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The B&N Ban

31 May 2013

From author William Kent Krueger:

I just learned that I can’t visit any Barnes and Noble store with the release of my upcoming novel Tamarack County, the thirteenth in the Cork O’Connor series.  There’s a spat going on between my publisher, Simon and Schuster, and the bookstore chain.  No Simon and Schuster author may visit any Barnes and Noble until further notice.  It has something to do with money, but nobody seems to know exactly what.

I’ve been setting up my tour for Tamarack County, which comes out on August 20.  I’d arranged two events at Barnes and Noble stores in the Twin Cities, two stores that have been strong supporters of my work from the beginning and that sell enormous quantities of my work.  Then I got the word from New York: No visits to B&N.

. . . .

Many S&S authors’ works are no longer being ordered or displayed.  I suspect this rift, which has been dragging on for months, has drastically affected my sales and the sales of other Simon and Schuster authors.  And I can’t help but think that the entity benefitting most from this kind of nonsense is Amazon.  Readers who can’t find authors at B&N and who have no local independent are going to pop onto the Internet and buy there, it seems to me.  Or they’re simply not going to buy at all.

Link to the rest at William Kent Krueger and thanks to Antoine  for the tip.

Big Publishing, Bookstores

49 Comments to “The B&N Ban”

  1. I think this is just an example of a legacy publishing nurturing its authors, is it not? Am I missing something?

    • I’d have used “servicing”, Barry, but they both work here. 🙂

    • LOL!

    • I’m sure Simon and Schuster thinks of this as part of their efforts to nurture authors. They are protecting authors from having to know anything about the hard-nosed realities of the business. Like small children, authors are expected to do what Daddy says without question.

    • LMAO

      I’ve noticed the “nurturing” surface of late as a value-add in many agent and legacy self-promo articles.

      Conversely, have seen every conceivable service needed to self-pub advertised by freelancers on scores of indie forums and blogs. But I haven’t seen a freelance/outsourced nurturing service yet? I thought you and Joe mentioned that in “Monkey”.

      Personally I think it’s a goldmine idea! Indies can pay for custom nurturing on an “as needed” basis and save money for when they don’t. It’s brilliant.

  2. As mentionned in the comments, we don’t know what happens behind the scene leading to this situation, and the same could happen (DO happen ?) between indie/self-publishers and Amazon for example…

    But still, here we have this author blocked in quite a bad situation…

    • No Simon and Schuster author may visit any Barnes and Noble until further notice.

      S&S showed some impressive foresight by getting that into a contract.

      • I was going to say, under what color of authority is this demand issued?

        Other than, “Eff with us and we’ll drop your contract,” which of course while always a viable threat does open one to some charges of acting in bad faith.

  3. And that’s what you get when you’re “employed” by a trad-publisher. Although employed is not a strong enough word for the relationship between publishers and their authors. Probably slave comes closer.

  4. If he’s this upset now, think how upset he’ll be when there is no Barnes & Noble to go to.

  5. I have to ask;

    What’s the penalty if he DOES show his face on BnN ground?

  6. And being in that situation due to forces outside his control in the first place, there is almost nothing he can do.

    He can’t pull the book and try another publisher.

    He can’t arrange his own book signings behind S&S’s back (even if B&N would let him) – it’s probably a contract violation, and would get him dumped anyway on future books.

    He can’t pull the book, wait a while, change the cover, and republish it in a better month.

    He can just wait while the steamroller flattens him.

    • Look on the bright side, his agent has yet to die and leave full control of all his contracts and royalties to an incompetent and indifferent relative.

      Oh. Wait, then life just gets worse.

    • He’ll get dumped anyway–S&S won’t remember this spat with B&N when they look at his book sales a year from now to determine if they want to buy another manuscript from him. They’ll see his numbers tanked and let him go.

  7. Ye gods,

    Where is a poor man to go while his wife shops for shoes?


  8. “Simon & Schuster vs. Barnes & Noble” sounds like a pretty sweet tag-team title match.

  9. I’m trying to remember… isn’t Simon and Schuster the pup who pulled all their books from Amazon a few years back in a spat over money? (Or was that Macmillan?)

