Square Books's blog
Yesterday on Page 9 of the New York Times Book Review there appeared a full-page ad for a new book whose title or author is likely unfamiliar to you, Dark Monk, by Oliver Potzsch, the second in a series by the author published by Houghton Mifflin. Full-page ads in this publication, which reportedly cost north of $100,000, are not all that unusual.
But what is rare about this ad, which depicts a gothic image of monks in an old cathedral or abbey, with very little text to accompany it, is that nowhere in the ad does the name of the publisher appear. The author's name is there, with a smaller image of the book cover, the title, and a bold pitch line to readers, in red ink: IT WOULD BE A SIN TO MISS IT. Publishers always attach their brand to this sort of ad, but in this one the publisher's name is absent. Why is that?
It may be that Houghton Mifflin doesn't want its name to appear. Or it could be that the publisher of this book isn't really Houghton Mifflin. Most readers don't know that this book, and others like it, are being published through an arrangement with Amazon, the monopolist online retail giant that continues to spread its tentacles throughout the book industry (and upon government, as the company has successfully refused to pay sales tax for years and recently convinced a witless Department of Justice to file suit against six major publishers on its behalf -- but those are other stories).
The name Amazon is very hard to find on these books. It does not appear on the spine or cover. There is no Amazon logo anywhere. If you look carefully, you'll see the word Amazon in very small print on the title page, as that's required by the Library of Congress, a branch of government that apparently continues to function properly.
One must suppose that Amazon is keeping its name out of the ad and off the cover of the books it is publishing for one of two reasons. Either part of the deal with Houghton Mifflin was that it would not allow Amazon to put its name on the book, or Amazon is just being stealthily quiet about this particular aspect of the heist it is pulling on American culture and commerce.
In any event, something shameful is going on here. That much is obvious.
This week saw two articles mentioning Square Books and Oxford. One in Smithsonian magazine "The 20 Best Small Towns in America" and the other in Canada's second largest newspaper The Globe and Mail, "The Best Bookstores in North America." They both said really nice things about Square Books that caused us first to blush, then to worry that we would live up to the promise, then to begin tallying all the great bookstores not mentioned. After further reflection, we wondered if these mentions of Square Books and Oxford in the same week really coincidental? Independent bookstores all over North America are essential, active, contributing members of their communities helping make their home, be it city or town, the best place to live.
We're delighted we are the Bookstore of the Month in McSweeny's online newsletter. Square Book's Cody Morrison has endorsed two McSweeny's books, HOT PINK by Adam Levin, and MAGIC HOURS: ESSAYS ON CREATORS AND CREATIONS, by Tom Bissell.
And as many of you know, Mary Marge Locker, freshman English major at Ole Miss, has a column of essays published on the McSweeny's site. To read her work, please click here.