A Little Thinking About Amazon

I posted this as a comment over at An American Editor who has an interesting piece on Amazon. I thought it was worth putting it here too.


I think we should judge Amazon by BOTH its words AND its actions. The result is different than just listening to the spin.

So Amazon says only the reader and writer are needed YET:
1) It has invested huge resources in building, developing, rolling out and marketing a publishing platform and a reading device (KDP and Kindle)
2) It invested resources in selling ebooks (both by selling them below cost when publishers wouldn’t play ball and by promoting them in premium page space)
3) It has hired serious editors and publishing types to acquire and edit books (and there are ample stories online about those hires)
4) It has acquired serious (and well paid) writers of various genres

Amazon’s words say one thing but it spends its money like it BELIEVES that there is room for more than one kind of model. Amazon SPENDS ITS MONEY like it believes in various forms of mediation between author and reader. It SAYS it doesn’t believe in anything other than Author Reader to scare the crap out of everyone else and draw attention from the fact that it is building a platform to provide really good publishing services to authors and really good reading services to readers.


13 thoughts on “A Little Thinking About Amazon

  1. Chris Hamilton-Emery (of Salt publishing in the UK) has this status update today:
    ‘After months of pressure to move our printing (as well as our distribution) to Amazon, we tell them no — there’s no money in it for us. The next day our books are suddenly made unavailable or available in 2-3 weeks. Then Amazon stop buying our books.’

  2. The trouble, Eoin, with trying to judge Amazon by its actions is that those actions are a moving target. For example, on the hiring of editors. Some of my colleagues have said that Amazon wants to pay less than the Indian book packagers. If true, then hiring editors is just a public relations ploy, not a serious intent to hire topnotch editors to do topnotch editing.

    I think Amazon wants to become the 2-ton gorilla of publishing (not bookselling, publishing) and thinks that the way to achieve that goal is to have such tight control over the sales end that authors will have no choice but to bend to the Amazon way.

    Ultimately, you are correct that we will have to see how words and deeds match, but in the interim I think people should consider how their buying from Amazon may be supporting an end result of which they disapprove. Most people look no further than the immediate purchase transaction, but they need to consider the ramifications of the transaction.

    1. I’m not saying Amazon are angels, far from it, but big publishers are no better, hell small publishers are no better. We all want to get the best price from editors and typesetters, regardless of how that impacts on them. It aint pretty, but it IS true.

      1. And I have to say – in the interests of balance – self-publishers are no better. I see a lot of my peers encouraging a race to the bottom amongst editors and cover designers. Personally, I think it’s hypocritical given the common stance on writers being “liberated” from the publishing system and achieving fair pay etc. etc. I pay my editor professional rates and in return I get an excellent service. I think we are seeing the results on corner-cutting from publishers large and small, as well as self-publishers – the high profile editing/formatting/production errors in books by Franzen, Stephenson, and Pratchett are just the tip of the iceberg.

        For me, especially because I’m working on my own, my name is my brand, and I can’t risk damaging it by penny pinching on crucial things like editing and design.

  3. So we’ll have the same old gate keepers back in place but under one monopoly called Amazon?
    A one world government of books? Ouch!
    It looks like Facebook, Google and Amazon are striving to become the omnipotent superpowers, turning the internet into one big advertising board.

    The reason these superpowers are emerging is the convenience of finding everything in one place, like supermarket giants in the real world. The world we buy is the world we get. The 99 cents offers have become a veritable gold mine for Amazon and a loss to most authors who don’t have many books for sale… The parallel of farmers having to sell their crops cheaply to supermarkets because they are at the mercy of their distribution system springs to mind.

    What to do?
    As authors we should sell our books as much as possible from our own sites. The reader can consciously support grass root independent movement by googling
    individual authors and visiting them at ‘home’ and purchasing directly from them.
    Power to the people, lol.

    1. Bah,

      There’s no such thing as a monopoly on the internet. The barriers to entry are low as hell and anyone can publish anything or sell anything. Popularity is fleeting too.

      On the other hand there is a tendency for success to breed success so winners tend to be over-sized for as long as they are winners.

      I don’t see Amazon becoming a monopoly, I see the gate keeping function changing dramatically and other may well prove better at it than Amazon. The game is a long one!

      1. Eoin,

        There may not be such a thing as a monopoly on the internet and the barriers may be low as hell… but the competition is more than fierce.

        As you probably know Google gives preference over traffic to Facebook than traffic to individual sites and there is a reason why SOE experts are in such high demand. Internet marketing is not just about having a good product and putting it out there: anyone can publish anything or sell anything, yes, but how will it actually reach its demographic?

        The game is a long one as you say, and no one knows the exact outcome. If consumers will flock to the obvious sites, we may well end up with a few mega sites controlling the traffic and everything else, just like in the real world. Then again the digital world is very unpredictable, so who knows?
        DC alias Bah!

  4. Hi Eoin,

    The first half of what Amazon VP Russ Grandinetti was widely reported. “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader.”