    (Wanders off humming “when will they ever learn?”)

    • I thought it was Macmillan.

      • Patricia Sierra

        It did involve them, but I thought it was Amazon who quit offering their ebooks for sale ever so briefly due to a pricing dispute. I think this was the start of the publishers setting their own prices on Amazon.

  10. While I empathisize with this guy and writers caught up in this because I know how much it sucks to have people you’re in business with drop the ball and leave you holding the bag, I am tiring of the woe is me stuff. I’m pretty sick of hearing writers say “it’s not my fault my publisher screwed up the cover” or “didn’t edit my book well” or “didn’t distribute it properly” or “didn’t do the marketing they promised” or “slapped an absurdly high price on it.” It may not be your fault directly but you do bear responsibility for those results. You put your life in their hands, as it were, willingly. Writers need to remember, that book’s out there with your name in big bold letters on the cover, the publisher just had a tiny little logo on the spine. That means whatever problems there are, it’s going to directly reflect on you first, foremost and always. That makes all these things your responsibility. Suck it up and make better choices next time. Or keep playing the victim, signing your life away with no recourse and complaining when the folks you gave the right to speak for you make you look a fool. Doesn’t matter to me. I readily deal with the consequences of all my actions and choices. Its part of being a grown up.

  11. The one thing that bugs me the most about this is that this author is not a regular employee of Simon and Schuster.

    Unless it’s specifically in the contract that the author signed, then there’s nothing actually compelling the author to obey apart from the possibility of no longer getting business from S&S. So why should the author obey, when this action will damage their career and this kind of ongoing dispute will continue to damage their career? What motivation will they have to sign another contract with S&S, knowing that their response to a dispute in which the author is not involved is to use the author as leverage against the other party? They would have to measure the value of selling their future manuscripts to S&S versus this ongoing damage, and determine whether continuing their business relationship with S&S is worth it.

    S&S paid for a manuscript, not an author’s entire life and business – although I’m sure they like to think they did. They’ve no right to ask this and the fact that they do says a lot about their view of authors as a whole. “No Simon and Schuster author…” The language implies ownership of authors, if that was indeed the exact wording of their order.

    It’s worth noting that self-published authors could conceivably face something like this on Amazon, but Amazon’s business model is so fundamentally different from the traditional publishers that I’m pretty sure the comparison isn’t a valid one.

    So, legally speaking – and this is a question for PG, if anything – if such a provision is, in fact, in the author’s contract, and the author is not a regular employee but treated more like a supplier or a freelancer, would this be considered restraint of trade or something like it?

  12. My head is almost literally spinning trying to figure out Simon and Schuster’s rationale for weakening the only major print book seller in the United States.

    I’m not even thinking about the negative impact on authors at this point, does S&S have no concept of personal survival?

    I suspect someone is off their meds.

    That is the only possible reason I can come up with for S&S to make such a bone-headed, shoot-yourself-in-the-foot, pre-suicidal dive off a bridge.

    What are they thinking???????

    • The dispute is over the fact S&S doesn’t wish to pay the increased amount of money BN demands for prime book placement. While I’m certain S&S authors will be harmed, I don’t think S&S itself will be harmed nearly so much. They’ve determined they can stand to lose the sales more than BN (who is presumed to be raising placement rates because it needs the money).

    • They are thinking they are in charge. It’s going to be a sad, sad day in Bigpubville when they finally figure out they are not.

    • @ Blair – yes, I think you’re right – that’s probably how S&S is looking at it. But the reality is that Publishers NEED bookstores, and Barnes and Noble is it, at least in the U.S. Without print, they are pretty much completely dependent on Amazon, something most of them don’t want, and they risk becoming completely obsolete to writers.

      Barnes and Noble is struggling. It really makes no sense what S&S is doing.

      @ Jaye – Good point. But actually, they are in charge, right? In charge of making terrible decisions that make themselves even less relevant.

      They are nuts. That really is the only explanation. I just can’t comprehend what they are thinking. This crazy decision would be great fodder for a T.V. Movie of the Week about Corporate group insanity.

