Unconvincing, Worth Reading Though | Boston Review — Onnesha Roychoudhuri: Books After Amazon

This reads like an extended complaint letter from publishers to Amazon. I’m unconvinced.

There’s nothing here that’s new or original, nothing that suggests anything other than an old order faced with a new one, and even that motif is tired.

I get no sense of what kind of ‘King’ Amazon will be, if indeed King it will be. I get no sense of where the reader fits into this little picture, nor the writers, nor even for that matter, despite the chatter in the piece about them, the booksellers, large or small?

In short it’s fun to moan about Amazon, but why are you moaning, who other than the publishers (and perhaps the booksellers, though that case is less clearly establish in this piece) is being hurt?


Publishers who once met directly with Amazon representatives find they can no longer reach anyone at the company, even by phone. Many publishers with distributors don’t even know the name of the person who buys their books at Amazon. The relationship is almost exclusively handled by the distributor. Indeed, of the 20,000 employees at Amazon, just one is tasked full-time with working as a liaison between the company and publishers.

Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and of Small Press Distribution, suggests that the difference between Amazon and brick-and-mortar bookstores is most evident in how they market books: “I think even people at Amazon would say that it’s essentially a widget seller that happens to have begun by focusing on books. Many people, like me, will say you can’t sell a book the same way you sell a can of soup.”

At the heart of the soup-can analogy are the algorithms that Amazon uses to “recommend” books to customers. Most customers aren’t aware that the personalized book recommendations they receive are a result of paid promotions, not just purchase-derived data. This is frustrating for publishers who want their books to be judged on their merits. “I think their twisted algorithms that point you toward bestsellers instead of books that you might actually like [are] a shame,” Gavin Grant, cofounder of Small Beer Press, laments.

Algorithms can also affect how much customers pay for books. Individual customers may get different discounts on the same book depending on their purchase history. The practice is euphemistically called “dynamic pricing.” According to Roger Williams—the former sales director at Simon & Schuster, and one of the first salespeople to deal directly with Amazon—the complexity of the algorithms is such that, Amazon’s employees “sometimes don’t know themselves what is going to show up in some of the pages that appear.”

via Boston Review — Onnesha Roychoudhuri: Books After Amazon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.