In one of the most insensitive, wrong-headed and self-important decisions that a publisher has made in the last 15 years, the small, independent and formerly progressive publisher Chelsea Green has managed to turn its prime book selling allies into enemies. Perhaps more amazingly, the press has managed to unite Barnes & Noble and independent book stores around the country in their ire at Chelsea Green's unfair business practice.
Chelsea Green has given Amazon.com a three-week exclusive on its new book The Obama Challenge by Robert Kuttner. The book was to be released on September 15th, but Chelsea Green thought it was too important to wait that long. Nothing less than the fate of the nation itself hinges on delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Denver buying a pro-Obama book, according to publisher Margo Baldwin. So, attendees will receive 25% off coupons for the book on Amazon when they arrive in Denver on August 25th. Kuttner's book, which details what Obama's policies should be after taking office, actually seems more fitting to release closer to the election.
What's so amazing about this whole deal is that Chelsea Green has a bold initiative to woo independent bookstores. The Boulder Book Store, along with nearly 40 other independents around the country, is a Green Partner with the press. The Green Partner stores are committed to buying their titles non-returnable, working with Chelsea Green on publicity and author events and for basically waving the same progressive flag as high as possible.
We were one of the first stores in the program along with Denver's great independent book store Tattered Cover. Did it never occur to Chelsea Green just how detrimental distributing 15,000 coupons for our prime competitor in our community could be? Wouldn't a true partner work on a way to drive that business into our stores? Or, perhaps more realistically, allowed us along with Barnes & Noble and Borders to compete on a level playing field with Amazon?
It's interesting that a press like Chelsea Green that has published so many progressive books, including Naomi Wolf's End of America and George Lakoff's Don't Think of An Elephant, would resort to backdoor dealings and cronyism that would make Dick Cheney proud. Instead of trying to live Barack Obama's message, which at its core is about fairness and opportunity, Chelsea Green went for a blatant money grab that would embarrass the most hardened Republicans.
Chelsea Green is blinded by their laughable hubris and the idea that somehow one book from a small press can really change the world overnight. In the end, they've inadvertently started a change in the publishing world that if it takes hold, will make the market a much more inhospitable place to the very stores Chelsea Green relies on to sell their quirky progressive books .
I'm not sure where we go from here with Chelsea Green. We've canceled our order of the book in protest, although if customers start requesting it, we will pick it up. We were planning to feature it on our recommended titles display. The future of our relationship with Chelsea Green is much more troubling. We've basically given them favored publisher status over the past two years. We've taken chances on many of their books that we wouldn't have from other publishers, we've accepted a non-returnable discount that is a few points short of what we'd really like, all in the hopes of making a small difference in our community.
We partnered with them because the books they publish match the political beliefs and lifestyle choices of our customers better than perhaps any press out there. They publish books about strengthening local communities and dealing with global warming. But their business practices and insensitivity (they still don't seem to realize how they stabbed their Green Partners in the back) belies the content of the books they publish. It makes it almost impossible to do business with them. At the very least, we will need to get out of our partnership with them. To do any less would be setting ourselves up for future pain. Say it ain't so, Chelsea.
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