Battling Goliath: Novelist Defends Independent Press against Amazon

Alison Lanier

One Boston, Mass., writer is taking a stand against Amazon’s trust-like reign over the book marketplace and its damaging influence on small, independent publishers.

Nvate Independent Press, Amazon, Vernon Downs, Jaime Clarke, Post Road, Newtonville Books, Roundabout Press, pleasedontbuymybookonamazon.com, e-book publishing industry

Credit: freedigitalphotos.net ddpavumba

With an appeal to his readers not to buy his book on Amazon, Jaime Clarke hopes that his new novel, “Vernon Downs,” will feed independent publishers instead of massive, bellicose giant Amazon, according to CNET.

In doing so, he is hoping to help his small publisher to survive the novel’s publication. Clarke is the author of “We’re So Famous” as well as a founding member of the Boston College literary magazine, Post Road. He is also the co-owner of Newtonville Books, an independent bookstore just outside of Boston.

Clarke is defending the well-being of his publisher Roundabout Press, which, he fears, will suffer losses because of Amazon’s discounting policies. He just launched his new website, pleasedontbuymybookonamazon.com, encouraging readers to buy directly from his publisher Roundabout Press.

Amazon accounts for a significant portion of book sales for small independent presses like Roundabout, as Clarke described in a September interview. However, because of Amazon’s pricing and profit distribution, independent publishers do not see the benefits. Clarke said that small independent publishers tend to publish one or two books and then “fold after running out of money.”

Roundabout’s Roots

Publishers Weekly describes that Roundabout Press was founded by Clarke’s fellow novelist Dan Pope, modeled after Lookout Books, following the example of the student-run imprint at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Pope has since abandoned his original concept of staffing the press with graduate students from the Western Connecticut State University master of fine arts program. However, with this lack of affiliation with a university as a source of backing, Pope faces the dilemma of finding funding, Publishers Weekly reported. This alternative funding can come from subscriptions, donations, or from the authors themselves.

Roundabout’s financial situation, though, struggles on. Clarke has promised to contribute a portion of his personal profit from the sale of the novel, Publishers Weekly reported. The press is sweetening the deal for readers who preorder Clarke’s new title with a two-month membership to Newtonville Books. Included in the preorder deal is another giveaway, which according to Publishers Weekly is: a copy of Clarke’s essay, “B.E.E. & Me,” which chronicles Clarke’s literary and personal friendship with the writer Bret Easton Ellis, whose most famous novel, “American Psycho,” became an infamous classic. Clarke’s newest book is set for an April 2014 release.

Monopolistic Activity among Digital Giants

Amazon’s policies on pricing, particularly e-book pricing, have not been free from scrutiny in recent days, as another giant, Apple, comes under legal reprimand for its monolithic pricing controls, Wilmington Technology Examiner reported.

The U.S. Department of Justice won its antitrust lawsuit, accusing and convicting Apple of fixing e-book pricing in its iTunes store. The Department of Justice said that it will recommend further measures, according to the Wilmington Technology Examiner, “to prevent Apple from engaging in anticompetitive conduct across the content sold in its iTunes store, including movies, music and television shows.”

A Manhattan, N.Y., court, ZDnet reported, found Apple guilty of conspiracy, resulting in the government proposing new practices to remedy Apple’s trust-like, price-fixing policies. The July decision found that Apple alongside five other publishers conspired to fix e-book prices in order to secure Apple’s position at the head of the e-book publishing industry.

While Apple says it will appeal the decision, Amazon’s similar role as a trust-like entity obviously remains a sore issue of contention for the small publishers who are set up against it. Clarke evidently feels the threat of the giant—although perhaps not a definite trust in this case—as shopping at Amazon hastens the demise of small bookstores, and even large ones.

Borders crumbled in the face of digital publishing and online shopping, both of which are techniques Amazon has mastered. Very few readers can avoid the Amazon marketplace; one self-described indie author describes on his Tumblr blog that, “Amazon doesn’t want the little guys to exist.” This writer’s response was on the extreme side: he resolved to entirely cut off his Amazon habit and return to faithful devotion to ordering from small presses.

Amazon’s Redeeming Features

Of course, as Salon described, Amazon is not entirely blind to its reputation, and in the recent past it has made strides to support nonprofits and, yes, small presses with the odd grant. These grants, Salon estimated, add up to approximately $1 million a year, largely quiet largesse that may, as Salon pointed out, simply be a clever, ostensibly humble maneuver to quiet critics—like Clarke, for example.

However Amazon’s efforts, while highly ironic, lend a desperately needed margin of safety to literary organizations and independent publishers struggling to survive, in part definitely due to the mega-corporation’s influence in the publishing market.

Readers can preorder Clarke’s novel, “Vernon Downs” on Roundabout’s website.

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