The Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) system, which runs 17 stores on Marine bases stateside and in Japan, has elected to send back to the publisher many military family books, including those previously included on a reading list put out by the wife of the former Marine Corps Commandant, James Amos.
The books, many of which are published by Elva Resa, a small, independent publishing company, sells books primarily by military spouse and family authors. Many of the books were included on the recommended reading list by Bonnie Amos, designed to mirror professional development reading lists handed out to Marines. While the spouse list was not mandatory (obviously), many base book clubs used it to inform their reading choices and authors treasured it as a way to get the word out about their work.
Now that a new commandant has taken the reigns, his spouse, Ellyn Dunford, has decided to discontinue the reading list tradition, according to sources. And, although MCX officials denied that the list program has been discontinued, they said returning books that don't sell well is within their agreement with publishers.
"In accordance with our vendor agreements, the MCX has been in conversations with our vendors on returning excess and slow moving inventory," said Bryan Driver, a spokesman for the MCX.
The problem was first highlighted over the weekend by USMC Life, a website that focuses on issues impacting Marines and their families. That commentary focused on the harm the MCX's decision is causing the publisher.
(As a matter of full disclosure: I have an essay printed in a book published by Elva Resa. I do not receive book profits based on sales and have no financial interest in the MCX or any other store carrying copies of the book).
Elva Resa's owner, Karen Pavlicin-Fragnito, who will have to eat the several thousand dollar cost of the books being returned, said that more than harming a small, spouse owned business that is already facing challenges, the decision hurts military families.
Many of the books, such as Confessions of a Military Wife by Mollie Gross, sold well, she said. Sending them back makes no sense and robs spouses and family members of the chance to access book resources. Whether or not the reading list is continued is up to Marine Corps officials -- but it shouldn't impact the MCX's ability to carry books.
"I think the Exchange can carry books with or without a reading list," Pavlicin-Fragnito said. " For Elva Resa we got into this … because we believe in supporting military families. My main thing is that I just want everyone to do the right thing."
Rather than sending the books back -- only a handful of each title at most locations, she said -- the Exchange should put them in the front of the store with good visibility, something patrons have reported to her that they have not done.
"I think that Marine Corps, if they really are truly discontinuing them and don’t want to sell them any more in their store, they should put them front and center in their store so people can see them there and know they are being carried there. ... and say 'these are going away so if you want them here they are,'" she said.
But Exchange officials contend that they have given the books prime placement.
"The books were given selling space in highly desirable locations in all MCX Main Stores with poster and fixture signage to highlight the program," Driver said in the statement. "We hosted 36 book signing events."
Still, Holly Scherer, a military spouse author who was part of the Amos reading list advisory panel, said that while the MCX is "just a piece of this puzzle," the real issue here is getting military family books in front of military families.
"The bottom line is when we helped Mrs. Amos create this initiative we knew Marine spouses were looking for guidance about this very unique, military lifestyle, especially those brand new to the military and they might not know where to go to find information. We wanted military spouses to easily find and have access to resources that will help them navigate through new and different experiences; not just at the Marine Corps Family Team Building offices but also where many spouses find themselves in day to day activities, like the Marine Corps Exchanges, Marine Corps Libraries, or at the Marine Corps Association stores or on-line at militaryfamilybooks.com," she said.
"There are well over 100 inspirational books written by military spouse authors for military families. A wealth of knowledge is out there to support each other with this often crazy yet amazing lifestyle."