Monday, April 9, 2012

Amazon's Arc

Hardball pricing tactics, combined with market dominance, have made Amazon the elephant in the room that no one can avoid talking about any more.

As writers who hope for publishing support, we despair over what Amazon's cut-to-the-bone pricing is doing to many traditional publishers and to critical parts of publishing itself; and at the same time we love the advantages that can be gleaned by working with the behemoth. Now that Amazon's not only the biggest online bookseller for all books and huge venue for indie-published books, but has established its own substantial publishing imprints, it is a player in our world like never before.

Personally, I share the belief that a shakeup was overdue in the traditional publishing industry, but like most people, I sure don't want to see the loss of quality or of opportunity for meaningful editing, distribution, and publicity that are the innards that make publishing good, not only for writers, but for readers.

The past decade, since the tsunami of digital publishing hit, has been a wild ride, and promises to continue to be for a while. Amazon is, of course, key to the tsunami, and there's still no telling exactly how the sea change will leave the beaches it crashes over. What will survive and grow stronger? What will be nothing but beach detritus when the waves recede? There are signs that many of the traditional publishers will not, after all, be detritus. Hooray! I believe that if they maintain a strong competitive presence, we writers and readers will eventually end up with the best of both worlds.  But before we get there, we've still got some serious undertows to deal with. One way of knowing what those might be is to keep up with what's happening with Amazon in the book world.

An article about a current development was published last week in Amazon's home town of Seattle, in the Seattle Times newspaper. Worth a read all the way through, but to summarize what's in the article about recent developments in what I like to call the Amazon Arc of Influence, consider:

  • early 2010: Amazon removes 'buy' buttons from MacMillan's titles (see Standoff with publishers section of article). Amazon ended up rescinding that action, but it set the tone for what was to come
  • February, 2012: the Independent Publishers Group (IPG) debacle—Amazon pulls 5,000 IPG titles from its sites because IPG won't accept Amazon's pricing terms
  • Currently: small publishers are feeling the pinch big-time from Amazon, even more than previously. They can't afford Amazon's pricing demands and those who are dependent on Amazon for the majority of their sales face possible closure
According to the article, Amazon's pricing cut demands to publishers are often made by email, with no personal contact information provided, leaving almost no room for discussion. A lot of the resulting  anger and frustration is coming not only from the impossible bottom line being demanded, but by what is felt as an offensive and overly aggressive attitude from Amazon. And, of course, Amazon does not seem to hesitate to cut off anyone from its distribution network if they don't comply with the pricing cut demands.

Feeling conflicted about all this? Remember, it's good to stay abreast of what's going on in the industry—it may allow you to take advantage of publishing opportunities, or at least tread water while we wait for the waves to recede. If reading the Seattle Times article adds to your angst, be sure to go to the Amazon logo and its parody next to the Standoff with publishers section and play with the logo—move the little orange bar left and right to see how some publishers are venting. :-)

Yet, I believe many new indie-published authors have had good experiences from working through Amazon and other digital publishers/distributors. Are you one of them? Where do you think writers will find their comfort zone in all of this?

~ Linda


  1. It's tough finding a comfort zone in the mess that is the publishing industry now days. Amazon is attempting a hostile takeover and wishes to become a publishing monopoly, forcing all others out of business. But I don't think that's going to happen. Publishing will change, it has too. Authors are sick of 10% profits and retailers have been given the insane 55% discounts for far too long, giving the author pennies on the dollar for their hard work. That's why so many aren't against what Amazon is doing, because regardless of what they're doing to the big publishers, it's benefiting the author, for now. I have no illusions that their intentions are good. But I hope the outcome of their actions will be.

    1. Succinctly put, Heather! I share that hope with you. We need some very strong Davids to stand up to this Goliath to make it happen.

  2. I'm still watching what all this will mean in the long run. But what Heather says is very well put. I have not read the article as yet, but will venture there after I post this comment.

    Have a good day, ladies! And thank you for a very well written article on something we all need to be aware of. Please keep it up!

  3. Thanks, Lorelei. I hope you had a great day, too. (and yes, keep an eagle-eye on Amazon!)

  4. Linda, this is an interesting post. The industry truly has shifted. Truth be told, I actually tried to boycott Amazon when I saw what they were doing. But when I visited my local Barnes and Noble and they consistently didn't have my books, I ended up giving up and buying off Amazon for ease and price. And then I'm selling my book there too.
    Did I cave? Probably. The traditional sellers will have to create a new business model to keep up with the times. But, like one of the commenters on the Times article stated, they are at least creating jobs.
    Thanks for an excellent post.

  5. They've got us over a barrel. Being one little martyr by fighting them without a huge group behind us is pointless. We'd just get squished like a bug. Competition is the key, and there are rumblings about illegality of predatory pricing and monopolism, but so far no action from the justice system--that could take YEARS, if it ever happens. So we do the best we can and stay aware, and where possible, active. Yes, thank goodness they're creating jobs, that's a good thing. (But I've heard from people familiar with what its like to work there that the same cutthroat attitudes get applied to employees, too. ugh.)

  6. So many changes...too much to learn!!! System overload. Shutting down in 3...2...1...