Hey everyone, and happy Friday! It’s the end of another week, and almost the end of August… it’s crazy how fast each month seems to be passing, even though this year feels as though it’s dragging on.
Anyways, today I want to discuss how Amazon’s business practices are affecting the publishing world, as it’s something I keep seeing pop up here and there. I watched a YouTube video recently from The Artisan Geek (Seji, who’s been one of my favorite Booktuber’s to watch right now) discussing the reasons she doesn’t like Amazon, and alternatives to popular Amazon owned platforms.
One such platform is GoodReads, which Amazon bought back in 2013, and hasn’t had much competition as a book review platform. I know there have been a lot of complaints about how GoodReads is outdated and can be a pain to use, but it was pretty much the only option for a book reviewing social media site (that’s well known). Now though, there is a beta version of a similar platform called the StoryGraph, which I’ve started using (if you want to sign up and follow, my username is enordhof87). I’ve been enjoying it so far, and it’s cool seeing how those who work on the site ask for feedback and implement it on the site. I heard about the site through Seji’s video, which is linked below, so if you’re interested in watching the video, here it is!
The reason why I think it’s important to discuss this topic is because the amount of influence Amazon has on many industries, not just publishing, is astounding. So many consumers and businesses use this platform, that even if there are issues within the company, it begs the question of, what are our alternatives? Where can we find a site that is as convenient and affordable as Amazon?
I think before we tackle that question, we should have a little background on Amazon and its influence in the publishing industry. I found the information through this Wikipedia article (Yeah I know, it’s Wikipedia, but it had the most organized timeline I could find), so if you want to see the entirety of the timeline, you can check it out there.
|Amazon Timeline (Specifically with Books and Publishing)|
|1995||Amazon is founded as an online bookseller to compete with companies such as Barnes and Noble, Borders, and other brick and mortar bookstores|
|Create Space launches Books On Demand, which makes it easier for self-published authors to distribute their books on Amazon|
|Amazon launches the Kindle|
|AbeBooks becomes a subsidiary of Amazon|
|Barnes and Noble announces the launch of the Nook eReader|
|Ebook sales outperform the sale of hardback books for the first time since the Kindle is launched|
|Borders files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy|
|2011||Amazon buys Book Depository, a UK based online bookseller who delivers to over 160 different countries|
|Amazon acquires GoodReads|
|2014||Amazon and Hachette books are in a legal battle concerning control over ebook prices.|
Now that we have a better idea of its history, let’s discuss how Amazon has managed to uproot the publishing industry. Due to how Amazon runs its business, essentially, by selling their books at a loss, it’s harder for competitors who can’t afford to do that to even compete in the first place. Amazon has resources that a lot of smaller companies may not have, especially when it comes to marketing visibility and the amount of revenue Amazon earns from its other services such as Prime and AWS.
When discussing Amazon, we must talk about how its vertical integration tactics play a role in its success. In my opinion, Amazon’s ultimate goal never was to simply be the “world’s largest bookseller”; that was just a starting point. Amazon’s main focus is to own and operate through their own vertical channel. In the case of publishing, this means having a hand in the publication of books (which it has, as Amazon is a huge platform for self-publishing) as well as the distribution of books. If we also include how Amazon is the parent company of AbeBooks, this means Amazon is further inserting itself in the market of secondhand books, since you can trade in used books on Amazon’s actual platform as well. However, I still think most of the company’s power lies in its self-publishing business and its distribution.
Lets refer back at the legal battle between Amazon and Hachette books in 2014, as an example of how much power Amazon has with book distribution. Basically, the dispute was over which company would control the price of ebooks sold on Amazon. Since the platform being used was Amazon, the company wanted to keep the prices of ebooks at $9.99, no matter who wrote it. Hachette had their own pricing model when it came to ebooks, which was based on who wrote it, how well the book was doing, etc. While this was going on, Amazon would not allow preorders for books published by Hachette, give consumers an incentive to buy books from other publishing companies by offering better discounts, and would even delay shipping on Hachette books. This angered the authors who were with Hachette, as this obviously affected their sales, and it ultimately led to a letter published in the New York Times discussing the issue, and signed by big name authors such as Donna Tarte and Stephen King. In the end, Amazon gave Hachette control over the pricing of its ebooks, saying:
“[There are] specific financial incentives for Hachette to deliver lower prices, which we believe will be a great win for readers and authors alike.”
Although Hachette won in the end, and the most outspoken authors were well known, we can’t forget how this most likely impacted smaller authors who are published through Hachette. When starting out as an author, you most likely aren’t getting large advances, so to make more money, you need to prove to the publishing house you are worth the investment (aka a bigger advance for future work) through your book sales. It also leads to the question: what happens if Amazon had this dispute with a smaller publishing house, that didn’t have the money to survive the tactics Amazon used against Hachette?
