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November 1998

SFWA to FTC re: B&N

Here is the official response by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to the announced purchase of Ingram by Barnes & Noble.

November 16, 1998

Mr. Robert Pitofsky
Federal Trade Commission
Pennsylvania Avenue & 6th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20580

Dear Mr. Pitofsky:

We write to express our deep concern about the announced acquisition of Ingram by Barnes and Noble. Should Barnes and Noble acquire Ingram, the independent bookstores who have relied on Ingram to fill their orders will find themselves buying from a distributor owned by the independent bookstore's biggest competitor. New on-line booksellers like will be obliged to order some of their books from their competitor -- Barnes and Noble -- rather than Ingram. Barnes and Noble will be in a strong position to limit fair trade and competition.

As a not-for-profit professional organization of more than 1000 science fiction and fantasy authors -- founded in 1965 -- we of course want our books to be available to as wide a segment of the public as possible around the country. Ingram, an independent book distributor with over 300,000 titles in their average regional warehouse, has done a superb job of making sure that independent book stores have been stocked with books that Barnes and Noble and other "chain stores" overlooked or do not feature. Ingram allows small bookstores to special-order titles which customers want. We are concerned that, without Ingram, customers will be deprived of this service -- which will, in turn, be devastating to many of our authors, and indeed writers of all kinds.

But as citizens of this country, our concern about the acquisition of Ingram by Barnes and Noble goes even deeper. Information is the lifeblood of any democracy. The odd point of view, the cranky opinion, are necessary for our system to function well, as Thomas Jefferson and our founding fathers saw. The big superstores may have thousands of titles, but the quirky or offbeat book is often poorly promoted, lost in the shuffle. The superstores are of course in their rights to promote whatever they like, and up until now, Ingram has played a crucial role in making sure that books by lesser-known authors -- nonfiction as well as fiction -- were still available to the public on the shelves of independent bookstores. Because Ingram's system of regional warehouses can fill orders quickly, locally-owned bookstores such as Reiter's in Washington, DC, Page One in Albuquerque, and Powell's in Oregon have been able to offer a unique selection of titles while still being able to dip into the "superstore"-sized stock of an Ingram warehouse -- without the capital needed to maintain that stock.

As more and more readers turn to the Web for information and purchase of their books, we think it especially crucial that people still have access to equivalent information in their bookstores. The continuation of Ingram as an independent book distributor is the best way of insuring the health of our independent bookstores -- or, at least, making sure that they are competing on an equal playing field with the superstores.

We ask you, in the interest of the health of our democracy as well as good reading, to prevent the extinguishing of Ingram as a powerful independent book distributor.


The Board of Directors of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:
Robert J. Sawyer, President
Paul Levinson, Vice President
Ian Randal Strock, Treasurer
Michael Burstein, Secretary
Ann Crispin, Eastern Region Director
Linda Dunn, South-Central Regional Director
Michael Amstrong, Western Regional Director
Edo van Belkom, Canadian Region Director

Past Presidents of SFWA:
Damon Knight
James E. Gunn
Poul Anderson
Jerry Pournelle
Jack Williamson
Norman Spinrad
Marta Randall
Charles Sheffield
Jane Yolen
Greg Bear
Ben Bova
Joe Haldeman
Barbara Hambly
Michael Capobianco

cc: Attorney General Janet Reno
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

American Booksellers Association
828 South Broadway
Tarrytown, NY 10591

(Tue 24 Nov 1998)

Barnes & Noble Buying Ingram

Barnes & Noble, the largest US book retailer, announced last Friday it will acquire leading book distributor Ingram for $600 million in cash and stock. The news has alarmed the publishing and bookselling industries since Ingram is the main distributor for many of Barnes & Noble's rivals, notably, as well as small chains and independent bookstores.

Reports in the general media include the following:

  • New York Times, Nov 6th
  • Los Angeles Times, Nov 7th and Los Angeles Times, Nov 9th
  • CNN Financial, Nov 6th
  • USA Today, Nov 6th

    The American Booksellers Association has issued a statement protesting the consolidation as anticompetitive, and calls on the US Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. The ABA's statement, and a model letter of protest, are linked from this page.

    The Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), which posted this news story about the deal, has announced its support of the ABA campaign with a letter signed by its Board of Directors and a number of past SFWA presidents. SFWA encourages its members to write their own letters of concern to the Attorney General and the FTC.

    Update Nov. 10th: Publishers Weekly posts this update, which mentions that neither B&N nor Ingram has made public comments about the deal. PW cites Wall Street Journal's speculation that the FTC and Justice Department are unlikely to block the deal because it is a 'vertical purchase' i.e. not the purchase of a company in the same part of the business. Slate's Moneybox column (available to subscribers only) today makes the same point, and says there would be no good reason for B&N to manipulate Ingram's prices to undercut or other book dealers; rather, the next logical move would be for to make itself less dependent upon a single supplier.

    (Mon 9 Nov 1998, amended Tue 10 Nov 1998)

    Bob Kane, 1916 - 1998

    Bob Kane, co-creator of the comic-book character ''Batman'', died Tuesday, Nov. 3rd in Los Angeles at age 83. The character debuted in the May 1939 Detective Comics #27 as ''The Batman'', drawn by Kane and written by Bill Finger, when Kane was just 18 years old. The Caped Crusader subsequently gained popularity in a campy 1960s TV show starring Adam West and then in a series of big budget Hollywood movies in the 1980s and 1990s. Kane served as project consultant for several of the latter, beginning with Batman (1989), directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton.

    (Mon 9 Nov 1998)

    PW's Best Books of 1998

    Publishers Weekly is first out with best of the year lists for 1998. Jeff Zaleski selected the SF, fantasy, and horror titles:

  • Flanders, Patricia Anthony (Ace)
  • Parable of the Talents, Octavia E. Butler (Seven Stories)
  • The Best of Cemetery Dance, edited by Richard Chizmar (Cemetery Dance)
  • The Tooth Fairy, Graham Joyce (Tor)
  • Bag of Bones, Stephen King (Scribner)
  • Child of the River: The First Book of Confluence, Paul J. McAuley (Avon Eos)
  • Antarctica, Kim Stanley Robinson (Bantam)
  • Black Butterflies, John Shirley (Mark V. Ziesing)
  • Legends, edited by Robert Silverberg (Tor)
  • Fogheart, Thomas Tessier (St. Martin's)
  • The Great War: American Front, Harry Turtledove (Del Rey)
  • Among general fiction titles are Jorge Luis Borges' Collected Fictions (translated by Andrew Hurley; Viking), and Blindness by this year's Nobel prize winner in literature Jose Saramago (translated by Giovanni Pontiero; Harcourt Brace). Only one science book, Niles Eldredge's Life in the Balance: Humanity and the Biodiversity Crisis (Princeton University), is included on PW's nonfiction list.

    (Mon 9 Nov 1998)

    Previous news page: October 1998

  • World Fantasy Awards winners
  • SFWA reinstates Dramatic Nebula, expands eligibility criteria
  • Besher serial debuts on Web
  • Aurora Awards
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