On Publishers, Amazon and Readers

I’m hip deep in getting Victory from Ashes ready for release. It’s been a bumpy road, thanks to real life issues. Nothing horrible, mind you, just enough to keep me distracted and cut into time normally spent in my office working. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure I would get a blog post out today. And then I came across this article from the LA Review of Books. One quote in particular stood out to me:

Does Amazon care about books? Not in the way that publishers, authors, and readers do, but that doesn’t change the power dynamic. Amazon derives its power from market share, yes, but also from what Thompson calls “information capital” — namely the data it collects about its customers. That gives it an enormous advantage over publishers, whose traditional business approach prioritizes creative content and relationships with authors and booksellers.

Before we go any further, let me state here and now, Amazon is not the “Big Evil” so many cast it as. Neither is it perfect. That’s especially true right now as the company goes through leadership changes, deals with the impact of the pandemic, etc. Now, with that out of the way, let’s go back to the quote.

Amazon doesn’t care about books the way publishers, authors and readers do.

Yes and no. The problem with this statement is it is too simplistic. It lets the reader pick the context and go from there. Amazon is a business. It’s main concern is with making money. It does so not only by selling a single title or item but by pulling together buyer histories and being able to direct buyers to other items they might like.

Authors, if they are being honest, want to make money off their work as well. So this algorithm works for us as well. We want those Amazon algorithms to link our books to other books that are selling well, books that will lead new readers to our work. So . . . common cause here.

Readers want to find books they like. The problem with Amazon is there isn’t a store to go to where we can wander the shelves. Amazon works around that with the “other readers who bought X also bought Y” and the paid advertisements on a book product page. We find new books and new authors and Amazon and the authors make money. And, if you want to be totally honest about it, we make money as readers (in a way) because we aren’t paying as much for that print version of a book or ebook as we would if we went into the local bookstore and bought that same print book.

Hmm, everyone is making money in one way or another. So common interest number one.

But one group was left out of the above: publishers. They want to make money. At least they tell their shareholders they do. But do their actions in the way of catalogs actually support that? We know they aren’t all that interested in their authors making money. If they were, they would increase the royalty amount authors earn. They would also lower ebook prices to be more in line with what most readers are willing to pay for nothing but a bunch of electrons.

The quote above also notes how Amazon gathers data on its customers but publishers don’t have that ability. Actually, that is only partially true. Yes, publishers are reliant on “real stores” to sell its print books. But here is where the publishers are working against themselves and their authors–no to mention readers. Instead of instituting a simple inventory control system that keeps track of how many copies of Title X are printed, where they are shipped to and how many are sold vs returned, publishers rely on Bookscan to give them what is nothing more than an estimated number of sales from across the country.

Then they are being screwed by the philosophy where bookstores (or large box stores that sell books) give little to no purchasing control to the individual stores or regions. One size fits all. This is something Barnes & Noble did for years, the same years that saw their sales numbers fall year after year. New management says they are changing this, but only time will tell.

If you don’t give readers what they want to buy, you are cutting your own financial throat.

Then there’s the strategy so many stores put in place where books only stay on the shelf for a few weeks unless they are “best sellers”. This doesn’t give a book time to gain traction with purchasers. Publishers went along with this because they don’t want to rely on Amazon and are basically held hostage by bookstores.

The whole problem comes down to a failure to adapt and embrace the changing marketplace. Publishers want to keep e-book prices high because they make more on print books. Note, publishers make more, not authors. None of this is about what is good for the writer or the reader when you talk publishers and profit margins. So when I see someone talking about how Amazon doesn’t care about books the way publishers, authors and readers do, I come up short.

Thank God, Amazon doesn’t care about books the way publishers do. Amazon cares about getting books into customers hands first and foremost. As a reader and as a writer, that’s a pretty damned good thing in my mind.

What about you? What are your thoughts on all this?

Featured Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay


  1. The quote has an interesting viewpoint– I mean, where it stands to look at what it’s describing.

    It’s frozen.

    Sure, Amazon has a huge market share, and information advantage– and as you point out, they’ve got the information in part because they went and got it in order to cut their costs by spending the least amount possible on providing what will sell– but it SITS there.

    It’s like they can’t see how it’s connected, that they spent the resources to build the information gathering, and THAT is why they have market share, and THAT is why they don’t see books like publishers.

    It’s kinda true that readers see books differently than Amazon, but we see them even more differently than Publishers; similarly, Authors probably have the most in common with Amazon or the Readers, depending on their style, but it’s definitely not the SAME!

  2. I had an odd experience last week with my kindle and hope this is a good place to comment on it. I get ads on my kindle and normally they are for wild office romances or steamy regency or cowboy stuff, **none of which I read**. (I had to explain this to my kids who thought I was reading whatever they saw, and they thought it was very funny.) Last week at the beach I was unconnected to the internet and began getting ads for MGC authors (which I do read) only they weren’t proper ads with pictures of the covers and brief blurbs. Just a title and author. I used to just get a girl with a telescope when I was disconnected. Maybe you know why and it is all a deep plot…

    1. LOL. No plot, at least not one that I know of. Actually, I saw a story a week or so about how Amazon was not only changing the Kindle interface on our devices (making it easier to navigate the book contents, etc) but was also changing the wallpaper/ads bit. I’ve noticed I’m getting more covers from authors I’ve read or have loaded on my device than ads recently.

      1. They have also jiggered with the controls. I always keep my kindle on airplane mode and just crossload books via usb connection. Figured I needed to check for sw updates so turned wifi on. The bloody thing sat and rebooted several times, I got a new resting page, and it took me forever to figure out how to turn the page counter back on as they in their infinite wisdom regrouped all the controls.

    2. Oooh, now I’m curious.

      *looks at her suggestions*

      …The Werewolf Nanny… k, that’s probably from CV Walters’ The Alien {blank} Bride”s series, or the unusual romance I tried and bounced off of, a decent number of things that make sense based off of the group I know read the Alien Bride series….

      Go to the next section of Prime Reading.

      The Wizard’s Butler, Goodnight Moon, Murder with Oolong Tea and The Federalist Papers.

      I think they did adjust the Prime Reading suggestions to better reflect what you’ve got on your list, yay!
      I’ll check “Discover More Ebooks”.

      ….The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits (nonfiction, mythology), Escaping Wonderland (appears to be a romance, with the Cheshire Cat as a FF14 style catboi, I’m interested enough to click because Moon Keeper Miqo’te, I must.), and the next book in My Next Life As A Villainess: All Roads Lead to Doom.

      Definitely improved their suggestions, inside of the limits of computer learning!

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