Another issue is that Amazon has gotten so big its tough to compete against, and therefore, leads to less options for consumers. With less competition, Amazon has a lot of control over various markets, which becomes a problem for consumers when there aren’t a lot of options to choose from besides Amazon. It’s easy to say consumers can go and shop at other places (in this case bookstores), but that overlooks how affordable Amazon is for a lot of people, especially during COVID-19 where many are struggling financially, and are shopping online more so than before.
Before I end this post, I want to mention there are other issues within the publishing industry, especially with how major publishing houses practice business. This isn’t supposed to be “large publishing companies are better than Amazon” because that takes away the importance of Amazon’s platform for self-published authors (as they can make up to 70% on royalties on ebooks, and 80% royalties on physical books, which as far as I’m aware, isn’t usually the case with large publishing houses). In the case of Amazon vs. Hachette, it’s a case of two big companies duking it out for control over ebook prices, and the authors dealing with the brunt of the impact.
In the end, we have to wonder: is there a single solution to solve all the problems in the publishing industry? The obvious answer is no, as Amazon is only one of many issues needing to be addressed. However, if we don’t talk about these issues, how is it supposed to get better? These discussions need to be had if we want to see any improvement.
What are your opinions on Amazon and its impact on the publishing industry? Do you think it’s not as bad, or even worse than what I mentioned here? What are other important issues you think should be addressed, in publishing in general? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading, and I will see you next week with a new post! Have a good weekend!
Updated carrd of global issues : https://allcards.carrd.co/
Want to find other places to buy books, but not sure where to start your search? If you want alternatives to supporting Amazon, below is a list of other ways you can obtain books.
Indiebound is a great resource for finding books you can buy from your local indie bookstore. Fair warning, the books will be more expensive than Amazon, but if you’re able to afford it, this is a great alternative! They are also partnered with Bookshop (linked below) which is an online bookseller where you can buy books online, and a portion of the sale will go towards local bookstores.
Black Well’s (If you’re not in the USA): https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/home
With COVID-19, depending on where you live, libraries may not be fully open. There are branches which have ebooks/emagazines you can check out online, or you can sign up for an appointment for door-side service. Check out your libraries website to see what policies they have in place during COVID-19.
Free Little Libraries:
If you have seen little wooden boxes around where you live full of books, you most likely have a Free Little Library in your neighborhood. I’ve seen them in neighborhoods, outdoor malls, and other public spaces.
People can drop off books they don’t want anymore, and pick up a book they haven’t read. I’ve found some awesome books through Free Little Libraries, from ARC’s that you aren’t supposed to sell, to the copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s work that I mention in my Bookshelf Tour Tag. It’s also a great place to find books from local authors, as I know it’s some place they’ll drop off extra copies of their books for readers to enjoy.
For those not familiar with horizontal and vertical integration, these are terms used in the business world in relation to the value chain. Vertical integration refers to the acquisition of companies in the production process of the same industry. This is typically done to strengthen the company’s supply chain. In other words, a company might acquire another company that produces an input product, or is basically “before” the buying company in the supply chain (backward integration) or buys a company involved in post production, or is “after” it in the supply chain (forward integration). Amazon has already done this by integrating into hardware and producing the Kindle Fire.
Horizontal integration refers to all the companies within the same level of the value chain, and in the same industry. (For example, if Whole Foods were to buy Trader Joe’s, that would be a horizontal integration, since they are both retail grocery stores).
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Door-side Pickup. (2020). Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.sdcl.org/covid19-services.html
Ellis-Petersen, H. (2014, November 13). Amazon and publisher Hachette end dispute over online book sales. Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/13/amazon-hachette-end-dispute-ebooks
Flood, A. (2014, August 08). Bestselling authors take out full-page New York Times ad against Amazon. Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/08/authors-ad-new-york-times-petition-amazon
Frequently Asked Questions. (2020). Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.sdcl.org/operations-faq.html
Juneja, P. (n.d.). MSG Management Study Guide. Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.managementstudyguide.com/amazons-vertical-integration.htm
Rao, L. (2011, July 04). Amazon Acquires UK-Based Online Book Retailer The Book Depository For International Expansion. Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://techcrunch.com/2011/07/04/amazon-acquires-uk-based-online-book-retailer-the-book-depository-for-international-expansion/
Tarver, E. (2020, March 13). Horizontal vs. Vertical Integration: What’s the Difference? Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/051315/what-difference-between-horizontal-integration-and-vertical-integration.asp
V. (2019, January 27). Amazon continues vertical integration of its supply chain. Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/bit5494/2019/01/27/amazon-continues-vertical-integration-of-its-supply-chain/
Yuhas, A. (2014, August 12). Amazon vs Hachette: Readers and authors take sides in publishing dispute. Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/12/amazon-hachette-readers-authors-publishing-dispute