  13. The more I think about it, the more I realize it would be immoral for Kent and other similarly situated authors to step across the picket line S&S has set up. After all, as authors like Ann Patchett have argued, we’re all in this together, and when a publisher decides it would be best for its authors — indeed, for authors generally — for a bookseller to be put in its place, don’t we all owe it the publisher and indeed to all our fellow authors to accept the publishers decision and to obey it? Anything else would be selfish at best.

  14. William Kent Krueger

    I’m amazed at the discussion my small post has generated. And pleased. And also, I think some clarification may be necessary. What I’ve learned since I posted the account of my attempt to visit B&N with my new novel is that the stricture against B&N events comes not from my publisher, Simon and Schuster, but from Barnes and Noble. I suspect it’s a negotiating chip. That said, this a situation that those of us with traditional publishing houses are going to have to find a way to deal with. S&S is only the first of the major houses to face renewal of its co-op agreement with B&N. The other NY publishing houses will have their turn at the negotiating table.

    Most of my signing events are with independent bookstores anyway. And probably that’s where the real future of brick and mortar book selling lies. Maybe the moral is that we should all be supporting those folks better, as authors and readers, supporting them to the very best of our abilities.

    • Thanks for commenting, William. This is really interesting.

      This makes far more sense, though it’s not any less damaging to an author’s career. Say S&S come to an agreement with B&N and they let authors back in. What happens when an author who has already sold a book to, say, Random House arranges signings and Random House also plays hardball? Are they then excluded a second time?

      You have the right idea. Go to the independent bookstores, you’ll probably not have to deal with this kind of stuff. And good luck with your events, I hope you get lots of sales.

    • Yes, thank you for chiming in. That makes more sense.

  15. This guy will make more money selling on Amazon than at B&N anyway. B&N IS DYING AND SO IS THE NOOK!

  16. “Readers who can’t find authors at B&N and who have no local independent are going to pop onto the Internet and buy there, it seems to me.”

    And then all heck is going to break out, right?

  17. You know I was just on Neil Gaiman’s tumblr and a reader was extremely mad that his preorder of his book coming out in June from Barnes& Noble got cancelled. Mr. Gaiman, I believe he is with Harper Collins. Did they do the same thing?

  18. The thing I find interesting is that the author, not the publisher, had set up the signing tour which included B&N. Now the publisher is negating the author’s investment of time and energy by saying he can’t do the signing tour. I wonder how much writing time Mr. Kreuger lost setting up and then canceling these appearances.

  19. Serious question that perhaps PG or another lawyer might be able to answer. What if the author said to S&S “F” you and did his signing with books he arranged for through some devious means (like ordering)? From a legal perspective, would he be violating some weird clause in his contract? And would they abrogate his contract if he did visit a B&N? What exactly would be the legal penalties?

    • William’s Krueger’s clarification above obviously makes my comment totally irrelevant and another example of why waiting to get all the facts should be the norm rather than the exception. My Bad. Perhaps PG should wipe the whole thread so we can all start over now that we have a different set of assumptions.

  20. Keith – The publisher didn’t say the author can’t do the events – read above – corporate B&N cancelled the events their local stores set up.

    • DianeG – I posted before Mr. Krueger clarified the situation. The way his original wording read, it sounded like S&S had initiated the restriction on signing at B&N. I got the email notification of Mr. Krueger’s clarification about 3 1/2 hours after my comment appeared. I don’t know why the times listed here say my comment was posted later than his unless his was held up for approval. Any thoughts on this, PG?

      Frankly, the fact that B&N initiated this is less surprising to me than the publisher doing so. It seems to the be sort of shoot yourself in the foot approach B&N has taken lately.

  21. So that’s why Wicked As She Wants wasn’t in the local B&N when I went to buy it. (They had the first book in that world, but that may’ve been from before the spat started.) That said, they ordered it for me, and with my spouse’s membership card (which I didn’t even have, but I had his name and phone number), it was delivered without need of shipping & handling. Local B&N store = great! Rest of B&N = could fall off a cliff…

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