Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Brave New World of

Much has been written over the last couple months about the controversy surrounding Amazon's decision to remove its "Buy now" button from POD book listings that don't print from its own BookSurge subsidiary. Long story made short, if you're a POD author, your books can receive preferential treatment if you use Amazon's POD printing subsidiary as opposed to using a competitor such as Lightning Source or any of the dozens of alternatives. POD printer BookLocker even filed suit in May to block prevent Amazon from, we suspect, wielding unfair and anti-competitive powers against its POD printing competitors.

The New York Times in Monday's issue provides an update to the ongoing saga, this time with news about how Amazon is cracking down on publishers in the U.K.

Our take: Amazon is the biggest single threat facing book publishers and book stores today. First, they're going to try to own the indie author POD and digital publishing segment of book publishing, and next I suspect they'll try to recruit mainstream published authors to bypass traditional publishers for future works and do their original publishing through Amazon. With Amazon's Digital Text Platform service, it's already as easy for an indie author to publish on the Amazon Kindle as it is to publish on Smashwords.

Some in the industry have suggested that Amazon should acquire Borders. I don't see that happening. Instead, I think it's only a matter of time before Amazon starts acquiring ailing mainstream print publishers and their catalogs. Amazon would acquire authors and backlists and could then disintermediate multiple members of the book industry supply chain in one fell swoop. To authors, this might at first appear a favorable outcome, considering the current system is broken from the perspective of most authors, and Amazon pays better royalties than its traditional print cousins. However, longer term, reduced choice and monolithic near-monopolistic industry control are seldom good for anyone but the monopoly.


Aaron Shepard said...

Mark, your initial statement is untrue. No preferential treatment has been documented for BookSurge or CreateSpace books as opposed to books from self publishers who work DIRECTLY with Lightning Source. Only larger publishers and "self publishing companies" have been affected.

For details, please see my Publishing blog at

Aaron Shepard
Author, Aiming at Amazon

Liviu said...

What is that bad about about Amazon putting pressure on publishers?

What are the sell-through rates today? What happened with nurturing writers, having strong mid lists?

Analogies are tricky and music and books are different in so many ways so it's hard to make such truly useful, but still - look at the music business and how they should go on their knees before Steve Jobs for squeezing their ### and forcing them to adapt rather than sue, cry, whine and go into oblivion...

Mark Coker said...

@ aaron, if this is the case, I stand corrected. Thanks. However, the underlying premise remains correct that some authors and publishers are getting the squeeze.

@liviu, I agree, many publishers have dropped the ball in terms of serving their authors. It's because they dropped the ball that some indie authors will at first welcome Amazon the disruptor. You asked what's bad about AMZN pressuring publishers? Nothing really in the short term, unless you work for a publisher. Long term, if AMZN does begin to assume monopolistic marketplace power, some may regret the loss of some publishing and book store institutions, and authors may yet again find themselves beholden to powers that can't always serve their best interests.

I believe competition is good and if one participant isn't contributing enough to the value chain, others will come along to fill the void. Print publishers are caught between a rock and hard place right now. Their costs are increasing, sales are stagnating, and new delivery models (POD, Amazon Digital Text, even Smashwords) are coming along that give indie authors a rich palette of alternative publishing options to consider.