Indie Sellersgain, Waryof Justice

Article excerpt

Surprise! Independent booksellers competing with retail behemoths are realizing some gains. But their trade group's head says the outcome of a federal antitrust lawsuit alleging e-book price-fixing could darken their horizon.

When the American Booksellers Association (ABA) held its annual BookExpo America convention in New York City this month, its indie- bookseller members heard encouraging numbers.

Core ABA membership was up to 1,567 from 1,512 last year -- the third straight annual increase. The Associated Press also reported that about 500 ABA stores sold 13.4 percent more books through mid- May than they had a year earlier.

Thirty years ago, ABA membership exceeded 3,000. ABA stores' share of total sales remains less than 10 percent. And indie stores continue to close.

But indies' recent gains are noteworthy and encouraging for coming after sharp declines amid competition from huge national- chain and online retailers. Imperiling those gains, according to ABA CEO Oren Teicher, is the antitrust case.

Some publishers sued by the U.S. Justice Department chose to settle, but e-book retailer Apple will defend its "agency model" in court. Under the agency model, vendors take a percentage of e-book retail prices set by publishers -- and Teicher contends it's essential for ABA's indie booksellers.

In a June 14 letter to Justice, he wrote that "elimination of the Agency Model will radically change the current e-book distribution system, will significantly discourage new entry, and will lead to the departure from the market of a sizeable number of the independent bookstores that are currently selling e-books."

Teicher wrote: "We believe that the Agency Model corrects a distortion in the market fostered primarily by Amazon. …