Over the past few days, it has been widely reported that Barnes & Noble (B&N) has significantly reduced the number of Simon & Schuster titles it carries in its stores due to a financial dispute between the two companies. While the disagreement covers a bevy of issues, the one that is getting the most attention involves co-op. For those who may not be in the know, co-op is the money publishers give to retailers to cover certain marketing costs, the most coveted being front-of-store display. Publishers Lunch reported that “the company has proposed ‘showroom’ fees that would replace conventional co-op—and cost publishers exponentially more than they pay the chain in promotional fees and discounts.” Publishers Lunch went on to explain: “The new fees, as it has been explained to us, would charge for the overall promotional value of the benefits of displaying in the B&N ‘showrooms.’”
What the above statement indicates is that Barnes & Noble may be attempting to charge publishers not only for traditional co-op (which usually means display on the New Releases table, Mother’s Day table, etc.), but also for giving books any shelf space at all, including spine out. Simply put, Barnes & Noble can’t sustain a model whereby consumers use their stores as showrooms, then order books from a competitor such as Amazon.
While I’m sure there will be much more news on the dispute between Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster, it’s important to highlight what it means for authors and readers:
Finding your favorite author may not be so easy
Right now, readers will have a tougher time finding their favorite Simon & Schuster authors in stock at Barnes & Noble, no matter where they look in the store. This holds true for New York Times best-selling author Jodi Picoult to lesser-known midlist authors. M.J. Rose, a popular Simon & Schuster author, compiled a list of books readers may not find at Barnes & Noble.
Readers may or may not take their business elsewhere
Assuming Barnes & Noble would like to stay in business, it is somewhat baffling that they would deny their customers certain books that they would buy. Yet it does make sense for publishers to offer stronger support to this big retailer, considering the continuing value of having a physical book in a place where readers can discover it.
Consider the amount of shelf space and sales lost when Borders went out of business—which in turn led to publishers being more conservative when printing books. Borders was in trouble for a long time, but when it finally closed its doors, many communities lost the only bookstore they had. If the same were to happen with Barnes & Noble, even more communities would be left without a bookstore, which means fewer books would have an opportunity to be discovered…and bought. One could argue that Amazon is a viable alternative, but they have not created a model that simulates the browsing and discovery experience in a physical bookstore. (It goes without saying that independent bookstores are absolutely open for business and a great place to find the books by Simon & Schuster authors affected by the current situation with Barnes & Noble.)
Both sides have work to do
Both Barnes & Noble and book publishers are experiencing fiscal problems and will do whatever is necessary to protect their financial interests so they can continue selling books. For publishers, the most fundamental issue is this: too many books are published. For Barnes & Noble, the issue of how they merchandise is a key factor if they want more money from publishers. Walk into any of their stores, and you must get through a fortress of non-book items before you can (ideally) browse in peace. There is not a simple solution, but neither business can be sustained if nothing changes.
How the affected authors should proceed
I do not represent any Simon & Schuster authors at the moment, but if I did, I would advise them to do the following:
Unite: Support one another, promote each other’s work on social media, blogs, Goodreads, and at events.
Get creative: Do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, host a Spreecast chat, learn how to use the Vine video app on Twitter, create a hashtag on Twitter to identify yourself as part of the group affected (something like #SSAuthorsUnite could work well).
Promote your Facebook posts: A little money goes a long way when you do this. If you have an author page on Facebook, promote posts about your book and where to find it during the Barnes & Noble author blackout.
Think about the long tail of your book: Yes, losing sales stinks. No, Bookscan numbers don’t lie. Your book is not just “now,” though, and neither is your career. Control the things you can control. Contrary to popular belief, a book is not dead two weeks after publication. Market saturation takes time, so use it wisely and think about some of the aforementioned suggestions to promote your book.
Find out how much support you are receiving from your independent bookstore and local library: If they aren’t carrying copies of your book, ask your agent/editor what needs to change to make that happen.
Try to keep it positive on social media: While your first inclination may be to call out Barnes & Noble or your publisher … don’t do it. Remember, you want to remain in good standing with both. Even though the situation is beyond frustrating, taking things to a negative place will not help anyone.
Hire a publicist: This may not be in your budget, but it might be worth talking to a freelance book publicist for ideas on how to best handle your online profile as the situation plays out. Some publicists charge a consultation fee; others do not. Talk to other writers and ask for referrals.
The battle between Barnes & Noble and book publishers is just beginning. Hopefully, a compromise will be made that benefits everyone, authors and readers included. In the meantime, create a plan of action and stick with it. There is no downside to trying.