
It is not clear who the ABA really represents.
If one examines the group’s past actions, in particular its long-running hostility towards Amazon, one gets the impression that the ABA actually represents the legacy book publishing industry. The ABA’s amicus brief in the Apple Supreme Court appeal, and the ABA’s support of the bogus antitrust complaint against Amazon, both reinforce that impression.
To be fair, it is entirely possible that some ABA members might hate Amazon as much as the ABA. But do you really think that the national parks, newsstands, museums, or other organization which belong to the ABA really care about Amazon?
I doubt it.
So with a lot of bookstores passing on an ABA membership, and a lot of ABA members not actually being bookstores, who does the ABA really represent?
You tell me.