Another Chain Says It Won’t Carry Amazon Books, But Does It Matter?

Canadian bookselling chain Indigo Books & Music is joining Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) and Books-A-Million in their refusal to carry any Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) Publishing titles in their stores. But what does this boycott really mean?
Indigo, which has 244 stores across Canada, said Friday that it will not stock Amazon Publishing titles. “In our view Amazon’s actions are not in the long-term interests of the reading public or the publishing and book retailing industry, globally,” Indigo VP Janet Eger told the Globe and Mail.
The Indigo boycott followed one from Books-A-Million, the second-largest bookstore chain in the U.S., on Friday. Earlier last week, Barnes & Noble announced it would not stock Amazon titles in its “store showrooms,” saying the company has “proven they would not be a good publishing partner to Barnes & Noble as they continue to pull content off the market for their own self interest.”
Barnes & Noble said it will continue to carry Amazon titles online. Books-A-Million and Indigo did not specify whether they will do so and I have asked both companies to clarify.
It’s not clear how long these will last, or what effect (if any) they will have on Amazon’s decision-making. While Barnes & Noble’s statement did not mention e-books, the company has said in the past that it will only carry Amazon Publishing titles in its stores if it can also sell them as e-books.
Books-A-Million and Indigo also did not specify whether they would end their boycotts if they were allowed to sell e-books published by Amazon, but both have minimal e-book businesses. Indigo sold its e-reader business, Kobo, to Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten last November, and at the time Indigo CEO Heather Reisman suggested the chain is moving into a “third chapter,” away from an emphasis on books and toward “products consistent with the lifestyle of our customers.”
Books-A-Million has a barebones e-books section on its website and sells the Barnes & Noble Nook in its roughly 200 stores. Books-A-Million’s revenues for Q3 2011 (ending October 29, 2011) were $94.4 million, compared to Barnes & Noble’s revenues of $1.89 billion for the same period.
Bookstores are still a major source of discoverability for new titles, and the statements from Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Indigo come at the end of a successful holiday season, when many booksellers reported an increase in print sales. The statements also ride the wave of “shop local” sentiment, which strengthened over the holidays and appeared to lead to increased print book sales as many bricks-and-mortar stores spoke out against Amazon’s price check app.
The boycotts come ahead of the release of the first titles from Larry Kirshbaum’s New York-based imprint this fall. The imprint includes titles by bigger names than Amazon has published in the past — Tim Ferriss, Penny Marshall, Deepak Chopra and James Franco. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is publishing and distributing the books in print. Some of the titles would presumably make a fair portion of their sales in print, from bookstores, if they are available there.
To be clear, Amazon has not said that it will be the exclusive source of the Larry Kirshbaum titles as e-books. Amazon is the exclusive source of e-books for the other titles it has published, but has not stated that this will be the case going forward. It could offer some titles to other retailers as e-books — all the titles from Larry Kirshbaum’s imprint, for instance. It may already be in discussions with Barnes & Noble; for all we know, the statement Barnes & Noble released last week had something to do with those discussions.
If Barnes & Noble changes its mind, Books-A-Million and Indigo would likely follow suit, but even if they didn’t Amazon might not care since Barnes & Noble, with its 700 stores, is much bigger than either of those other chains, and Indigo is not a U.S. player. Amazon definitely will not care that Indigo CEO Reisman “offers kudos” to B&N for “taking a leadership stance on the matter.”
For now, Barnes & Noble hasn’t yet conducted a shelf sweep for Amazon titles, as it did with DC Entertainment graphic novels last October. The Hangman’s Daughter — originally published by Amazon, and distributed in print by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt — is available for pickup in two of my local B&N stores now, according to this page.