Between the Lines: Challenging Amazon

Feb 27, 2015

Dissatisfaction can lead to positive change. When Michigan nature writer Jerry Dennis became frustrated with online bookseller Amazon over its treatment of authors, he sat down with his wife, graphic designer Gail Dennis, and artist Glenn Wolff, to brainstorm.

“We hate bullies,” Dennis writes in his blog. “I was one of 600 authors who signed a full-page letter in the New York Times protesting Amazon’s strong-arm business tactics. As a Macmillan author, I had watched the buy buttons on four of my books, and every other Macmillan title, disappear from Amazon’s website in 2010, when the publisher refused to buckle in to Amazon’s unreasonable price demands. Not long after that, Amazon put a stranglehold on small literary publisher Melville House and nearly drove the house out of business. They used the same tactic this year against the large publishing group Hachette. Jeff Bezos’ oft-quoted statement ‘that Amazon should approach small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle’ sends shivers down our spines. Maybe publishing a book or two a year that the Bully can’t touch will be satisfying, like slinging pebbles at his forehead.”

The result was Big Maple Press, named after a tree on the Dennis property and devoted to selling books only through independent booksellers. The press opened its doors in 2014 and has thus far printed or reprinted special editions of several of his books, including The Bird in the Waterfall: Exploring the Amazing World of Water, originally published by HarperCollins.

Artist Glenn Wolff and Jerry Dennis
Credit Jerry Dennis

Dennis says being a nature writer goes hand-in-hand with being an environmentalist. Although he also writes poetry and fiction, Dennis is most comfortable writing nonfiction on environmental themes.

He was chosen as Kalamazoo Public Library’s 2015 Reading Together author for his memoir The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas about a six-week journey through all five Great Lakes as a crew member aboard a schooner. It is also a discussion of Michigan’s use—and misuse —of its water resources. Dennis will talk about the book during a public presentation March 3 at 7 p.m. in the Kalamazoo Central High School auditorium, 2432 N. Drake Road.

Jerry Dennis, who lives in Traverse City, has been a freelance writer for 30 years, building a reputation as one of the most celebrated nature writers in the United States. His essays have appeared in Audubon, Smithsonian, Orion, and the New York Times, among others. He's won many awards and his work is frequently reprinted and anthologized. Dennis has written eleven books that have been translated into five languages. He has won the Michigan Author of the Year Award, the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award, Michigan State University's Great Lakes Culture Award, and four "Best Book of the Year" awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

Listen to Between the Lines with Zinta Aistars every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. on WMUK.