How We Feel About Amazon

Jason LowIn this post, Publisher Jason Low shares his feelings on the Amazon vs. Hachette battle, the future of publishing, and the view from here as a small publisher.

Since the great Amazon-Hachette feud of 2014 started this summer, many people have asked where we stand. It is no secret that we do business with Amazon—almost every publisher does. At the same time, what I see from Amazon, and where I see the book industry heading as a result, worries me.

To me, Amazon is a different animal. It is unlike any other corporation out there because of the way it treats the bottom line. The problem is, Amazon’s bottom line is growth, not profits. In sacrificing profits they have made a conscious decision to sell books at unsustainable prices, undercutting any and all competitors who are still operating under the profit model, which is everyone.

The consequences of this are twofold. First, it puts other companies out of business, straight and simple. We have seen the continual decrease in the number of independent and even chain bookstores over the last several years as Amazon increases its market share.

Second, selling books cheaply exacts a considerable price from the entire publishing industry. Books still require substantial capital to create, print, and ship. While the cost of doing business goes up, any price increases to help offset these costs are compromised by a major player who is not concerned with making money. Publishers are being squeezed for all they are worth, in a business that already operates with a great deal of risk and razor-thin margins.

Before Amazon, publishers and distributors had a symbiotic relationship. The distributors needed the books to sell and publishers relied on distributors to sell the books. Amazon is looking to upend this entire system.

Here is where I see the publishing industry in the next couple of years: Amazon will control the majority of retail bookselling. Currently, Amazon has 65% of all online book orders, which includes print and digital. As a result, they will have a say as to what gets published and will dictate book pricing. Can you tell me another industry where a distributor has this kind of control over content creators?

The Amazon-Hachette battle is a pivotal moment in our industry. If you are not familiar with this issue you should bring yourselves up to speed because this concerns everyone who cares about books. You should consider carefully the impact that rock bottom prices and free shipping will have on the publishing ecosystem in the near and long term. Here are a few good articles to start, which offer arguments on both sides:

As Publishers Fight Amazon, Books Vanish (NY Times)

Amazon’s Low Prices Disguise a High Cost (NY Times) Trying to Wring Deep Discounts from Publishers (The Seattle Times)

Amazon vs. Hachette: What Would Orwell Think? (New Yorker)

In Defense of Amazon: An Author’s Dissent (Salon)

My Week as an Amazon Insider (The Guardian)

In Defense of Amazon (The New Republic)

Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

7 thoughts on “How We Feel About Amazon”

  1. Thank you. I wasn’t up to date on this – another friend had alerted me to what was going on with Amazon, but I hadn’t had time to research. Because I respect the work and mission of Lee and Low, I was immediately alert when you posted this.

  2. I stopped ordering from Amazon when this dispute began and I realized the extent to which Amazon was willing to go to become the only player in town. Now it wants to be a publisher, a film studio, a TV producer all in one. I am not prone to paranoia, but I do not want all my media choices limited to one source with no competition.

  3. Well, between Amazon, Google, and Disney, there’s not much out there anyway.

    As you say, “The distributors needed the books to sell and publishers relied on distributors to sell the books. Amazon is looking to upend this entire system.”

    I’m not saying that’s right. I will say that, unlike most places, Amazon gives people access to independently-published books that no one else takes. We’re told to stop doing business with them, yet for our business, they’ve been a boon. My own book received an excellent review in Publishers Weekly and optioned by a film company, but no bookstore wanted anything to do with it.

    I think all these companies are becoming too big and monopolistic. However, the Amazon fight would have more support if writers and small pubishers had ever had been able to get into the system any other way.

  4. Jocelyn,
    I agree with you that this is not an easy issue to come down on either way. Amazon’s self publishing efforts are admirable and does create another viable option for authors looking for publication.

    For us, as a publisher and business we like to control our own destiny and make our own decisions. Pricing for e-books would fall under that overall umbrella.

  5. Two heavy weights are battling it out and unfortunately it is causing a larger rift to grow between traditional and independent writers. I understand both sides but dragging their writers into the fray doesn’t seem right even if we are led to believe that those writers are doing if of their own free will. Traditional publishing needs to learn from indie as indie has learned from traditional.

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