This week, writers everywhere in Australia have been madly discussing the A&R letter - namely, a letter that booksellers Angus & Robertson have sent to smaller book suppliers/distributors threatening to stop buying their books through them. If you go here, you'll be able to read the Sydney Morning Herald blog, which includes not only the original A&R letter, but a very pithy reply from Tower Books.
One thing that should be made clear (and kind of is in the two letters) is that this letter is from the A&R Head Office that manages most of the stores. However, there are other A&R bookshops that are franchises and presumably not under the HO thumb when it comes to managing their stock, although this was not totally clarified for me.
Last weekend I did a book signing at A&R in Box Hill Centro Shopping Centre, and the couple running that particular A&R couldn't have been nicer or more supportive in what they did with publicity and encouraging people in the shop to buy my books. I suspect that they are franchisees, although I didn't ask. A few years ago, we had a Collins branch at our local shopping centre, and the couple running that were forced out by Collins HO through a series of very shifty moves. We've never had another bookshop there since.
I don't understand what A&R hope to gain from this. If Borders coming into Australia has proven one thing, it's that bookbuyers want choice. We don't want just The Da Vinci Code (well, I never wanted that book!) or the latest Harry Potter (I did buy that, but at the bargain counter at KMart) - we want to be able to browse, find new authors, get what we want, when we want it - or we'll go to Amazon.
The best bookshops in Melbourne for browsing are Readings and (for me) the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. I don't know what it is, but whoever selects books at the Sun is great at choosing things that I cannot resist. But I shop at Borders too because they have the best selection of books about writing, and a great children's section. I never shop at A&R because their shop at Highpoint never has anything I want. They simply don't buy in a stock of decent books for the serious reader, and they always seem to have bargain tables full of the most awful, cheap books that I wanted to put into the mulcher.
For me, this letter thing (and Tower's reply) confirms what I've suspected, and others agree with me, that the A&R buyers and buying division have been doing a very bad job. It's like they're supposed to be buying fresh vegetables and they keep stocking tins of baked beans.
I presume Tower Books (and others) are going to tell A&R to go jump. Judging from the 129 comments (so far) following the blog entry, so are all the bookbuying customers.