Nancy Pearl: caught in the anti-Amazon backlash

'The vehemence surprised me,' celebrated bibliophile Nancy Pearl said of the reaction to her decision to publish with Amazon.

Josh Armstrong
Nancy Pearl said she has been avoiding Twitter and Facebook after the vitriolic reaction to her deal with Amazon.

With her Book Lust series, “One Book, One City” campaign, and tireless promotion of literacy among youth, she’s done as much for the book world as say, Oprah. So why is everyone mad at Nancy Pearl?

Weeks after she signed a deal with Amazon to publish out-of-print favorites under the Book Lust Rediscoveries series, Pearl is still facing vehement opposition for partnering with the online mega-retailer many in the industry consider “the enemy.” (Just take a look at a recent cover of Bloomberg Businessweek, which shows a book in flames with the headline, “Amazon wants to burn the book business.”)

Reports The New York Times, “The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, which just gave Ms. Pearl its lifetime achievement award, described the reaction among its members as ‘consternation.’ In Seattle, it was front page news. ‘Betrayal’ was a word that got used a lot.”

According to The New York Times, one Twitter user, referring to a Nancy Pearl bobblehead doll, even tweeted, “I might have to burn that superhero doll.”

Not surprisingly, Pearl is shaken by the intense reaction.

“I knew the minute I signed the contract that there would be people who would not be happy, but the vehemence surprised me,” she told The New York Times. She even avoided Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to protect herself from the angry comments, the Times reported.

Folks in the book world are questioning Amazon’s motives, too. “Was Amazon sincerely trying to rescue lost classics or was it cynically buying a local hero’s endorsement to cover up its aggressive tactics?” asks The New York Times.

Earlier this year Amazon announced “Book Lust Rediscoveries," a series of Pearl’s favorite, out-of-print books that will be published and made available for sale via Amazon.com. Each of the books is personally selected by Pearl and will include an introduction, discussion questions, and list of recommended readings from her.

Pearl makes only “a couple of hundred dollars” per book that Amazon republishes, Sanders told the Seattle Times.

Pearl’s agent, Victoria Sanders, had shopped the idea to 20 publishers, none of whom were interested. Then Amazon jumped at the opportunity.

At the time, Pearl said she was thrilled, commenting, “Helping these wonderful books find new readers is, for me, a joy and a delight. I was blown away by Amazon Publishing’s enthusiasm for the project and the extent to which they really understood what I wanted to do.” 

But it turns out she’s also been blown away by the negative response.

“By aligning herself with Amazon, she’s turning her back on independents,” Seattle Mystery Bookshop owner J.B. Dickey told the Seattle Times. “Amazon is absolutely antithetical to independent bookselling, and, to many of us, truth, justice, and the American way."

Wow. Who knew the anti-Amazon passion would burn hot enough to singe even industry icon Nancy Pearl?

Would she do it again if she could?

It’s “a hard question,” Pearl told the Times.

We bet.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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