Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored


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by Pat Holt

Tuesday, April 16, 2002


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NOTE TO READERS: I decided to take the whole staff on a drive from Memphis to Arkansas to visit Mary Gay Shipley at That Bookstore in Blytheville, then down the Delta in Mississippi and east to the Oxford Conference for the Book.

Stories about all this to follow, but for now, our apologies: Our tech department could not make Internet contact even at high-speed Comfort Inn facilities and now outgoing email has stalled as well.

Heads will roll but since we'll be traveling for the rest of the month, dispatches may be erratic. Keep writing, though, and thanks for your patience.

Meanwhile some quick thoughts about current hot topics.



You bet the Author's Guild is smart to call on members to cut their commissioned links to Amazon.

The point is not that because readers will buy books at lower prices, authors should cave in and go screaming after them through any channel available (as I believe Publishers Lunch advocates).

The point is that Amazon's up-yours attitude toward authors is beyond infuriating. It's adversarial and abounds with cynicism. Instead of leading the way with new forms of partnership, Amazon becomes yet another force in crippling the few resources authors need to write books.

Gosh, didn't Amazon.com begin by parading itself as the champion of readers AND authors AND publishers (not booksellers, of course)? Here's more evidence that at every stage, the company's promise has fallen short.

I do wish publishers would find a way to step in here (perhaps through the American Association of Publishers?) and talk about protecting their authors.

In all this, the more public the statements, the better. We know that readers want the whole story behind such moves - witness the explosion of protests calling on the Federal Trade Commission to stop Barnes & Noble's attempt to buy Ingram Book Company a few years ago.

To fear protesting Amazon.com because more press will only lead to more Amazon sales - again a position put forth by Publishers Lunch - also seems off the point to me. Let's let thinking readers know what's at stake, *and* find a way to bring new balance to the used/new book marketplace.



The fact that Michael Moore's "Stupid White Men..." was a top bestseller for weeks without much media coverage (of course he calls it "a virtual press blackout on the book") is surely intriguing.

Moore on his listserv chides newspapers and TV broadcasters for "repeating your mantra of the past 7 months - 'America Loves Bush! America Loves Bush!' " instead of doing "the work you are supposed to do (like rooting out the Enron-backed criminals in the White House or finding out what really happened before and after September 11th)."

We can always depend on Moore to throw an entertaining tantrum, but very often he hits a nerve. So when he tells readers, "remember - it NO LONGER MATTERS that most of the media ignores the real news," the challenge rings true.

"A political shift has occurred in the country," he says, "and the media has completely missed it."

He mentions, for example, that Green Party chapters have cropped up on 140 college campuses without a bit of media coverage, and that "pro-environment, pro-choice, pro-labor, and anti-Big Business" attitudes have created a giant political movement that is felt by millions but unnoticed by the press.

As a former reporter and book editor I've felt for a long time that conservative forces have made cowards out of mainstream publishers. Editors are forced to seek "balanced" coverage so they won't get hit by conservative phone/email campaigns, but the result is only a lot of moderate mush that sounds like propaganda.

Meanwhile, it's hard to turn away from Moore when he reminds us that "154 million out of the 200 million voters in this country did NOT cast a vote for George W. Bush. That is the America in which we now live. Liberal, progressive, and sick of the stupid white men who run the country."

Not entirely true, but don't you love Moore for saying exactly what he thinks without caring who disputes him? Then, too, when he said this, Moore was the #1 author in the country.



Dear Holt Uncensored:

I wish to express my gratitude for your online publication of Dorothy Bryant's "Literary Lynching" and look forward to further installments. The subject is riveting and timely for this penniless writer stranded in the wilds of Colombia...

Louis J. de Deaux
Cali, Colombia

Dear Holt Uncensored:

Excellent writing regarding the "brat-spouting" factor (Franzen vs. Oprah). It seemed like a stupid deal on his part at the time and still does. I'm reminded of something Tom Waits once said: "Suckers always make mistakes when they're far away from home."

Allston James
Monterey, Calif.

Dear Holt Uncensored:

On the passing of the Oprah Book Club phenomenon: Like the Harry Potter franchise, Oprah's picks were good for everybody - authors, readers and bookstores. Best of all, they got more people reading better books, something that teachers, librarians and independent booksellers struggle to do, less successfully, I'm afraid.

Vince Perrin, Director
Stockton Arts Commission

Dear Holt Uncensored:

What in the world do you mean by Oprah's "lack of intellectualism"? I'm assuming you consider yourself an intellect. OK! Darling, you couldn't hold Oprah's private jet door. I'm glad she stopped showcasing books. You try to help people and spread the joy of books to the masses and you get "jealous" remarks like the one you made. Good Luck Holt.

Brent Dixon
Atlanta, Georgia

Dear Holt Uncensored:

No, I don't consider myself an intellectual and I've gathered over the years that Oprah Winfrey wouldn't put herself in that category either. It was perhaps that aspect of her character that made Oprah's Book Club so appealing to millions, and that opened the door for many readers to more challenging books than they were accustomed to reading. (See #254 - "No Fair: Taking Potshots at Oprah.")

Regarding B&N's proprietary publishing:

1. Almost a decade ago, the president of a major "master distributor" of small and academic presses told me that more than half of his client publishers' backlist titles would not have been in print if it were not for their "co-edition" deals with B&N publishing. Without B&N, he said, his largest category of titles would have been "OSI." B&N has always appreciated the value of scholarly publishing because the titles can bear higher prices and the audiences are more easily "targettable."

2. Before Walden was "Border-ized" their proprietary publishing program generated about four percent of their net sales, at retail, but more twice that in net income. The gross margin knock-on effect of "proprietary" publishing has always been obvious to B&N, which is why, in their initial SEC filings, B&N made clear that their path to profitability was in substantially increasing their own publishing.

The only mystery here is why Borders, and every other dominant presence in a channel of distribution, has failed to keep pace with B&N.

Christopher R. Kerr
Parson Weems LLC, New York

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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