Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored


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by Pat Holt

Friday, March 22, 2002


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Well! If you still feel a lingering regret that the ABA lawsuit against Barnes & Noble and Borders was settled too quickly - that the dirty tricks, predatory tactics and under-the-table deals perpetrated by chain bookstores were never fully aired for public viewing - let me introduce you to Walter Kuralt.

PW Daily (Weds. 3/20) covered the eye-opening facts of the suit by Kuralt's multiple independent (i.e., small chain), Intimate Bookshop, against the big chain book superstores, Barnes & Noble and Borders.

But the article did not send us to the first of *dozens* of website pages in which Kuralt and his attorney Carl Person get so mad their blood is a'boilin'. There they spell out the details of charges against the chains and what these charges mean to the larger picture of American retail.

Even though we know this stuff! - we've been through it a hunnert times! - you may feel your own blood boiling anew by clicking over to http://www.lawmall.com/rpa/rpa_whk1.html and seeing how Kuralt sets up the structure for discussion and then goes in for the kill.

He explains what he calls a "national disaster" perpetrated by "the Wal-Marts and Mega-Malls in America" so he can then describe "the 'DNA' factors favoring the national chains" that have created the many slippery slope down which chain book superstores have found a way - and certainly not a pretty way - to flourish.

While the ABA has done a pretty good job telling what it believes independent bookstores legally could reveal during its lawsuit at http://www.bookweb.org/m-bin/by_topic?topic_id=30&skip=11, I can't tell you how riveting and what a relief it is to watch Kuralt charge in with a blasting cap and explode the landscape, so to speak - to name every single example of "discriminatory payments, fees, rebates, chargebacks, allowances" and so forth Kuralt believes gives chain stores an edge.

This list of charges is very long, stunningly so, and one's eyes may glaze over because Kuralt is intent on listing the payments and benefits all stores are offered as well as those grabbed, often illegally, he believes, by chain stores alone. But scroll down it quickly and you'll get an idea of the depth of criminality that all lawsuits against chains are trying to address:

From their vendors, Kuralt says, chain stores are given the following:

  • Freight allowances
  • Freight allowances beyond stated terms
  • Discounted retail price, as shown on the invoice
  • Extra discount, whether shown on invoice or not
  • "Co-op" funds allowed
  • "Co-op" funds exceeding costs of advertising
  • Special discounts for the initial stock of books ordered
  • Special discounts for initial stock, though not offered to others
  • Free books
  • Free books not offered to others
  • Free freight
  • Free freight, though not offered to others
  • Extra "dating" in paying the bills
  • Extra "dating" in paying the bills, though not offered to others
  • Extra co-op advertising funds to help the grand opening
  • Extra co-op advertising funds to help the grand opening, though not offered others
  • Special allowances for fixtures
  • Special allowances for fixtures, though not offered to others
  • Special author appearances to help promote the grand opening
  • Extra discounts, for retail distribution center (RDC)
  • Extra discounts, for (RDC), though not offered to others
  • Allowances to cover re-shipping from the RDC to the retail stores
  • "Statistical allowance," fee applied for presumed errors in shipping, without having to verify and claim each instance, whether offered to others or not
  • Extra fee for returns consolidation, whether offered to others or not
  • Extra incentives for keeping purchases high, whether offered to others or not
  • Extra incentives for keeping returns low, whether offered to others or not
  • "Special deals," whether offered to others or not
  • Access to "shared markdowns," whether offered to others or not
  • Access to remainders whether offered to others or not
  • Access to "hurt" books whether offered to others or not
  • Large "settlements" of payables, favoring certain purchasers, whether offered to others or not
  • Cash discounts for payment, whether offered to others or not
  • Special "check-swapping" procedures, whether offered to others or not
  • Special services, such as special carton-marking, whether offered to others or not
  • Special services, such as early shipping of important titles, whether offered to others or not
  • Extended terms taken by defendants, without having shipments "held," whether offered to others or not
  • Special terms such that chains never actually own any merchandise, not offered to others
  • Use of chargebacks taken for co-op, rather than normal terms, whether offered to others or not
  • Co-op granted without verification of service, whether offered to others or not
  • Disguising of freight charges, whether offered to others or not
  • Payments for purchaser's sales information, whether offered to others or not
  • Access to information regarding competitors, whether offered to others or not
  • Much special attention from sales reps, whether offered to others or not
  • Special access to publishing officials, whether offered to others or not
  • Allowing huge returns without penalty, whether offered to others or not

  • Allowing fraudulent chargebacks to be made without penalty, whether offered to others or not
  • Special (unauthorized) large discounts for early payment, without requiring that they be repaid, whether offered to others or not
  • Reserving inventory of certain titles for the chain, not offered to independents
  • Special publication of titles exclusively for the chain store
  • "Trade acceptances," offered to chains and not to independents - a no-interest, no-pay line of credit
  • And more.

