This is a special guest blog post written by Hans Weyandt. Hans has sold books in the Twin Cities since 1999. In 2003, he and Tom Bielenberg bought Micawber's Books from Norton Stillman.
People are frequently surprised (or bothered) that I'm not opposed to publishers selling direct to customers. Here's, some of, why: I understand the reality that everyone in this business is trying to do what they need to do to keep it going. One thing the music industry got wrong was thinking that Napster was stealing sales. Well, it was stealing sales in part, but it was also generating sales that didn't previously exist. People found out about new songs/bands from their friends. The situation isn't identical with books but it's similar enough. For the most part, I simply don't believe that a publisher who sells a book to a customer has 'stolen' that sale from a bookstore. Even if it has been 'stolen' it's probably book dollars that would have gone to Amazon if you're the betting sort.
Publishers have a responsibility to their books and authors—if they can sell books directly to readers they should. My thinking is that more book sales are good for everyone involved. I absolutely believe that reading begets more reading. It's also why I have to laugh when people call libraries our competition. Seriously? Libraries are our friends.
There are two exceptions to this line of thinking for me. We have had publishers ask about sales of a specific book. When given the number they are disappointed because it seems low. When a publisher focuses on selling a specific title from their website, and sell it at a big discount, it only stands to reason that some local sales will be lost. Or the publisher better hope so, or their message isn't getting across.
The second is when publishers do some type of big sale around the holidays. I understand the thinking that from Thanksgiving through the end of the year it's the last and best chance to move some product. Offering it at 40-50% off list price puts stores at a significant disadvantage. In the end, 40% is 40%. It doesn't matter if that is from Amazon or direct from the publisher. We can't compete when customers are buying books for the same price—or less—than we are.