Things Publishers Fear: # 1 ~ Amazon

About This Series
Things Publishers Fear is an occasional series about the realities of publishing in the modern era. For the record, survival is not guaranteed, nor is it always deserved.

Creative Commons License photo credit: dsearls


Despite the seeming victory of Macmillan in its battle to force Amazon to accept the new “agency model” publishers have a sensible fear of Amazon. Like all businesses that sell their goods to consumers through intermediaries, publishers are forced to subject themselves and their products to the requests and “suggestions” of the retailer.

Amazon controls a large portion of the online consumer connection to books. They may not be the best at this, but they are surely the biggest. They have been on top of pretty much every trend in publishing for some time:

    They have exceptional efficiencies in terms of distribution and sales (both in terms of ebooks and print books), the kind of efficiencies that publishers could never equal. Operations, operations, operations. If you can ship faster and cheaper you have an advantage over your rivals. What publisher could afford to build out a Whispernet for ebook delivery?

    They are organised by category and could easily spin out niche based sales sites (and could afford to pay for content to go with that and attract attention) if they chose. If this doesn’t concern you ask yourself if is viable if Amazon spins out a sales site with masses of author or for hire content built around the Sci-fi & Fantasy genres?

    They have a powerful presence in Print on Demand and Self Publishing. You think that’s not that amazing witness the small scale gold rush that has been emerging over the last six months as established publishers see future profit and less authorial and consumer concern in Self Publishing. Mick Rooney has an interesting Guest column addressing some of these points over at Irish Publishing News.

    With the launch in 2009 of Amazon Encore, Amazon is officially and finally a publisher. That Encore is currently modest hardly matters, they could easily scale that effort very rapidly if they chose and because it need not support the massive legacy costs that the bigger publishers need to, they require much more modest sales results per title and much less working capital per title. Oh and in 2010 they have already announced 9 titles all of which will be out by April 2010. I expect to see many more before the year is out.

So while a victory on the ebook pricing model seems like a step forward for publishers in may ways it represents a funny one. The “Agency Model” actually means Amazon will now profit from each sale whereas up until now, for new releases, it was losing money. So Amazon stands to make more money per unit of a new release sold, but less for backlist titles and non-new releases. But it moves the goal posts by removing the key selling point for the Kindle, the $9.99 new release price point.

This makes it much less attractive for Amazon to deal with publishers rather than cutting them out of the equation and dealing directly with authors or even with agents. After all, they were using ebooks to sell high priced devices and even if they make more money per ebook sold it won’t compensate them for selling fewer units of the Kindle. The battle for publishers now is to retain control of that crucial relationship, the author-publisher relationship. Having already surrendered the publisher-reader relationship and knowing how difficult it will be to regain traction in that arena, to allow Amazon to insert itself between the author and the publisher would be fatal.

So, from their perspective, publishers’ fears of amazon are rational and justified. Amazon threatens to disintermediate the publishing industry using the talent the industry has nurtured and the content the industry has edited, developed, marketed and grown. That hardly seems fair does it? But then “Deserve got nuthin’ to do with it.” – Snoop

3 thoughts on “Things Publishers Fear: # 1 ~ Amazon

  1. >Having already surrendered the publisher-reader relationship. . .

    I think it’s worse than that. The Amazon/Macmillan feud may have kicked off a lot of sympathy for Macmillan in the publishing world, but to a lot of Amazon’s customers, Macmillan is now actively the bad guy. Most of them never paid much attention to who published the books they read, but they’re all fired up about it now.

    • This is true!

      It is certainly a worry. As long as publishers can make connections though, I think the current state can be changed. Macmillan do a good job connecting via, if they could find a similar model for other niches …

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