NCIBA Booksellers Challenge Moore to Occupy Amazon
After "getting distracted" a couple of blocks away while making an appearance in support of the thousands of protestors gathered at Occupy Oakland, Michael Moore was late for his appearance at a "special event" at this year's Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show last Friday evening. But no one seemed to mind.
After speaking nonstop and entertainingly for more than an hour to a group of booksellers who could be described as members of his "choir," things got interesting when he opened up the floor for questions.
First Praveen Madan, co-owner of the Booksmith in San Francisco, asked Moore how to educate the public that unequal discounts offered to big retailers like Amazon put indie retailers at a huge disadvantage. Then Brad Jones, co-owner of Booksmart in Morgan Hill, made a direct challenge.
Trying "not to sound disrespectful," Jones asked if NCIBA members sold his new book, Here Comes Trouble (Grand Central), at their cost (bringing the consumer price closer to the discount Amazon can offer), would the celebrity pro-indie author not sell his books on Amazon?
"Jimmy just walked out of the room," Moore joked, pointing to where Hachette's Jimmy Franco had been standing by the door. Then he said, "I'm actually thinking about it. This is so freaking cool. You can't put ideas like that in my head."
For the next 10 minutes, Moore debated his wish to help the independent booksellers he supports and his obligations to be a good author for a publisher he described as being very good to him. He noted that Hachette originally had planned to print Here Comes Trouble in India, but in a last-minute midnight call, he was told the company arranged for the books to be printed in Vermont.
Moore added that he had heard that Lady Gaga--whose forthcoming book from Hachette has an announced print run of 750,000--had stipulated in her contract that her books had to be printed in the U.S. at a union shop.
"How old is this woman?" he asked the crowd of about 150. He went on to say of the 24-year-old pop star: "And she was smarter than me? I have so much hope with these kids that we raised."
Moore made no commitment and left mulling over what might happen if a few major authors chose such a model. Then he thanked the booksellers for the challenge.
At Saturday's breakfast, David Guterson put aside his prepared remarks after witnessing the exchange between Moore and NCIBA members the night before. The Other, Guterson's novel directly preceding his new book, Ed King (Knopf), dealt with the "inherent hypocrisy we all face on a daily basis," he said. While he couldn't offer a quick answer on how to overcome this hypocrisy, he said that asking questions when people are taking to the streets to protest economic inequality is very important. Ultimately, he said, it is what he addresses in Ed King, a novel that retells the Oedipus story, which at its core is about a king's arrogance and blindness to himself. "What if an entire nation was being deluded about itself?" asked Guterson.
"That was worth getting up for," commented Michael Barnard, the morning's emcee, NCIBA president and owner of Rakestraw Books in Danville, Calif.
The booksellers' challenge to Michael Moore dominated the trade show's conversations, and many considered the issues of possible anti-trust and price collusion.
"I think one of the things that Michael Moore discovered is that Amazon is our Wall Street," NCIBA executive director Hut Landon said.
Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, said he already reached out to Moore to continue the discussion of how to change the book business model to even the playing field for retailers. "The good news is that a lot of people are thinking about how the business needs to change," said Teicher. "David Guterson is thinking about this too, and that is helpful. Having the authors help us reinvent the model is indispensible."
Teicher has pointed out on visits to NCIBA that many interesting and meaningful ideas have emerged from this group of booksellers, who historically have been pioneers on issues important to the book business, such as the effort to require online retailers to collect sales taxes.
Will this NCIBA lead to an Occupy Amazon movement? As Moore pointed out, with thousands of protestors all over the country, "This is a new day in America."