On TechCrunch, Sarah Lacy has an interesting article looking at all the things Amazon is doing for authors and suggesting that the company is in the process of doing to publishers what it has already done to small independent bookstores. In the last couple of years, she writes, Amazon has really improved the level of services it offers to writers, including some services that even publishers haven’t been providing.

These services include added social networking features such as Facebook integration, but most importantly access to BookScan data for their titles—not just those published or sold through Amazon, but sold anywhere in the US. It was such an amazing thing for Amazon to offer, Lacy writes, that when she first told fellow writer and TechCrunch columnist Paul Carr about it, he didn’t believe her until she showed him.

Of course, the single most revolutionary thing Amazon has done for authors– aside from existing in the first place and providing a continuing market for books that aren’t bestsellers– is the Kindle store. It represented the first time in the offline or online world that impulse purchasing of books was enabled, changing everything, particularly when that Kindle– or iBook– store is on your phone. An author no longer has to rely on a chance conversation about a new book at a cocktail party staying in the forefront of your mind long enough to get to a bookstore, find what you want and order it. You can pull out your phone and with one click, you’ve got it. And as Amazon expands the Kindle to the Web, Apple devices and elsewhere, that insta-purchase effect is even broader. Of course, with Borders on the ropes, there’s one less big vendor making anything Amazon-related all the  more important.

Of course, it’s doubtful that Amazon will “kill off” publishers any more than e-books will “kill off” books. But it provides another avenue that authors can use to get their works in print and e-print, especially if they want to publish books that their publishers are not interested in buying. (I recently suggested this to one author whose publisher decided after buying her first two books in a series that it wasn’t interested in a third, and she seemed enthusiastic about the idea.)

Wonder what Amazon will do next?


  1. Publishers have had plenty of time to adapt to the Internet and the digital world. They have also had plenty of time to see what happened to two other copyright industries (music and movies) that failed to do so. The fact that these companies have not taken the lead in out-“Amazoning” Amazon is no one’s fault but their own.

    The Boards of Directors of all of the major publishing companies should sack senior management en masse and replace them with people who understand today’s market. But they won’t since the Board members came from the same generation as the executives and are also totally out of touch with today’s digital reality.

  2. Hear hear @Michael Scott. The publishers can’t say they weren’t warned. They had lots of time to make publishing different than movies & music. As far as I’m concerned Amazon did everything for people that read books to suit the readers. I’m glad they eschewed ADE as well. I can de-authorize and re-authorize devices as required with Amazon, not so with Adobe.

  3. In economic terms, publishers exist because they add value to the book production/distribution process. Some of the values we add include multiple stages of editing (first determining books we believe are worthy of our brand, and second, helping authors improve these already deserving books), layout (making books look attractive), marketing (including attractive and eye-catching cover design), pricing, distribution (publishers are aware of the various paths toward sale and can offer access to distributors that may not be available to individual authors), as well as cost savings by amortizing investments over multiple books and authors. As long as we continue to focus on adding value, there will be a role for publishers. Should we be perceived as not adding value, obviously we become unnecessary (or perceived as unnecessary) and will vanish.

    There certainly are publishers who resist change, but I don’t think that’s the real issue here. After all, there are many hundreds of publishers. Imagining that they’re all run by ignorant fools might be satisfying but it doesn’t match my experience in this industry (not that some aren’t run by ignorant fools, of course. Just not all of them).

    Rob Preece

  4. Whatever happened to waving about quotes concerning Darwinian micro-evolution? It seems to me that you can’t be picky about what you apply said theory to… Amazon is a step in literature’s evolutionary chain. Blaming them for the ‘downfall of the paper book’ would be like blaming frito-lay for American obesity. The consumer directs the market.

    I understand the genuine chagrin that befalls the average bookshop haunter upon hearing the words “rapid change is coming to the book industry”, despite change being a natural process. Even diamonds will eventually deteriorate.

    Perhaps by readers donning a ‘Survival of the Fittest’ T-shirt before walking around book conventions will help remind their fellows of the reality of the situation.

