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Why Can’t We Be Friends?

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PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2016

by Lynn Rosen, IBPA Independent consulting editor


Lynn Rosen

I’ve enjoyed getting to know your vibrant indie publisher community in the past year while serving as the editor of this magazine. I admire your drive, your commitment, and your talent.

In addition to being an editor, I co-own an independent bookstore, and it has struck me how much our two communities have in common. We may be small but, bit by bit, we are building communities around what we’re doing, be it book publishing or bookselling, and we are making it work, often in new and innovative ways.

Despite our similarities, one very big thing stands between us: Amazon. Why are these two strong, vibrant, hardworking, somewhat underdog communities so different in their approach to Amazon?

To indie publishers, Amazon represents opportunity. It’s a large, easily accessible marketplace with a wide reach. Amazon has a number of programs for authors, including self-publishing platforms. It’s author-friendly.

To indie booksellers, Amazon is an obstacle. The prevalent feeling in our community is vehemently anti-Amazon because, to put it bluntly, it’s trying to put us out of business. Will that be good for you if and when that happens?

While many of you relish the sales opportunities provided by Amazon, you also bemoan what you perceive as the lack of support for your titles at indie bookstores. Maybe you think you wouldn’t miss us because we don’t sell your books anyway. But I’d like to find a way we can come closer together, given our similar philosophies.

From my perspective, I need indie authors to get to know how my systems work. This issue talks about making your books, as Kwame Alexander advised, “look like everyone else’s,” so they can compete in the marketplace. Equally important is how they are sold. Indie authors, do you have a standardized discount? One author recently handed me a $10 book to sell. “I usually get at least a 40 percent discount,” I said. She looked at me sadly and said, “But I paid $5.50 to have it printed.” I understand you’ve made a big investment, but you need to price your books with standard terms in mind. Set up a system of regular invoicing and don’t expect me to do the paperwork and bill you for copies sold.

When a traditional book sales rep makes a sales call, they walk into my store prepared. They know what my store looks like and what categories are strong for me. They come in ready to make a case for every book they pitch and how it will benefit me to carry that book. So many indie authors haven’t researched my store, and they act like they’re asking me to do them a favor by carrying their book. I’d like to do them a favor, but that’s not my business model.

This fall, I’m planning a festival for local indie authors, and I know a number of other stores that also do that. We’re working to create programs that support you. Help us do that. Let’s work together on this. Amazon may be your friend for now, but you need to get to know me, too.


Lynn Rosen is co-owner of the indie Open Book Bookstore in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Rosen was previously editorial director of Book Business magazine and director of Graduate Publishing Programs at Rosemont College. She is the author of ELEMENTS OF THE TABLE: A SIMPLE GUIDE FOR HOSTS AND GUESTS and currently serves as editorial consultant for the IBPA INDEPENDENT magazine.

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