It's the at-a-glance aspect of this list that I wish could be publicized to the general public (not by independent bookstores [may sound like whining! don't want that!] but by the national press) so that people can understand the huge range and significance of issues that are at stake for all of us.

Kuralt then goes on to "approaches to solutions", an explanation of the Robinson-Patman Act, a look at what would happen "if all national chain store companies were required to observe the law" (another great eye-opener), a step-by-step guide through which retailers can band together "to stop superstore chains from opening up new stores" (it's not over with such things as ABA settlements, he says - "the time to act is now"), and links to still more websites and webpages, including one devoted to his own "action" against Barnes & Noble and Borders.

This last is terrific not only for its detail in documenting Kuralt's suit but for links to 30 *more* websites ranging from Federal Trade Commission "Guides for Advertising Allowances and Other Merchandising Payments and Services" (in case the reader wants to sue) to court declarations by Person, Kuralt and family.

Missing is a statement by Kuralt's late brother, CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt, but I bet everybody's favorite roving reporter is cheering from wherever he's currently on location to say Kuralt V. B&N and Borders would make a great story, newly revisted, for a public that really wants to know.

Meanwhile thanks to Kuralt and Person, a couple of independents who won't say no, at least in getting the word out as more and more chain book superstores mow down the American landscape.



How great to see that yesterday Air Canada reversed its decision (announced after the events of September 11) to ban Salman Rushdie as a passenger and allow the controversial author to fly on the airline once again.

The reason for the ban was a requirement that Air Canada thought the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration was enforcing - that is, that extra security measures for Rushdie had to be provided on any airplane he boarded. This, Air Canada had said, would "greatly inconvenience" other passengers, so to heck with it - Rushdie was banned from every Air Canada flight in the world.

But yesterday the ban was rescinded, perhaps because the Air Canada learned that in January "the FAA issued a directive to all carriers indicating that in fact there is no restriction on Mr. Rushdie's travel," according to a release from the author's publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

It's interesting that amid all the profiling and counter-profiling going on at airports (see LETTERS below), it apparently takes a great deal of pressure to make an airline like Air Canada change its policy about a single individual like Rushdie.

Meantime, the return to "normalcy" at U.S. airports now includes easy curbside check-ins and breeze-by security stations for many passengers. At least it's nice to know that the world's most controversial author no longer has to bear the brunt of yet another poorly thought-out security procedure. Let's hope he's already read "Hayduke Lives" (see #275).



Dear Holt Uncensored,

We'd like to respond to Monday's letter from Barb Wieser of Amazon Bookstore, in which she found Publishers Weekly's review of "King & King" misleading in its recommendation of another book about diversity. We'd like to quote briefly, in part, from a letter we have sent to Ms. Wieser.

Our review of "King & King" states: "For a visually appealing and more nuanced treatment of diversity in general, Kitty Crowther's recent "Jack and Jim" is a better choice." The review does not suggest that this is another book that deals with a same-sex relationship, but that it deals with diversity. Our Sept. 25, 2000, review of "Jack and Jim" stated, "This gentle, allusive tale might be a parable about race, immigration, friendship or romance, and that rich ambiguity is its strongest suit." The review of "King & King" does not suggest "Jack and Jim" as a replacement or as a better book on the subject of same-sex relationships, simply as a "visually appealing and more nuanced treatment of diversity in general."

Publishers Weekly has always reviewed books that deal with homosexuality, sometimes recommending them and sometimes not recommending them, but we critique them on the basis of their literary merits, just as we would any other book. Since there is a dearth of strong books on homosexuality for this age group, and since we could not recommend this title, our intention was to suggest another recent book that deals with diversity in relationships in general.

Diane Roback and Jennifer Brown
Publishers Weekly

Dear Holt Uncensored:

I read the comment about the dark skinned daughter and airport security. I would like to note that my blond, Midwest, corn-fed daughter (as northern European as you can get) was stopped and searched completely three times for just one flight. Her impression was that it had nothing to do with skin color; it had to do with the opportunity for men to stop and chat up pretty girls without penalty under the guise of doing their job for airport security. I am wondering if that daughter's frequent stops is more a tribute to her beauty rather than her possible ethnic identity. Alfred Post

Holt responds: Anna Quindlen, in the current (3/18) Newsweek, says she decided to write about this phenomenon after she was taken out of line twice, "patted down, wanded and, not to be coy, generally felt up" while going through security at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. She suggests that a counter-profiling approach is underway: "The airlines are terrified of being accused of profiling, and paying special attention to people who are not the faintest risk as a security threat is one way to defuse that charge." Gee, it almost sounds like a checkers game with human figures - you take the whites ... But it also reveals a familiar floundering among security institutions that doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. "Airport security is a mess," says Quindlen. What passenger would disagree?