  5. Michael – Very well said
    Rob – I believe you are abs correct about the future of Publishing services.
    Meredith – Amazon has succeeded by giving the public what they want. I cannot stand bookshops myself. So limiting. So musty. No loss.

  6. Lacy may be on to something. I’ve been dealing with Amazon as both a publisher and an author for some ten years and I’ve noticed that I’m better treated as an author than as a publisher. The nifty stuff, like Authors Central, are for authors. There are no corresponding amenities for small publishers. That’s why, for each of my titles, I make sure I go into Amazon’s database as an “editor,” which I am. Being a book’s editor gets me an author’s amenities. Being a publisher gives me almost nothing.

    For the why, read up on Henry Ford’s enormous River Rouge factory (1917). Iron ore and other raw materials went in and finished Model-Ts rolled out at cheaper and cheaper prices. There was no need at River Rouge for the sorts of independent subcontractors you see, for instance, scattered along I-85 near the new, state-of-the-art Kia factory in west-central Georgia. At River Rouge, Ford Motor did almost everything involved in the making of cars. Amazon clearly wants to do something similar for books. It wants to eliminate what it sees as the inefficiencies of middle-men, whether they be neighborhood book stores or publishers.

    Personally I doubt Jeff Bezos and the corporate culture at Amazon even understand the role that publishers and local bookstores play in keep the book ecosystem healthy. Publishers do provide authors with valuable feedback and assistance. Harper Lee’s publisher, for instance, worked with her over many months helping her transform a series of interesting short stories into one of the most popular novels of the twentieth century. ‘Real’ bookstores, including speciality stores, play a similar role by refusing to stock badly printed and badly written titles. We don’t have to wade through junk.

    Amazon not only doesn’t display any interest in book quality, it actually seems to be hostile to any variable but its own profit margin. For an illustration, go to Amazon’s advanced search page and in the Publisher field enter:

    General Books LLC

    You’ll see hundreds of thousands of hits for books with identical beige covers. Nor is the ugliness merely external. Go to the website for General Books and you’ll discover that they’ve created this huge collection with automated robots. They admit that their books are missing pages, have badly OCRed, never proofread texts, none of the illustrations in the original, and no table of contents. Their goal is to create books as cheaply as possible and then grossly overprice them. Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, for instance, sells for $32.

    Does Amazon grudgingly include these dreadful titles from General Books LLC because they feel an obligation to sell every book on the market? No. Play around with Amazon searches for some of General’s titles and you’ll discover that they actually push General books over less expensive, better quality titles from other publishers. In many cases, users must go to great effort to find the better-quality, lower-priced editions hidden behind Amazon’s profit-margin-is-all-that-matters smoke screen. No brick-and-mortar bookstore would engage in that sort of behavior. Those who run traditional bookstores love books. Bezos, to his great discredit, doesn’t. Soon, I suspect we’ll all be lamented that Amazon didn’t begin by selling boxes of breakfast food.

    As Amazon grows and captures more and more of the market, I fear for our book ecosystem. It’s not that Amazon is a bully, although that is true. The courts can handle that. It’s not just that Amazon is driven by profit to the exclusion of all else. It’s that Amazon isn’t an online bookstore. It’s an online distribution system with no understanding of what a good bookstore does.

    The problem may get worse. If Amazon moves aggressively into shoving aside publishers like it has trampled on bookstores, the entire system that creates and distributes books will become increasing unhealthy. We’ll have a lot of junk books, some at very low prices, but quality will become increasingly rare and hard to find in the midst of so much trash. Every book will look like a rusty, rattly, black Tin Lizzy.

  7. In some respects, I feel like I’m beating a dead publisher…er horse… that is.

    Amazon is statistically likely to win over the publishers, and yes, maybe even replace them largely for several reasons:

    1. Amazon wants to sell me books. Can’t say the same for publishers given they hide behind complex old fashioned geographical publishing restrictions. E-books have been here for almost 20 years and geographical restrictions have only gotten worse.

    2. Amazon doesn’t treat the customer like sH*t. Publishers don’t even respect the readers who are the ones with the money. Amazon has excellent customer service and people enjoy purchasing from Amazon.

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