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Booksellers push back against Amazon’s titles

With its continuing growth in areas outside of its original core business of selling books online – Amazon has, this year, announced the formation of its own videogame studio and is rumored to be getting into the wine business, in addition to its already existing movie production house, digital publishing house, electronics, clothing and grocery stores and “Pinzon” label household products – you’d be forgiven for thinking that everything was coming up Amazon these days. And, while that may be true in the virtual world, the Seattle, Washington company is said to be facing unexpected trouble in another of its satellite business ventures in a way that may make you wonder whether or not there really is such a thing as karma.

The New York Times reported yesterday that booksellers are refusing to handle The 4-Hour Chef, the new book from self-help guru Timothy Ferriss that just so happens to be the first product of his deal with Amazon’s publishing arm. Despite Ferriss’ proven track record in book sales – His first book, The 4-Hour Workweek sold almost half a million copies in its original edition, according to Neilsen BookScan figures, with the sequel The 4-Hour Body reaching similar sales heights (Both made it onto the New York Times’ non-fiction Bestseller list) – booksellers from independent one-store outlets to competitive chains like Barnes & Noble will not be stocking Chef, citing Amazon’s involvement as the reason why.

“We don’t think it’s in our best interests to do business with Amazon,” said Bill Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage, a store in Marin County, CA. Michael Tucker, owner of the Books Inc. chain agrees. “At a certain point, you have to decide how far you want to nail your own coffin shut,” he explained. “Amazon wants to completely control the entire book trade. You’re crazy if you want to play that game with them.” (Books Inc. will special order the title for any customer who asks, however.) Barnes & Noble, one of Amazon’s largest competitors in both the book trade and digital reader business, agrees, and has made it clear that it won’t be stocking Amazon product, with Walmart and Target both only carrying the title in their online stores.

There’s also ill-feeling from stores towards Ferriss for signing with Amazon in the first place. “[Previous publisher] Crown put in a lot of effort to promote [Ferriss’ first two] books,” Petrocelli pointed out, adding that Ferriss “decided to walk away. That’s his decision to make but I can’t say I applaud it. I think writers should be supportive of publishers that are supportive of them.”

Not all bookstores are boycotting the book. San Francisco’s Green Apple will stock it, although store buyer Kevin Ryan said that the store won’t be “go[ing] out of our way to promote something from Amazon. We’re not going to stretch.”

For his part, Ferriss seemed prepared for this kind of response. He told the NYT “By signing with Amazon, I expected this type of blowback.” Saying that he’s “griding [his] loins” in preparation, he added “I don’t feel like I’m giving anything up, financially or otherwise” with his new deal. Time will tell if that continues to be the case when The 4-Hour Chef is released on November 20.

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