Dear Holt Uncensored: Since you labeled George W. Bush's hitman, Attorney General John Ashcroft, the righteous fascist he is, the same thought rattled my mind when I heard his televised response at a press briefing. He was asked by a reporter, "Why are B52 bombers dropping shells on Kalaban villages where innocent wives and children become victims?"

Ashcroft's response: "Whoever harbors terrorists supports the terrorists and puts themselves at risk." Hallelujah! The new age crusaders now engage their heavenly refuge as launching pads to piously, and publicly display their holy acts of slaughter like their crusading forefathers centuries earlier who piously slew Muslims in their mosques and burned Jews in synagogues, then after the Jew's prophet was crucified, split his peaceful teachings into a divinity of death.

Robert Waltz
Author and combat veteran of W.W.II,
3rd Army Armored Division

[NOTE TO READERS: I'm not sure if Bob Hoover of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette meant for me to run this note and its lengthy portion of his column, but I was so taken with his story about Harold Weisberg that I thought readers may find it intriguing too.]

Dear Holt Uncensored:

Seems like many of us are concerned about the inclinations of our fine group of patriots in the Bush administration. Here's a portion of my 3/17 column:

"Harold Weisberg died last month at 88 in Frederick, Md., where he'd lived in poor health for many years, crippled by a circulatory disease that wasn't helped by his smoking.

"As a member of that motley collection of respected critics, gadflies, provocateurs and publicity hounds which has challenged the official version of the Warren Commission, Weisberg stood out as one of the more principled. He might also be seen as a hero for journalists and others who endorse the concept of an open government.

"Weisberg wrote a dozen books, some of which he published himself, attacking the commission's determination that Lee Oswald was the only assassin of President John F. Kennedy. He was one of the first to challenge the findings, writing his first book, 'Whitewash,' in 1965.

"Much of his research was extracted rather painstakingly from the federal government through his constant requests, complaints and 13 lawsuits. Once the Freedom of Information Act was passed, Weisberg used it to accumulate a mountain of documents.

"Eventually, he obtained about 300,000 files which he first stored in the basement of his modest home in woods outside Frederick. He has donated these files to nearby Hood College, which had been gradually moving them to the campus library.

"What separated Weisberg from the conspiracy buffs was his public refusal to devise his own assassination plot complete with villains. Unlike such smug theorists as filmmaker Oliver Stone (whose 'JFK' Weisberg disowned) he avoided specific conclusions.

"My interest stems from a visit I paid to Weisberg 6 1/2 years ago and the rather strange impression the trip left with me. I was collecting research on a story about the country's thriving conspiracy industry in the wake of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal office building which churned up the waters of paranoia.

"From the Branch Davidians to strange doings in Arkansas blamed on Bill Clinton, the country appeared awash in conspiracy theories in 1995. The Kennedy assassination was one of the major triggers for this national mood and Weisberg one of the pioneer critics of the 'lone-nut' conclusion. He was all too eager to talk and invited me to drop by for an afternoon chat.

"The Weisberg house in 1995 was growing dilapidated. Standing in a damp overgrown plot of trees, the 1950s style ranch sported an unused swimming pool full of brackish water and leaves.

"Weisberg was not in much better shape himself. With his legs wrapped tightly to battle circulation problems, he was nearly immobilized, but not enough to pass up a free crabcake lunch at a nearby restaurant.

"His ailments forced him to give up his chicken farm outside Washington, D.C., years earlier, after he retired as an investigator for the U.S. Senate. Now, it was clear his books were not making him much money.

"Whether it was the isolated, dark surroundings of Weisberg's crumbling house or the drawer after drawer of copied government documents with the black streaks of marker scrawled through classified material in his basement, I felt uncomfortable in this bizarre little byway of history. One file contained Oswald's report cards from grade school. Others seemed equally irrelevant, filling rows of metal cabinets with the product of the federal bureaucracy - paperwork.

"If there was a federal plot behind Kennedy's murder, the facts would not be found in a government report. What I was looking at in Weisberg's basement was the fuel for the conspiracy buffs, and he was the master gatherer of this cordwood.

"Oh, sure, he had his stories of the mysterious phone calls and veiled threats as well as his private theories, which included the Mob and Lyndon Johnson, but mostly what he had was a pile of useless junk.

"His real success was forcing the government to turn this junk over to one of its citizens using the principle that he had a right to know what was going on in Washington. At a time when the Bush administration is curtailing those rights, Weisberg - crackpot that he was - stands out as a crusader for freedom of information."

Bob Hoover

Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.

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