Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Who Will Become Amazon's Next Victim?

By Andrew E. Kaufman
It’s been all over the news the past week—this fall, Amazon will publish 122 books in a number of different genres through their own imprint, and reports say this is just the beginning. According to industry insiders, they’ve been aggressively courting some of their top authors, and just last week the company announced they’ll publish actress/director Penny Marshall’s new memoir.

Amazon has already shown authors they no longer need an agent or a big-name publishing company to get their books into readers' hands, thanks to their groundbreaking self-publishing model. However, this next move seems push the notion up a notch and has many wondering if traditional publishers will soon find themselves on the same boat as bookstores did after Amazon singlehandedly brought them to their knees.

Word from industry insiders is that publishers aren't just wondering about that prospect-- they're plenty worried about it, too, and rightly so. There’s history to consider. Amazon revolutionized how we read with their Kindle, and if this publishing endeavor succeeds, they just may influence what we read as well.

Will Amazon one day put publishers out of business? Several years ago, that might have been a preposterous question, but today more than a few feel it's a distinct possibility. The publishing industry hasn’t exactly shown much tenacity when it comes to keeping up with Amazon’s fast-moving forward-thinking business acumen, one that has placed them far ahead of the pack. And in an industry that as of late seems to be reinventing itself practically by the minute, not keeping up could mean falling by the wayside. Historically, we’ve seen this happen repeatedly--will we see it again here?

Amazon has already proven itself as a force to be reckoned with on the technological front as well after its Kindle survived the great iPad invasion. Now they’re raising the stakes by aggressively going after the market share with their new Fire, a smaller, lighter, and most importantly, cheaper tablet that could give Apple a run for their money. But more than just a media device, the Fire may also help push Amazon into the role as publishing giant. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has referred to the device as an "end-to-end service," which can only be interpreted as something that will keep them in the loop every step of the way, from the product's inception to its final destination: the customers' hands.

Of course, opinions vary on the subject, and this is just mine. But what about you? Do you think publishers will become a thing of the past? And if Amazon does manage dominate the book biz on every level, what do you think the implications of that might be?


  1. I'd like to think that some smart competition will survive, but only after many publishing houses consolidate or fold. The big question is how long B&N's retail stores will survive. As long as those bookshelves exist, there will be room for some traditional publishers to sell print copies. But without big retail bookshelves, Big-6 is doomed.

  2. I think the current big six will remain in some form with their media conglomerates so Viacom's next Snooki has someone to publish her books.
    Unbranded authors will find it harder to break, but I imagine imprints that are lean and mean will survive and thrive if they embrace more author friendly submission and royalty structures.

  3. Amazon obviously has the juice to run the traditional publishers up the river with out a paddle. (Anyone for a mixed metaphor?) I'm hoping, though, that Amazon will realize there will always be a place for print books, and not take its push too far.

    My concern -- because, of course, this is all about me and indie authors like me -- is that Amazon will turn itself into the gate keeper just as the agents/editors/paper publishers have. (See Hitch's blog earlier this month)

    In any event, this is a very exciting time to be a writer in publishing. Who knew?

  4. Wow! Things are moving so fast I can't keep up! Thanks for your heads-up to this breaking turn of events, Drew. I just might have a look at Amazon's new tablet...

    And I hope there's room for everybody, both e-book and print books and publishers, and for lots of different kinds of publishers, big and small/indie, so authors have plenty of choices to publish their books. --And authors, don't forget to find a freelance editor to help you polish it up first! :-)

  5. Well, Drew, you didn't exactly say you think the publisher's days are over. I think maybe the Big 6 will have to regroup and retool, and I think Amazon isn't called Amazon for nothing.

    However, writers have experienced the sweet taste of independence and the freedom being renegades provides. IF Amazon isn't wise in their 'domination', what's to stop authors from forming their own sales groups and cutting out Amazon?

    Balance. Marketing. Balance. Accessibility. Balance. Quality. Right now it works. The trick will be to keep it balanced.

  6. Peg, it would probably be difficult for authors to go up against the power of Amazon and win. Heck, B&N can't even do it. I'm not saying publishers' days are over--nobody really knows how things will shake out in the end--but I would venture to say that their days of sitting high on their thrones and calling all the shots are long gone.

    And to that I say, Amen.

    LJ, 100% agreed on B&N. As long as they can hold out, the publishers will continue to do the same, albeit, by a very thin thread.

    What I didn't mention in my post is how much I love, love, love Amazon. In my opinion, they've recovered the key to the Kingdom kept hidden away for many years. You won't find me complaining about them. Nope. Not one bit.

  7. I don't see bookstores as having been brought to their knees--on our recent cross country tour we saw venerable ones thriving, new ones opening, and almost 60 stores chock full of customers.

    I think it's important to keep the relatively-new-historical perspective in mind--once the chains were the big threat to independents, then WaldenBooks collapsed, and now Borders. I'm not suggesting Amazon is in danger of collapse--they offer much that is uniquely good--only that perhaps they can live alongside each other for a good long while.

    In terms of the publishers, it does seem--from authors on this very site--that some can do better without a traditional publisher. Props to Amazon for making that happen. I suspect that some authors will do better in a different way, however, namely with a traditional or revamped-traditional model. I don't know how it will all break down, but my hope is that different writers and different books--maybe even at different times in their careers--can all be brought out in the way that places their work in the most readers hands.

  8. Well said, Jenny! Let's hope this trend opens up all kinds of new possibilities for aspiring and even already-published authors!

  9. But you can't really equate crowded stores with sales success because we don't really know how many are browsing and sipping coffee and how many are actually buying books. The sales figures show that B&N has lost $57-million, most of which was due to dropping conventional book sales. To me, that qualifies as trouble for B&N.

  10. My question is this: if Amazon does "take over" the publishing biz, will they stop offering indie writers free publishing (e.g., through the KDP program)? And, I am also concerned about them becoming the "new and improved" version of agents and publishers in that they will begin "weeding out" our independent and/or self-published books. It is a real concern.

  11. Joe, maybe a bit of "weeding" would be a good thing to help prevent an avalanche of shoddy or mediocre writing clogging up Amazon and burying other quality titles under the sheer volume of stuff there?

  12. Joe, other than customer demand, there's no reason for Amazon to weed anyone out of their que. It's to their benefit to find the next best-sellers without taking the risk traditional publishers have to take.

    And I don't think there'll be a lot of weeding. People who buy without sampling will learn that's probably not the smartest way to purchase—even from an author they've enjoyed in the past.

  13. I think what Joe's saying--or at least my impression-- is that too much power can be a bad thing, and if Amazon takes over the publishing biz, won't we be back in the same place we were when the Big 6 had it? To that I would say, I hope not. From what I've seen so far,, Amazon operates on a completely new and different sales model, and hopefully, as long as they stay on that path, we won't see a repeat of what we've had up to this point.

  14. I'm with Andrew and Joe. I love Amazon. They have done more for the vast majority of writers than anyone, but given the power to decide what is published AND the power to decide what is marketed to consumers, they could become too powerful.

    Amazon doesn't play nice. Amazon plays to win. I think Joe is right to be concerned about what they may do if a few of the big six and B&N fold.

    I think we all know that Amazon can make or break a career by promoting or not promoting an author. All I can do as a writer is watch.


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