Dog-Eared and Dispatched: September 8, 2013In this week’s news, Native American author Sherman Alexie has become the figurehead of “Indie First,” a campaign to support independent bookstores by having authors agree to hand-sell their books at these venues for a day. The American Booksellers Association immediately went to work assisting Alexie on this quest, building a webpage where authors and booksellers can add their name to the list of participants. The ABA was simultaneously hard at work drafting a letter to Jeff Bezos in response to the flip-flop nature of Amazon’s views on sales tax fairness laws. As the ABA was sending this letter Bezos’ way, the Amazon founder was entering the front doors of The Washington Post for his two-day conference with Post staffers, during which time he addressed (in somewhat vague, buzzword terms) some of his goals for the paper’s transformation under his helm. Lastly, Judge Denny Chin denied the request for appeal submitted by the Authors Guild, sparking further discussion about just why this particular case has such a long shelf life.
Sherman Alexie made book culture headlines this week by proposing the creation of “Indies First” day on November 30 (known in the retail world as “Small Business Saturday”). On this day, authors would be encouraged to hand-sell their books at local independent bookstores. Alexie credited Janis Segress, co-owner of Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, for originating the idea after she made Alexie “bookseller-for-a-day” during the store’s grand re-opening in April. The American Booksellers Association responded with enthusiasm to Alexie’s announcement, sharing the letter he wrote to fellow authors and creating a webpage where authors and booksellers can sign-up to be part of the campaign. “We book nerds will become booksellers,” Alexie wrote. “We will make recommendations. We will practice nepotism and urge readers to buy multiple copies of our friends’ books. Maybe you’ll sign and sell books of your own in the process. I think the collective results could be mind-boggling (maybe even world-changing).” [Shelf Awareness, American Booksellers Association]
Amazon Executive Chief Jeff Bezos paid a visit to his newly acquired newspaper, The Washington Post, on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 3-4. While admitting that he doesn’t know the solution to the newspaper industry’s current downward trend, he is nevertheless optimistic about the opportunity to usher in a ” golden era” for The Post. Striking a triangle to announce his arrival, Bezos spent the two-day visit meeting with staff members, attending editorial meetings, and answering questions posed by Post employees. Naturally, one of the biggest inquiries on everyone’s mind is just how drastically the tone of The Post will change in relation to this new ownership. “It’s entirely legitimate for an owner to have an editorial page that reflects his world view,” Editorial Editor Fred Hiatt remarked. “Some owners don’t want to get involved, some work through the publisher, and some are very [directly] involved. I got the sense that he’s still in exploring mode.” One of Bezos’ initial goals for the paper is the need to establish a stronger sense of growth and youthfulness, going on to note that the “Rewrite Problem” and the “Debundling Problem” were two of the biggest obstacles currently facing the newspaper industry. His suggestion for greater prosperity? Sell digital news in a bundle form. By doing so, Bezos said, The Post caters to its “loyal readers” versus those who stumble upon the article while surfing the Internet. Post writer Timothy B. Lee disagreed with this idea, stating, “The problem with the ‘bundle’ strategy, then, is that it encourages writers to think small. It asks them to cater to the hundreds of thousands of people who read The Post every day, ignoring the vastly larger universe of readers who might be enticed to visit the site from elsewhere on the web.” [The Washington Post, MediaBistro]
While Bezos was busy courting The Post, the ABA was crafting a letter of disapproval to the Amazon founder regarding the company’s petition to overturn the sales tax fairness law in New York. In his letter, ABA CEO Oren Teicher juxtaposes Amazon’s professed desire for e-fairness with its inequitable business practices: “Even your staunchest competitors acknowledge that Amazon offers a lot of choice. And everyone understands the appeal of selection when it comes to products. But Amazon is offering a confusing set of choices about exactly where it stands regarding fair competition and the best way to ensure an even playing field regarding sales tax collection. I don’t think you can have it both ways.” Amazon has yet to respond. [American Booksellers Association, Shelf Awareness, Publisher’s Weekly]
The Authors Guild was denied their request to delay the proceedings of their eight-year-long copyright case against Google. While many sideline observers to this lawsuit question its longevity when all that needed to be said seems to have been said, James Grimmelmann of Publisher’s Weekly put forth several keen observations, noting that “for the Authors Guild, going after Google is a matter of principle. The suit reflects a common sentiment among copyright owners: that Google is getting rich in a business that involves copyrighted content, so, therefore, a part of that profit is rightly theirs. But unlike in the now-settled publishers’ suit, the emphasis is on “rightly” rather than on “profit.” What the Authors Guild seeks is a judicial declaration of authorial power, an official statement from the courts recognizing the proper place of arts and letters in our national culture.” [Publisher’s Weekly]