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.

Go Read This | Waterstone’s needs to find its Nook | FutureBook

Nice post from Philip here. Personally I think the physical retail presence and access to HEAVY BOOK BUYERS and BROWSERS via that retail presence is the key to Barnes & Noble’s success with the Nook.

It’s an odd story in a way but it reinforces the idea that one of the key weapons in the future of the industry is knowing the customer OR having access to them directly. The three winners in the ebook space right now, Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble all have either huge databases of customer information or direct access to them in places where they part with their money, we shouldn’t miss that when thinking about this today.

Many people wrote off the Nook when it first launched in the US. The name was a bit, well, odd. It had a funny colour strip that didn’t serve much use, except to show book jackets. The e-books available weren’t cheap enough, when compared to Amazon’s overly aggressive pricing. And it had initial shipping problems, a sure-fire technology killer. It was seen as the last gasp of a dying mammal washed ashore by a particularly arch digital wave.

We neglected to look at the two key advantages it had over the Kindle. There was the innovative sharing function, which Amazon has now copied, that gave users a sense of having purchased something tangible—not just a license to read. And of course the ability to read any book for free in one of the chain’s 700 shops, making a physical connection to the shops via digital. The latter gave it something Amazon could never have.

via Waterstone’s needs to find its Nook | FutureBook.

Go Read This | French indies sign petition against Hachette’s iBookstore agreement | theBookseller.com

Interesting news item from The Bookseller today. It’s such a mix of valid and to me misguided thinking.

On the one hand they ask the most pertinent quetion of the next few years: Do We Want To Live Without Bookstores?

Yet on the other they seek to retain their protected status and fixed prices something I’ve never really been a fan of.

The petition, entitled ‘Does Hachette Livre want to do Without Booksellers?’ and reported by the French trade weekly Livres Hebdo, says the joint advertising campaign by Apple and France’s

largest publisher to promote the launch of the iPad in France on 28th May was considered by booksellers “as a sign of great disdain”.

The agreement between the two undermined “the need for publishers to fix retail book prices and resistance to the risk of domination or a quasi-monopoly by one or two large American distributors that impose their terms”.

via French indies sign petition against Hachette’s iBookstore agreement | theBookseller.com.

Go Read This | The Book is Dead! Long Live the Book

Om is right AND wrong here. Yes the message is way more important than the medium, but there’s a real danger that in letting bookstores go we eliminate a whole raft of positive externalities.

The New York Times has been chronicling the trials and tribulations of Barnes & Noble, and in one of the pieces, the paper (which itself is on the receiving end of the digital whip) laments the loss of the traditional book-buying experience. Industry insiders are worried that as the stores die, books and the discovery of books are going to suffer, and as a result, book sales are going to take a nosedive. These arguments are no different from some of the hand-wringing over the shuttering of record stores.

Every time I walk down Broadway in New York, I see the shuttered space that once housed Tower Records, which was chock-full of musical goodness. I look at it wistfully, shake my head, walk on, and a few minutes later, when fancy strikes, I download the latest remix of Bad Boy Bass by Gaudi. I guess I’m one of those who believe that the message is more important than the medium.

via The Book is Dead! Long Live the Book.

Quick Link | Common Sense: Clearance Sale on Barnes & Noble – WSJ.com

I have my doubts over the future of chain bookstores, but they are far from dead. Even in a pessimestic analysis they’ve a good decade in them if not two.

Ebooks are growing fast but physical books still have their advantages for some. As for B&N being down and out, I expect to see their logo on stores for some time to come.

My hunch is that B&N never really embraced the Internet or e-books, tied as it was to the old-fashioned world of physical books and stores. As B&N focused on managing decline, a much more nimble Amazon could concentrate exclusively on the new world it was forming. B&N needed to destroy its business model to prevail. Now it is probably too late. There is a lesson for all businesses here.

via Common Sense: Clearance Sale on Barnes & Noble – WSJ.com.