August 20, 2008, 12:00 AM

Publisher defends decision to offer Amazon early exclusive on Obama book

Chelsea Green Publishing will offer its new book on Barack Obama exclusively on Amazon.com for three weeks, with Monday’s launch scheduled to coincide with the opening of the Democratic National Convention.

For three weeks starting Monday, Amazon.com Inc. will be the only source for a new book on Barack Obama. The decision by Chelsea Green Publishing has angered rival booksellers, but the publisher says it’s a necessary step to rush the pro-Obama book to market as a counter to books in circulation that attack the likely Democratic Party presidential nominee.

The Monday launch of “Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency” by Robert Kuttner is timed to coincide with the opening of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. The publisher says it is distributing several thousand advance copies of the books to convention attendees and including a discount coupon in welcome packets for 15,000 convention-goers. The discount is redeemable at Amazon.com, and the books will be printed as they are ordered by Amazon’s on-demand BookSurge service.

The book will be available through other booksellers Sept. 15. Acknowledging complaints from other booksellers about the exclusive granted to Amazon, Chelsea Green publisher Margo Baldwin has posted an open letter on the publisher’s web site defending its strategy as a way to get the Kuttner book into voters’ hands in time for it to affect the November election.

“This is about a publisher’s commitment to its author to get one of a very few pro-Obama books out into the marketplace in the shortest amount of time,” Baldwin says. “We are printing 75,000 copies, the largest first printing in our history, which shows how important we think this book is. But it pales in comparison to anti-Obama books flooding the market.”

The aim is also to generate excitement about the book, which will benefit other booksellers once the regular print run is available Sept. 15, Baldwin says. “What we hope to do is create a word of mouth buzz and demand that will end up making Obama’s Challenge into a national bestseller,” Baldwin says. “Our goal is to benefit the broadest spectrum of the bookselling marketplace by using the quickest marketing and promotional methods possible, in the two-month window available to us prior to the elections on November 4th.”

Chelsea Green describes itself as committed to “sustainable living.” In her letter, Baldwin says “that Chelsea Green, along with many other small publishers, could not have survived and thrived without the innovations that Amazon has brought to the book marketplace, including being able to showcase our entire 350-title backlist online where it can be found by our customers.”

Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, is offering the Kuttner book at a pre-order price of $8.22. The list price is $14.95 for the book.

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