The publishing industry is full of surprises, and the latest conflict is certainly surprising. In an attempt to negotiate the terms of its relationship with a publisher, book retailer Barnes and Noble has reportedly slashed its order from Simon and Schuster in what some feel may be nothing more than retaliation.
According to an article by Leslie Kaufman for the New York Times, the negotiations amount to wanting more money for titles that the retailer stocks in prominent–and historically sought after–display space. The amount, size, and even inch-by-inch proximity of display space in physical stores has always been a hotly contested bargaining chip in contract negotiations between agents, publishers, and booksellers.
While the involved parties interviewed in Kaufman’s piece had to speak on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing negotiations, executives from both Barnes and Noble and Simon & Schuster were quoted about their standard policies for this type of contract issue. However, more vocal opponents of the tensions included two literary agents who spoke about the impact this can have on authors, especially lesser known authors who rely on every possible avenue for book discovery, including physical bookstores’ display space.
According to Kaufman’s article, “Laura Gross, the literary agent for the best-selling author Jodi Picoult, said the dispute had certainly hurt sales of her client’s latest book, The Storyteller. Barnes & Noble has ‘taken limited orders, limited placement, and did not do the normal outreach to their customers online, which really hurt,’ Ms. Gross said.”
An author with the branding and readership that Jodi Picoult has can probably come away from a situation like these negotiations with her sales intact, as evidenced by her #1 NYT spot for her latest print release, but as Gross pointed out in the article, debut and newer authors stand to lose a lot in sales and fan growth, which will only perpetuate the cycle of bookstore and publisher demise. With dire predictions for the state of major publishers and with reports that physical bookstores are continuing to make cuts to floor space and retail locations, it doesn’t seem like a good time to alienate one’s allies.