Amazon and the Great Big Wide World of Publishing

I recently read an article in a magazine lamenting the “defection” of a name author from traditional publishing to the industry killer, Amazon. Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly. No one referred to Amazon as a killer and the name author is not technically self-publishing but instead going with Amazon’s publishing arm, Thomas & Mercer. But the point is the same. In fact, the article focused on local booksellers, who happen to love this author, but will not carry his new book in the store. His book, which will be released in hardcover first just as any traditionally published book would, will be available almost exclusively at Amazon (at least at first). His reason for switching – it made good business sense. He makes his living as a writer and the net royalties were better – bottom line.

Like many a writer, I’ve read countless blogs about the unfair practices of the traditional publishing industry (pitiful royalties, crappy covers, and less than enthusiastic treatment) and how authors should run from them to Amazon. I don’t, however, see that sentiment expressed by Amazon. I also don’t necessarily think that’s the right approach for all writers. Self-publishing is a legitimate and smart option for many writers but not for all. And while it’s true that right now, Amazon is dominating many areas of bookselling, the world changes. What’s important is to understand those changes.

Whether you self-publish with Amazon or with one of their publishing arms (Montlake, Thomas & Mercer, etc.), your book will probably not see the inside of your area local bookstore or chain store (Barnes & Noble, Costco, or Target). For the most part, I don’t think this is a problem for many writers, particularly since e-books are increasingly popular. Still, I have already had a few friends ask if they could pick up my book, A Guilty Mind, at Barnes & Noble. And the truth is, I was a little sad to tell them no, they needed to go to the online store for the paperback or e-book. They, however, had no problem with it.

Still, traditional publishing offers a variety of services that are critical to the publication of any book. First is editing. In addition, they format your novel, design the cover, and publish the proof. They take care of distribution and if you are lucky, do some level of marketing. But as any ambitious writer knows, these things can all be done outside of the traditional publishing world, too. Just ask book editors and cover designers (many of whom once worked as agents, editors, or designers for larger publishing firms). Their independent businesses are booming – another change in the world of publishing.

The local booksellers in my city have every right to choose which books they want to sell. However, I’m not sure I agree with their decision not to stock a book by a well-known local author (who does a lot of good work with kids in our area) simply because he has switched publishers. And in this case, while Amazon is one of his distributors, it is also acting as his official publisher. Do I think he’s losing significant sales due to this decision? No, but there should be some goodwill here. He has done a lot for the literary arts in our town, including helping promote some of these small businesses. What is the harm in stocking a limited supply? Yes, I get that Amazon is the competition but as a company, they have also expanded the availability of books to readers everywhere. And yes, I understand that is about making money and not because of some altruistic vision regarding literacy and reading, but aren’t the results the same?

What I’m really wondering is, in this ever-changing publishing world where books can be had in almost any format in any place, why we can’t find a place for everyone – writers, agents, booksellers, distributors, and publishers?

4 Replies to “Amazon and the Great Big Wide World of Publishing”

  1. That is a very cogent argument and one with which I so agree. This is one area where choice for both writer and the reader can be enhanced. The independent bookshop can only keep going if it provides the reader with a different experience from internet shopping. Sometimes being able to browse in shop is enjoyable, and I find if I go into a bookshop to buy one book I usually come out with three. So perhaps you local book shopkeeper is being bit short sighted.

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    1. That’s the way I feel. I don’t see the point in being adversarial here. If local bookstores are struggling, and they seem to be, then they need to find a way to enhance the experience, including stocking local authors whenever there is a demand.

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