Summary: James Daunt, who also heads the U.K.’s Waterstones bookstore group, and new at the command of Barnes & Noble, is in hot water for announcing giving more book ordering responsibility to individual stores with the theory being that local buyers know better what will sell than compared to corporate-level buyers.
Some have regarded this in both the publishing and creative community as a really bad move. And I can’t blame them.
Last Wednesday evening, Bethany Baptiste, author of Izzy Hawthorne: Destiny Awaits and The Poisons We Drink, sounded the alarm about B&N’s controversial strategy.
Barnes & Noble is withholding initial support of debut hardcovers til they find evidence it’s worth stocking in their stores. They’ll be focusing on guaranteed sales from paperbacks. A middle finger to debut authors esp if they’re midlist & marginalized. Get mad, y’all. 1/?— befunie bapteest (@StorySorcery) August 17, 2022
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Daunt had this to say about the controversial strategy:
“What we are doing—with middle grade and adult, fiction and nonfiction, alike—is to exercise taste and judgment,” Daunt continued. “This is to buy less but, if it is done with skill, it is to sell more. Far from being just for proven authors, this will be to allow the new that is good to have the space and attention to find an audience.”Publishers Weekly
Translation: This strategy only focuses on purchasing books with “proven sales records.”
Who Hurts The Most From This Decision?
It’s no secret that books with BIPOC authors/creative teams have a tougher time breaking into the publishing industry. And when they do, there are fewer sales.
So, B&N withholding initial support for books without proven sales records is indeed “a middle finger to debut authors, if they’re midlist & marginalized,” as Baptiste puts it.
Daunt goes on to comment that this is the “latest step in making ‘B&N behave like a true bookseller and indeed in the manner of the best independent booksellers.”
Jenn Northington of BookRiot.com mentions an interesting part of this strategy: smaller tables. We’ve all seen them lately – all the tiny square tables with a “witty” title; the book form of “As Seen on TV”.
“Customers, especially teenagers whose dollars retailers are hungry to acquire, are now just as likely (if not more) to come in looking for a book they saw blowing up on social media as an older customer might be to look for a book that they saw reviewed in the New York Times or heard about on NPR. And those books that are blowing up on BookTok? Not necessarily debuts, or hardcovers for that matter! Many of them are books that have been out for years, that new readers are only just discovering thanks to the magic of algorithms.“Jenn Northington | What Is Going On With Barnes & Noble?
It’s a shared concern this strategy gives traditional publishing more incentive to throw more money behind books they want to be considered “worthy.” Most times, Baptiste mentions, “debut books traditional publishers consider worthy are white or white-appealing ones.”
Even if a debut doesn’t hit the bestseller list, its sales will still have an impact on future book deals, advance sizes, and more. In short, debut authors stand a greater risk of little to no success in a publishing industry already incredibly tough for midlist & marginalized authors.
But even established, seasoned authors, including marginalized bestsellers, are being impacted.
On August 18th, Kelly Yang, author of Key Player and the 4th Front Desk book (which comes out in less than two weeks now), announced Barnes & Noble will not be carrying her books. Why? Because B&N is only giving shelf space for the top 1-2 books per publisher.
#BarnesAndNoble has suddenly decided NOT to carry KEY PLAYER, the 4th FRONT DESK book, coming out in 2 weeks! Here are the new details of their new “nationwide strategy”—only giving shelf space for Top 1-2 books per publisher! I am not Top enough, apparently! 😭 #FrontDeskSeries pic.twitter.com/AQOoTUyQT2— Kelly Yang (@kellyyanghk) August 18, 2022
Even New York Times & Indie Bestselling Author, Kalynn Bayron, has been impacted by B&N’s latest decision:
If you’re planning on buying THE VANQUISHERS I just want y’all to know that Barnes & Noble, at this point in time, won’t be carrying it on their shelves. I have LOTS to say about this and need a moment to gather my thoughts.— Kalynn Bayron (@KalynnBayron) August 18, 2022
If you want to get a deeper look into how both the author and publishing community have been impacted, please check out this article, “Barnes & Noble’s New Policy Harms Marginalized Authors” by Anna Wenner.
So, What Can Authors Do At This Point?
Like Jenn says later in the article, visit your local bookstore if you’ve got ’em. Support a debut author by looking for their book in your store. If they don’t have it yet, ask ’em. And don’t forget about your local libraries, too! They need as much love as they can get right now, too.
Don’t be afraid to go out there and spread the word about debut authors, including from the BIPOC community and other underrepresented groups.
Don’t have the budget?
Share the news online!
For more tips, please check out the above-linked article by Anna Wenner.
Seek out authors new to you, and give them a chance. The book eco-system can survive, and our choices can make a difference.Jenn Northington