We’re gratified to know that others, finally, are beginning to pay attention to Amazon's practices and take action.
The Sunday New York Times on Jan 29th ran a lengthy story ominously entitled “The Bookstore’s Last Stand”. While we’re glad to see someone else reporting on it all by major media, we have to take issue with the idea that it is only B&N that can save book industry; it is you book buyers who have that responsibility and power, not the guy who runs B&N and who hadn’t sold a book before three years ago is the guy to do it.
On Jan 29th, NPR ran a story about the allegations of plagiarism and the lack of compensation from Amazon.
In Shelfaware on the 30th, an article was included about the NYTimes article, how it neatly ignored us independents, and then reported on American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher's recently listed statistices to show that bricks-n-mortar independents are doing quite well.
That same morning, a local author (THANKS, JANE!) forwarded an essay from Author’s Guild that was both depressing and heartening. Depressing because so many people are pessimistic about publishing and heartening that more people are talking about the problems. “Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory”. The essay cited two major articles: one in Bloomsburg Businessweek (hardly an alarmist or leftist outfit) that explained the roiling going on within NYC’s publishing; and one in the new issue of Harper’s, “Killing the Competition: How the New Monopolies Are Destroying Open Markets” by Barry C. Lynn: “Today, by contrast, a single private company has captured the ability to dictate terms to the people who publish our books, and hence to the people who write and read our books. It does so by employing the most blatant forms of predatory pricing to destroy its retail competitors. It does so by gathering up massive amounts of information about the most private thoughts, interests, and habits of the American citizen. And all the while, this new sovereign justifies its exercise of raw power in the same way our economic autocrats always do: it claims that the resulting ‘efficiencies’ will serve the interests of the consumer.” [The Businessweek article is linked in the Author’s Guild piece; the Harper's article is quoted – to read it all, you’ll have to do what we did and go support them by buying a copy.]
Then, later that afternoon came shockingly cheerful news: Barnes & Noble announced it would not stock or sell Amazon’s printed books. Their decision had more to do with Amazon’s exclusivity with e-books. Amazon would ‘let’ anyone sell their printed books but refused to allow anyone else to sell their e-books. Without that reciprocity, B&N said no dice. This article from the NYTimes – by the same reporter, Julie Bosman, who wrote the Sunday article – ends with this: “It also seemed unlikely that many of the 1,900 independent bookstores in the United States would be willing to stock Amazon books. “There are no circumstances under which we would do that, none,” said Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kan. “If Amazon wants to publish books, let Amazon sell them. And I think that’s what they’re going to have to do.”
Next, we hope the NYTimes will do a story on the math involved in Amazon’s discounting of its own publications.
Today, Feb 3, Publisher's Weekly reported that Books-a-Million, one of the last indie bookseller chains left, announced that they, too, would not be carrying Amazon's printed books.
Something else occurred to us: so many people seem to think it is just wonderful that Amazon sells its goods at such high discounts. The customer can save so much money. The Author’s Guild article noted that Amazon director Jeff Bezos had a $6 billion cushion which gave him the patience and ability and willingness to absorb years of financial losses in order to lock up market share. Let’s play it out to that possible endgame:
Amazon absorbs years and years of losses. The big bookselling chains and the independents can’t meet the discounting that Amazon gives, and buyers expect and demand, and they crash. Major publishers lose so many outlets that they need to sell their books that they cannot survive and they crash. Small publishers are so assaulted by Amazon’s financial demands that they can’t stay in business. Amazon is the last bookseller and publisher left standing.
At that point, they no longer need to discount. There is no competition. They have a virtual, if not complete, monopoly on new books. They stop giving authors such sweet deals on what sells so that they keep a higher percentage of the sale. They can then eliminate all discounts and begin to jack up prices on their own printed books as well as their e-books to recoup years of loses. Readers and authors will have no alternative: no one else prints books, few other outfits can afford to produce e-books and Amazon can easily freeze them out by not making Kindle versions (the Nook no longer exists because B&N went bust, there are iPads and so forth but, with Amazon the Whale in the Pond, no one can make enough money to make non-Kindle versions if Amazon won’t sell them), libraries cannot afford to order Amazon’s products and, really, Amazon doesn’t want you to use a library – they don’t make any money if you do. You’re stuck. You have to deal with Amazon or just buy used books. How did it get this bad? Why didn’t anyone stop them?
Do we sound like Cassandras? We hope it won't come to this, but the prospect is bleak.
Going back to the Harper article – which is about monopolies in general and just uses Amazon as one of four examples (it is a wonderful, eye-opening and disturbing article, go find the issue and buy it) – Barry Lynn writes: “Today, a single company – Amazon – accounts for more than 20 percent of the domestic book market. And even this statistic fails to convey the company’s enormous reach. In many key categories, it sells more than half the books purchased in the United States. And according to the company’s estimates, its share of the e-book market, the fastest-growning segment of the industry, was between 70 and 80 percent in 2010. It’s share of the online sale of physical books is roughly the same.”
You’re going to be living in a company town, where the company owns the store, sets the prices and rakes it in.
Don’t want to live like that? Fight it now. Talk about it with the people you know.
Friends don’t let friends support the Borg.
Resistance is not futile.