Amazon, B&N Buying Cutbacks Unnerve Publishers, Authors
Cuts in buying at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are unnerving many publishers and authors, as outlined in social media beginning last week and recently in Shelf Awareness communications with publishers and distributors. The cuts highlight the importance of independent bookstores as showcases for new books of all kinds.
In the case of Amazon, a range of publishers and distributors, including trade and academic presses, have said that the company began cutting back buying in the past several months, and in at least one case is negative for August. While there has been a drop in book sales at Amazon this year, an observer said, it is nowhere near as steep as the drop in orders--and might indicate another "deprioritization" of books, as happened early in the pandemic.
As for Barnes & Noble, the chain has cut back on hardcover purchases of fiction and nonfiction, adult and--most notably--children's and YA titles, intending to focus on frontlist with "proven" sales records. Trade paperbacks apparently are not included in the buying cutback.
Authors who learned of the change include Keah Brown, who said in a Twitter video that her new book, Sam's Super Seats, to be published today by Kokila, won't be stocked in any B&Ns because of the new policy that limits purchases to "the top 2% of books at your publishing house" for children's books.
Kalynn Bayron, whose The Vanquishers will be published on September 20 by Bloomsbury Children's Books, also wrote on Twitter that the book won't be carried by B&N. She said: "Marginalized authors already have the odds stacked against us. We claw and fight and scrap to get somewhere then have the rug pulled out from under us by one of the biggest booksellers in the game. This, on top of everything else, feels like too much to carry." She added, "I want to say that B&N booksellers have been incredibly supportive and it's partly because of them that my YA sales have been so good with B&N. This isn't their fault."
Kelly Yang said in a Twitter video about Key Player, the fourth book in her Front Desk series, to be published by Scholastic Press on September 6, that it, too, isn't being stocked by B&N. She noted that the policy would especially affect marginalized authors and ended, "We all deserve a chance to go for our dreams."
But apparently even authors with indisputable track records have been hurt by the B&N cutbacks. Last night, Jamie Ford, whose new novel, The Many Daughters of Afong Moy, published by Atria on August 2, is on many bestseller lists, said on Facebook that he stopped by a Seattle B&N to sign books and was told that the initial order was just three copies--in an area where his books have always sold well. Friends and fans reported seeing only a few if any copies at other B&Ns, and many said they found more copies at indie bookstores and Costco.
B&N CEO James Daunt told PW's Jim Milliot that returns on frontlist hardcover titles have run as high as 80% and so the company needs to "exercise taste and judgment. This is to buy less but, if it is done with skill, it is to sell more. Far from being just for proven authors, this will be to allow the new that is good to have the space and attention to find an audience.... Far from abandoning hardcovers, we are determined to sell these with more vigor and more invention. There is an irony, perhaps, that to do so we must exercise taste. We must champion the best and not simply pile up everything, irrespective of merit, and be content to sell very little of it."