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?