    However, most people spinning off the NYT story, left out the crucial qualifier in the second half of the quote when he said “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”

    That changes the meaning completely. And I agree with what he said 100%. The only two necessary parts of the publishing chain are the reader and the writer. All the others are middlemen.

    Now, I don’t necessarily mean that in a pejorative sense. Publishers, retailers, and booksellers can all add tremendous value, but they are not necessary, as such, not now that the distribution network (in terms of digital at least) is wide open.

    Grandinetti has a penchant for a tasty quote, but I think his point here is that those in the middle, including publishers and including Amazon, have to make the case for the value they are adding or else writers will either (a) go elsewhere or (b) go it alone. And I agree with that too.

    Others, of course, may well feel differently.

    With regard to Amazon and authors, I have interviewed several authors that have been snapped up by their various imprints. They all say the same thing. Amazon are amazing to work with, the contracts are the clearest and most author friendly they have ever seen, the royalty rates are double what anyone else is offering (on digital), there are no non-compete clauses, no dodgy rights grabs, and they will actually promote a book well after the few months after release that a publisher will (max) stretch to.

    On top of all that, their authors are getting an unprecedented marketing push. Amazon have mountains of data on their customers (where publishers have squat). They know what people buy, when they buy it, what they buy next, what they read out of what they buy, how quickly they do it, if they buy the rest of that author’s books on the spot etc. etc. etc.

    I saw them push a Joe Konrath book into the Kindle Store Top 5 – one that had been out for well over a year, and not one that they had signed – just on the back of a targeted email campaign. Pretty impressive.


    1. David you are absolutely right in every aspect of your assessment.
      I can’t think of much that could be added except to say that this model of Amazon’s is not some kind of mystic mystery puzzle !
      The market is still in an embryonic stage and it’s all to play for! This is only the beginning of the game!
      There are phenomenal opportunities for competitors to bring the same kind of clarity of thinking, the same kind of quality of service to the reader.
      Unfortunately the established Publishing Community is still in the process of pulling it’s head out of the sand and appear to be paralysed when it comes to changing business model quickly.
      And the Independent Publishers appear unable to come together to build alliances and marketing bridges.
      If these groups chose not to – then they can blame no one but themselves.

    2. Dave,

      Read the piece and spotted that line myself.

      Funnily enough I wrote a piece in current issue of LOGOS that addressed the whole competitive environment (a longer more thought out version of The Value Web piece I wrote earlier this year).

      In it I wrote: Despite all the evidence of disintermediation shown above, there is no reason to believe that any one way of reaching an audience will be become wholly dominant in the new environment. There is room for much more.

      The goal of the current value chain is profiting from connecting readers with books that they enjoy. There has traditionally only been one way to do that. In the world of digitally distributed content there will be multiple profitable ways to do that.

      The reason for this is that, as we have seen above, digital distribution facilitates competition between every actor in the industry with every other actor in the industry. No one is constrained by the linear value chain anymore. They can compete with anyone, to do anything.

      Instead of a single way to make money that happens along a clear chain, multiple interconnected ways to produce value now exist. Authors, agents, publishers, retailers, and others will take advantage of all of those ways to make money. They will form a much more complex system. That is the core of the emerging value web.

      I think Amazon know this and are trying to distract people from the REAL value in their proposition until its too late for people to respond.

      1. Eoin,

        I loved that piece you wrote earlier in the year. It really put a structure around lots of different, scattered thoughts I was having. It was very insightful, especially the way you drew those disparate developments into a cohesive (and compelling) argument.

        As to Amazon, I think the real value in their proposition is marketing. They have access to data that publishers (and other retailers) can only dream about and use it to target readers exceptionally well.

        I’ve seen books go from nowhere in the listings to selling thousands a day, based on one email push.

        Nobody else can do that.


    3. Dave,
      This is most interesting! Amazon sounds like the dream publisher all of a sudden…Have you approached Amazon yourself or do you prefer to stay self published?

      1. Writers don’t approach Amazon, they actively seek out their own writers based on the mountains of data they have.

        Well, technically agents can submit, but I’ve heard they mostly get short shrift. Amazon prefer to find their own writers, and seem to prefer those that have self-published first.

        Interestingly, I know one very successful self-publisher that approached them. They had a look at his numbers and said that they couldn’t see where they could add significant value for him, that he was doing all the right things already, and that he was probably better off on his own.

        As for me, I’m a lone wolf and like being that way. I’d prefer to see what I can do on my own first, and I’m still at a very early stage. I think signing any kind of deal now could only lead to me undervaluing my work as I am still very much at the stage of building an audience, getting more titles up, and expanding my distribution. And I’m excited to do everything myself anyway – I really enjoy it, even the promo side.

        I wouldn’t automatically refuse any deal, but I would imagine that I am worth (a lot) less to any publishing company than the number that would be needed for me to sign away my rights.

        Realistically, I think I would need a lot more sales under my belt before anyone would come sniffing around, but it would take a shocking number, or a serious deterioration in the conditions in self-publishing for me to consider any deal. Amazon is a separate case, and I think any author would be foolish not to consider a deal with them.

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