Sept 27 – Oct 3, 2010 Edition Booksellers Fear E-Book Agency Model

AUTHORLINK NEWS VIA WWW.BOOKWEB.ORG /September 27, 2010–On Friday, September 17, indie booksellers met with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and members of his staff to discuss the digital content agency model and the dangers posed by below-cost pricing. Booksellers attending the meeting were Fran Keilty of Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Suzy Staubach of UConn Co-op in Storrs, and NEIBA Vice President Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic. Also at the meeting were staff from the American Booksellers Association and the New England Independent Booksellers Association.

“We appreciate that Annie, Fran, and Suzy took time from their busy schedules to make this important trip to Hartford,” said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. “The issue of the agency model is an important one for booksellers, and there is no substitute for a face-to-face visit. By all accounts, it was a very positive meeting, and the attorney general and his staff were engaged and interested in the booksellers’ side of the discussion. We are thankful that the attorney general took time out of his hectic schedule to meet with our members.”

UConn’s Staubach said, “I was pleased that the AG and his staff not only took the time to meet with us, but that they listened to us, asked probing questions, and invited further input. Of course, they made no promises, but I came away feeling that, at minimum, they had a better understanding of the issues in our industry than before our visit.”

The booksellers stressed to the AG’s office that they strongly support the agency model for the sale of digital content because it prevents predatory pricing practices by online superstores and allows for a wide diversity of retailers in the marketplace. In addition, they noted that the agency model benefits consumers because it ensures the continued distribution of books by small, independent businesses with a wide variety of viewpoints.

“I was impressed by the audience we had in Hartford and believe that we were being heard,” said Bank Square’s Philbrick. “We all believe in competition as long as the playing field is as level and as fair as it can be, and we look forward to having Attorney General Blumenthal’s office follow through with a thorough research of our comments.”

The booksellers’ visit followed up on an August 11 letter sent by Teicher to the attorney general after Blumenthal ‘s office announced that it was investigating agreements between publishers and both Amazon and Apple.

The investigation initially focused on agreements that the attorney general’s office contends would ensure that both companies “will receive the best prices for e-books over any competitors – contract provisions known as ‘most favored nation’ clauses.” According to published reports, the Texas attorney general is also making inquiries about the e-book market.

In his letter to Blumenthal, Teicher wrote, “While we strongly share your commitment to maintaining the broadest access of books – in any format – to readers and consumers in Connecticut, we believe that the focus of your investigation misses the true potential danger facing readers…. In our view, the far greater threat to consumers is not what megastore book retailers are charged for the books they sell, but whether these online and bricks-and-mortar superstores are engaged in below-cost pricing and loss-leader marketing to consumers that will offer Connecticut consumers only a fleeting bargain while enacting serious long-term losses.”

Other participants in the Hartford meeting were Connecticut Assistant Attorney Generals Gary Becker, Michael Cole, and Joseph Nielsen; Associate Attorney General Perry Zinn-Rowthorn; NEIBA Executive Director Steve Fischer; ABA Content Officer Dan Cullen; and ABA Senior Public Policy Analyst David Grogan.