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The Evil Empire? Our savior? Both?

November 29, 2013

We all know this guy. He’s selfish, smug, arrogant, and a giant pain in the neck. Then, as you’re about to write him off as worthless and self-absorbed, he does something so earth-shaking that it makes you rethink your most basic thoughts about him.

In the publishing world, especially with the holiday buying season upon us, that guy is Amazon. In the past, on this very blog, I’ve pasted Amazon’s logo over the mouth of a shark. Amazon is a predator. There’s no denying it. When it wants something, it uses its size and power to drive business entities to bow to its desired terms.

But Amazon is also unrivaled at customer experience. When you order something from Amazon, you get it at a great price, on time, and when something goes wrong, it can usually be sorted out with a minimal amount of effort. (Last Christmas, I got duplicates of a present and almost fell over at the ease with which I could return one of them to Amazon.)

Amazon is also very good to its authors. All of this was laid out in a recent blog post by Rachelle Gardner, and its comments. Her struggles in interacting with Amazon mirror mine. Amazon is a bully, preying on the weakness of its adversaries. But its adversaries put themselves in a position to be preyed upon. They’re concerned about Amazon, enough so that they may have knowingly colluded and figured it would be worth paying the fines to attempt to change the ebook business model.

And if you want to talk about predatory business practices, look–as one commenter did–about the terms you get with traditional publishers.

My thoughts on Amazon are still evolving. They have swung from this is the coolest thing ever to I think I saw Don Corleone do that once to They all suck to Capitalism is a full contact sport and publishers are doing fine.

The probable facts are that Amazon will continue to dominate, but its publishing programs aren’t going to force the Big Six Five out of business any time soon. But you’ll probably have to look a lot harder for a Barnes and Noble before long, and if you don’t live in a big city, you might not have a book store any more (in part because you’re probably one of the people who browsed the book at the store and bought it for less on Amazon).

The other fact is that when things change, there’s opportunity. Our industry news feature talked about how publishers could innovate to build content around their stories and turn them into brands. As the Amazon experience shows, there are rewards for people who reinvent how business is done.

  1. November 29, 2013 8:42 am

    I can remember when B&N, Walden, and Boarders where the enemy of publishing because they were driving out the mom & pop book stores. Of course there was also the evil Walmart and Kmart selling books for less.

    The industry is going through a change to meet it’s customer base. There will always be book stores, but if the majority of customers don’t want to walk into a bookstore, it is not Amazon’s fault for meeting those needs. The small portion of the customer base that prefers to buy in person, and spend more for that luxury, there will be stores for that.

    As for publishers, all I can say to them is “embrace the revolution”. Record labels had to adjust because of digital, now it is the publishing industry’s turn. Television is not far away.

  2. November 30, 2013 7:42 am

    I’m horribly guilty of being one of those people who browse at B&N and then buy at Amazon. Fact is, I’ve decided NOT to buy any book at B&N without first reading Amazon ratings. Did that twice, got burned both times.

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