The news of the American Booksellers Association (ABA) settlement of
their legal battle with Barnes and
Noble and Borders is extremely disappointing and a decision with which Dutton's Brentwood, as a
plaintiff bookstore, strongly disagrees.
The ABA has done a good job in fighting battles for its members, obtaining
a 25 million-dollar settlement
from Penguin, half of which went to bookstore members who were victims of their practices; the other
half went to the legal fund. However, Dutton's Brentwood had no input into the decision to settle the
present case and was first informed of the news by Publishers Weekly. Our usefulness as
a plaintiff (after 3 years of providing documents, depositions, etc.) apparently ended when the settlement
decision was made, and we were not given the courtesy of being informed by the organization that
made the decision on our behalf and with no consultation whatsoever.
We joined the fight as a plaintiff bookstore when the case began in
1998. Our purpose was to stand
up for the principles of fairness in the marketplace. We had experienced some real struggles due to the
aggressive growth of chain bookstores, and we adapted our business in order to survive. The fact that
the chain bookstores grew with the help of special deals, and terms dictated to publishers, was one that
we thought deserved redress. The power to dictate terms and discounts grows into the power
to dictate what is and is not published. It was a simple matter of fairness, in addition to being a fight to
be sure that the publishing business did not largely become a puppet of the corporations
that operate the chain bookstores.
The decision of the ABA does not level the playing field, and the fact
that some of the most egregious
practices have stopped does not change the fact that they did exist, and serve to force many independent
bookstores to go out of business.
The fight for principle was abandoned because of money. The ABA decided
that after spending millions
of dollars (reportedly 16 or 17 million), another 4 or 5 million would harm future projects
and plans. If we lose in a courtroom, so be it, but we can say that we went down fighting, rather than
having the ABA tell the New York Times that we can't specify many of the things that the lawsuit
revealed, "citing terms of the settlement." We believe the fight, once begun, should have gone to
the bitter end.