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The Harlem Book Fair 2000 and Events from 20 Years Ago


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In its day, the Harlem Book Fair 2000, was arguably the premier Black book fair.  It certainly was 20 years ago. Read more about that particular book fair In the past decade, not so much.  I missed the last couple of years and I lived in Harlem at the time!  


A book could, and I believe should, be written about the Black books in the 21st century.  If would be a tale of unfulfilled potential and promise, a story of the hope for agency and the ability to write and record our own history and stories. Maybe even the development and growth of more institutions like Johnson Publishing rather than the loss of them.


The story is far from over and I think the pandemic is forcing people to reevaluate what is important to them and change their behaviors accordingly.  If anything good comes of this pandemic that will be it.


Over the past couple of days. I've been sharing photos of events AALBC has covered and participated in 20 years ago.  I'm been trying to help people appreciate that by giving Amazon all of our business that platforms like AALBC will die, or never emerge.  


If that happens who will chronicle our stories, record our events?  Amazon will never do it. We have already lost many websites with valuable information.  There are two that immediately come to mind, sites whose articles and reviews are likely lost forever.   I have always argued that the web is a less rich place because of Amazon and other massive corporate sites.


In a recent interview on the Brown Bookshelf, I offered the following tips, "Three Tips for Children’s Book Creators and Lovers to Make a Difference." The tips apply to all authors and book lovers:


Tip #1: Authors, When Telling Readers Where They Can Buy Your Book, Recommend an Independent Book Store

Everyone knows you can buy a book from Amazon, but Amazon is not your best cheerleader. Indie bookstores are your most loyal supporters and we love authors who recognize this and return the love.  Now if you are afraid of playing favorites, you’ll never go wrong by saying, “Buy at your favorite independent bookstore,” or “Buy wherever books are sold.” Now if your book is only available via Amazon, understand that you have effectively cut ties with your most ardent supporters.


Tip #2: Readers, Buy Your Books From an Independent Bookseller

I do not know a single bookseller who sells books to get rich.  We sell books because we want to uplift our culture.  The books we curate and put on our shelves (virtual and physical shelves) are there because we feel they are important.  I’m not saying that indie booksellers do not have a profit motive – of course we do, but it is not our only motive. Stores that are purely profit driven have never served the Black community in the long term, they only extract wealth without ever contributing back into the community.


Tip #3: Authors and Readers: Social Media is Good, but the Rest of the World Web is Great

Visit some other sites that are related to your books.  Join in the conversation and share their content with others.  Sites like The Brown Bookshelf are a gift that cannot be replicated on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, or any of the most popular social media platforms social media platforms.


Over the past decade we have lost countless book sites (related article: Black Book Websites Need Love Too). Again these site are the best promoters of children’s literature, they write the critical reviews, they interview the authors, they host and cover events, they identify and sell you the books you are most likely to enjoy.  These sites are not driven by algorithms optimized to extract the most wealth from you, but by people who are about both the books and the people who read them.


FYI: The photos are small and low resolution because 20 years ago, big images took too long to download.


Harlem Book Fair 2000
Harlem Book Fair 2000



National Black Writers Conference 2000
National Black Writers Conference 2000




Author Photos from The National African American Cultural Expo 1999
The National African American Cultural Expo Philadelphia 1999

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@ Troy


The facts are indisputable, yet, I feel as though drawing a hard line in the sand to reshape the burgeoning status quo presents a robust challenge for a number of authors. From an independent publishing perspective, I made the choice  to refrain from utilizing the Amz platform for a variety of reasons, to include tenets from your original post. However, what do you believe is a suitable compromise for creatives who wish to maximize monetary gain and/or audience reach while simultaneously supporting independent establishments? 

Great topic!

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@O.W. Showe, I had an ongoing relationship with Amazon for the better part of two decades before I really understood what was happening. I floated a survey, several years ago in an effort to understand the pros and cons of boycotting Amazon.  The reactions of those who would not boycott Amazon, where enough for me to decide not to boycott them at the time.  Today, none of those reasons are compelling enough for me to continue doing business with Amazon.  In fact, many of the reasons provided are actually reasons NOT to do business with Amazon.


