International Bon Vivant and Raconteur (nick_kaufmann) wrote,
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur

How Can We Rip You Off? Let Us Count the Ways!

There are a lot of ways the book business is trying to take advantage of the dreams and naivete of self-published and subsidy-published writers. We've seen companies like Harlequin try to monetize the slush pile with their Horizons program, and we've seen Kirkus Reviews charge self- and subsidy-published authors for reviews on their separate website Kirkus Discoveries. Don't expect this to end any time soon, not as long as there's money coming in from writers who have fallen for the con, and don't expect the fleecing to stop there. Now, according to a Harvard journalism website, bookstores are starting to reach into these writers' wallets too.

The “Recommended” section at the Boulder Book Store, an independent bookseller in Colorado, features a mix of titles and genres. And also: a mix of distribution models. Among the traditionally published works on display stand a smattering of print-on-demand titles — many of them being sold on consignment by authors from the Boulder area.

There's nothing wrong with selling on consignment. We see it with zines and homemade comics all the time. The store assumes little to no risk other than the loss of a little shelf space, and the creator scores some distribution (usually local, but that's often where success starts anyway). When copies sell, the store keeps a percentage of the income and gives the rest to the creator. It actually works pretty well for a lot of people.

Except, that's not how the Boulder Book Store is structuring their particular consignment model. Not by a long shot.

[Authors] paid for the privilege. The store charges its consignment authors according to a tiered fee structure: $25 simply to stock a book (five copies at a time, replenished as needed by the author for no additional fee); $75 to feature a book for at least two weeks in the “Recommended” section; and $125 to, in addition to everything else, mention the book in the store’s email newsletter, feature it on the Local Favorites page of the store’s website for at least 60 days, and enable people to buy it online for the time it’s stocked in the store.

Putting aside my rather naive shock that authors and publishers can buy their way into the "Recommended" section--publishers have been paying for placement at chain bookstores for over a decade now, at least, but that's not quite the same to me as paying to be a supposed staff recommendation--the Boulder Bookstore's plan still strikes me as egregious. Charging the author for shelf space is the equivalent of saying, "We don't expect your book to sell at all, but we still want to make money off you." Oh, did I mention they also get a 40% cut of the income if a consignment book does sell?

By the way, the fee structure doesn't top out at $125.

And for $255 — essentially, the platinum package — the store will throw in an in-store reading and book-signing event.

Yup. If you're a self- or subsidy-published author, the Boulder Bookstore will be happy to have you do a signing, so long as you pay them up front for the privilege.

“Most people will come in at one of the higher fee amounts,” Arsen Kashkashian, the store’s head buyer and the architect of the program, told me. “That surprised us.” In fact, when the store first began charging its consignment authors back in 2007 (the fee-structure idea emerged when the store’s employees found themselves “inundated with self-published books, and there was a lot of work involved and not much reward”), its staff “thought people would grumble and complain” about the charges. But authors, Kashkashian says, have been generally grateful for the opportunity to sell and promote work that might otherwise be seen and appreciated only by their friends/spouses/moms: “‘I want the marketing, I want the exposure. I worked so hard on this project, and you guys are the only ones who could help me with it.’”

There, nestled between the parentheses above, is what this is all about. They were inundated with self- and subsidy-published books that didn't pay off, so they decided that rather than simply manning up and saying no to these authors, they would start charging them money for shelf space. And what makes it worse is that authors have jumped at the opportunity, as if the Boulder Bookstore is doing them a favor rather than draining their wallets. Once again, folks, the rule of thumb is that money flows to the writer. Memorize it.

It's worth reading the rest of the article too. My outrage at this scenario may seem overblown--after all, these authors made their own decisions--but to me it represents just another way that writers are being taken advantage of. And it's yet another reason to avoid the self- and subsidy-publishing route altogether. Because once you start paying money to be an author, the only thing that happens is more and more people show up with their hands out and with false promises of making your dreams come true.
Tags: writing
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