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Booksellers Give Macmillan Dubious Award

Those of us who lived in the Pacific Northwest when Mount St. Helens exploded had a chance to collect more volcanic ash than we could ever possibly find use for.

But what about all of you who came afterward? Or those folks who have never lived here at all? Don’t they deserve to have their own personal volcano-themed keepsake?

Of course they do. And in that spirit, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association has awarded a special award to Scott Flanders, president of Macmillan Publishing.

Flanders may already have a St. Helens souvenir. He may have lived around here sometime during the last 18 years.

No matter. The PNBA board of directors thought he deserved to be the first recipient of its Mount St. Helens Kiss Our Ash Award.

No joke. Not at all.

The board determined that Flanders was worthy of the honor based on his company’s decision last summer to do direct business only with bookstores that ordered at least $10,000 worth of Macmillan books annually.

In effect, says PNBA president Patrick Moody, that decision shuts out most medium-size and smaller bookstores. Those stores now will be forced to order Macmillan books, when they need or want to, through a wholesale distributor.

“And the problem with that is that when you buy through a wholesaler, the discount is not as high as when you buy direct,” Moody said.

Speaking from Stanwood, Wash., where he is co-owner of Snow Goose Bookstore, Moody said that money wasn’t the only problem. Another involves access.

“The wholesalers just don’t carry all the Macmillan titles, so if there’s a particular title that we need we essentially can’t get it.”

Snow Goose, which boasts 1,100 square feet of selling space, does about $100,000 worth of business a year. That places it squarely among the stores affected.

But, as Moody says, so are stores much bigger.

And if bookstores are affected, then so are book-buyers because price hikes are usually passed along.

The PNBA’s big fear, Moody says, is that other publishing houses will follow suit.

“So far no one has,” he said. “In fact, it seems like a lot of publishers are really trying hard to make it easier for independents to order directly from them. So Macmillan is really kind of going against the trend.”

The company’s stated reason involves economy - and expediency. It’s easier for a distribution company to deal with little clients than Macmillan’s in-house employees.

The policy change, however, is having a backlash.

Moody tells the story of one PNBA member who was dealing with Macmillan right up to the policy change. She wanted a bulk shipment of a certain title to fill a customer’s order. But the company refused.

“The person from Macmillan said, ‘Well, just have the customer call us directly,”’ Moody said. “‘We’ll be happy to sell the books to him directly.’ So she just hung up and convinced the customer to buy a different book.”

So far, according to Moody, Flanders hasn’t responded to the PNBA’s honor.

That’s not surprising. Some people wouldn’t recognize value if it fell out of the sky.

Over the air

Your last chances to listen to literature over Public Radio station KPBX (FM 91.1) occurs today and Tuesday. At 4 p.m. today, Keith Szarabajka reads Ron Carlson’s story “The H Street Sledding Record” and Hattie Winston reads Toni Cade Bambara’s story “Raymond’s Run.”

On Tuesday at 9 p.m., “StoryLines America” will feature conversations with Sherman Alexie (author of such novels as “Indian Killer” and “Reservation Blues”), Kim Barnes (“In the Wilderness”) and Tom Spanbauer (“The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon”).

For further information, call 328-5729.

The reader board

Roseann Lloyd, author of the poetry collection “War Baby Express,” will read from her book at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Auntie’s Bookstore, Main and Washington.

, DataTimes