Here is the bottom line: you can not support Amazon and support independent booksellers at the same time. The two are mutually exclusive activities.  Authors and readers have to chose, they can do only one.


Look, even I as the most ardent supporter of indie bookstores I know, I did not appreciate that I was doing indie book sellers -- and even AALBC -- a disservice buy sending readers to Amazon to buy books posted here.  


If I had the time, and talent, I would write a book to explain to all authors why dealing with Amazon exclusively is a bad deal not just for them, but Black books collectively.  One thing I have seen over and over is the fact that any benefit an individual may derive from Amazon (or any website with a monopoly) is that benefit typically short lived.  


The chart below shows affiliate commission I earned from Amazon over the last two months.  Yes, I know I said I'm boycotting Amazon, but AALBC is a massive site while I've dropped 99%+ of links to Amazon some persist. Sales of advertisers also link to Amazon.   


The charts shows commission earned from 63 books of various formats. The amount of the retail sales and commissions earned. First you'll notice that the average sales price of a book is $4.98 (this is the price the author shares a percentage of and that by itself should be alarming).  My average commission is 22 cents -- yes I earned less than a quarter for every book sold.  Here is why:


Amazon aggressively pushes ebooks, a product they enjoy effectively monopoly. While some ebooks sell for $9.99 or more, most sell for 99 cents (or are even given away).  Amazon pays 4% commission on ebooks, so I made $7.84 on the sale of 49 ebooks or roughly 16 cents for each ebook sold.


The value of the traffic I sent to Amazon is worth FAR more than what I was getting in return. So I stopped sending them traffic.  You can readily see that with a sales mix like this even with a sales volume two full orders of magnitude more commissions from Amazon are paltry.  Revenue to authors and publishers are much lower as well. 


amazon recent sales.jpg


There are many myths Amazon benefits from. Here are just a few


Amazon Gives Authors Distribution
No, not really.  Sure you can find the book in Ingram database (the world's largest distributor), but the terms are horrendous. No returnable (usually a nonstarter) and the discounts are too low. Whenever I see a book with a 15% discount from Ingram I know it is an Amazon published book.  Not bookseller is gong stock titles with these terms -- they are not even profitable for me to sell on the web.


The increases the Discoverability of Books
Bullshit, I learned about the books I was interested in discovering much more easily when I could rely on a number of large Black book sites. Few memain today, and none are as extensive as AALBC -- and I'm a team of one.  But still others are great sources of information looking for quality books for children -- The Brown Bookshelf is great. I still rely on sources like the New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, word of Mouth, and information provided directly from publishers, publicists, and authors. Amazon is great when you know exactly what you are looking for, but not to discover something that has been truly vetted


Amazon has the Best Prices for Books

First, aside from eBooks the majority of physical books I sold on Amazon were fulfilled by 3rd parties.  Often these 3rd parties sold used books as new (the authors does not get paid).  Sometimes books were pirated (obviously authors does not get paid).  Sure Amazon famously discounts really popular titles like Michelle Obama's book -- indeed selling it at a loss. The majority of our bookare are not discounted and frequently as you might expect. 


Amazon is recent years is focuses on their ebooks sales and making money pushing orders to 3rd parties and taking a cut of those sales.  Amazon does not lose in the scenario so they can afford to use popular books as a loss leader.


I could go on...


There is definitely an opportunity for booksellers, but we have to improve, but we can't improve without the support of readers and authors. Wall Street will not fund us for a decade or more, as we lose money building a monopoly by undercutting competitors.


In return authors will have more platforms where books can be discovered and readers will have more choice. Authors and publishers will make more money. No one, other than Amazon, benefits, from Amazon's monopoly. 



On a personal note:

I have long since learned that Amazon was not the cheapest place to buy products, so I don't need to give them $120 for the privilege of buying something from their website.  If there is a Amazon original show -- I can do without watching it.  So cancelling Amazon Prime was a no brainer, a low hanging fruit way to save 10 bucks a month 🙂


Sorry for any typos I'm pressed for time...

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