genre stuff writing & publishing

Amazon vs Publishers

The New York Times asks if Amazon will kill of book publishers:

Traditional publishers, unfortunately, don’t have a relationship with the reader — or if they do, it’s extremely tenuous. Ask most consumers what publishers their favorite authors are aligned with, and 9 out of 10 couldn’t tell you. If you don’t have a relationship, you can be cut out, and this is what Amazon knows and what writers are learning.

Well that’s clearly bollocks, as anyone in the genre will tell you, but I think there’s something to be said about Amazon’s clout in cutting out the middle man:

Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.

Several large publishers declined to speak on the record about Amazon’s efforts. “Publishers are terrified and don’t know what to do,” said Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, who is known for speaking his mind.

Publishers aren’t allowed to share what’s on the Amazon rate card (what they charge publishers to promote their books), but the costs run into the thousands for sending out customer emails, putting books in prominent places, and so on. Standard industry practice, of course. They charge publishers to do this because they can, and what’s the alternative? Let books die without exposure? Exactly.

And rates go up each year (times are tough, after all). The danger of this is that writers become less and less profitable for publishers – which means, when it comes to accountancy time, if the numbers don’t add up for said writer… You get the idea. But I suppose if Amazon are cutting out publishers, we don’t have to worry about the numbers game.

Amazon have long held the upper hand against bookstores, too: it’s much more cost-effective when you don’t have to pay for walls, staff etc, in quite the same way. They able to undercut publishers on price in the ebook business (some might say it devalues the physical product, though not quite as much as piracy and the expectation of books being free – but that’s another rant entirely). So with fewer bookstores, that means more people turn to Amazon. It means publishers will need to spend more money with Amazon, too.

Amazon are also cleverly seducing self-published authors into marching in time with the corporate giant, as it’s clearly far simpler to upload your work to Kindle then going through the hoops that traditional publishing presents. This is doubly clever because it means thousands of indie writers are all singing the praises of Amazon, and pointing people their way.

I’m not complaining about any of this – it’s all par for the course if you’re a company looking to dominate the writing and publishing industry, and I openly confess to buying most of my books through Amazon (even though I do love to browse a real bookstore). But I merely mean to highlight these points to suggest yes, I can see Amazon not quite killing off publishers in the next few years, but certainly marginalising the traditional industry beyond anything we’ve seen before.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

6 replies on “Amazon vs Publishers”

Also, would I be right in saying that Amazon is able, in a lot of of cases, able to avoid paying a larger share of corporate taxes than it might have to if it had physical stores in the UK?

That’s certainly correct for many states in the US – – though I’m not quite sure about the UK. It’s a huge advantage over competitors, though. 

I tend to order from The Book Depository if I can, but I’ve got to confess Amazon does get a fair bit of my money. Unlike TBD, Amazon are arguably better for the environment in that they don’t send out 18 packages if you order 18 books. More often than not, my orders from TBD come separately. I got a parcel earlier this year from Amazon with five or so books in it at once. That’s awesome, in my opinion.

What concerns me is that Amazon are allowed to exist like they do. Surely they’re causing a lot of damage? I know my mum refuses to buy non-offer books from WH Smith/Waterstone’s because they’re “expensive” (I know, I don’t get it either), whereas when I was working near two WS stores, I was easily spending £30+ there a month on average. Surely other people are coming around to that view, and it’s not exactly a good thing, is it?

When Amazon use couriers with electric vans, then that’ll be better for the environment!

Yes, they are probably causing damage, but why should they care? That’s the problem. 

It’s bookstores who need to pull their fingers out. They need to respond to the 21st century and use the internet to help build communities around their bookstores. People have to want to buy from them. 

What I meant by the environment point, sorry for not elaborating, is that Amazon reduce the number of parcels they ship out per order that way, but also that they almost exclusively use cardboard. TBD only seem to use cardboard with hardbacks, and their paperbacks come in jiffies. If you put in an order of 10 books, 3 of which are HB and 7 are PB, that’s a LOT more packaging going out.

And I agree about the bookstores. WH Smith is hell. Waterstone’s is less so, I must admit. My experiences there have always been pleasant, and they often have a 3-for-2 offer on. A lot of their stores are also on Twitter, which is also good.

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