Should Chelsea Green Be Ashamed?

“Who’s Chelsea Green?” you ask. Chelsea Green is a small, third-rate publishing house that has confirmed its third-rate status with its recent snub of independent booksellers by making a new pro-Obama book available through Amazon and at a special discount before it becomes available in bookstores. The book is Obama’s Challenge, by Robert Kuttner. Read the story here.

Margo Baldwin, president at Chelsea Green, pretends to be taking the moral high ground when she justifies their decision, saying:

“We are headed into the most important election season in a generation that will, I believe, impact how we deal with the multiple cascading crises America confronts: the war in Iraq, the dangers of new military confrontations with Iran and Russia, escalating climate change that threatens life on earth, an economic situation as dire as the Great Depression, and a deepening energy crisis that threatens to fundamentally change our way of life.”

In other words, her firm is in the vanguard of a morally necessary reorientation of the political leadership of this country. Whiney booksellers should pipe down. (For Baldwin’s “Open Letter to the Bookselling Community,” go here, where it’s been reprinted by publishersweekly.com.)

Baldwin actually chides booksellers like Barnes & Noble, as well as smaller independents, for attempting to “bully” the diminutive press by threatening not to carry the book. She accuses them of “boycotting” the book, which is derisive language. And there’s a subtle hint that booksellers don’t have the backbone to make available a pro-Obama book. But there are two good reasons why booksellers might refuse to carry a book by a press with such an obnoxious policy.

First, they have an economic stake in how their investment in books for retail will pay off. Booksellers ordered thousands of copies in good faith that the press would conduct itself with appropriate courtesy. Second, booksellers should have a voice in how the behavior of a press will affect its relationship with potential distributors. These concerns have nothing to do with boycotting their precious book, and it’s ludicrous to suggest otherwise.

Chelsea Green has snubbed booksellers with impunity, has presumed to do it as a kind of moral mandate, and has lectured booksellers in condescending judgment of their attitude. The publisher should be ashamed. Booksellers should think twice about doing business with them. And authors should weigh carefully the wisdom of collaborating with an unscrupulous firm.

Or so it seems to me . . . .

What say you?

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

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