Saturday, 30 January 2010

Bully in the Market Place

My name is Michael Malone and I’m a bookaholic.

Therefore when I read a report in the New York Times (get me) about Amazon excluding the titles of e-books from MacMillan, one of America’s biggest publishers from its marketplace, I get the shudders.

As a keen reader I want choice. As a writer with aspirations I want a marketing platform. The sheer size and power of a supermarket like Amazon is a threat to all of that.

The book-buying world is changing on a daily basis. The real engine of variety in the publishing world – the indie bookshops – are dying off; the limited shelf-space of Tesco/ Asda is getting more and more powerful; the one decent book chain in the country, Waterstones is losing its direction. And Amazon is getting too big for it’s bully-boy boots.

Apart from this most recent flexing of their over-sized musculature they were also having a spat with Hachette in the summer of 2008. They demanded a bigger discount on Hachette’s titles, were refused and this led to Amazon removing its “Buy new” button from key Hachette front and backlist titles, and dropping books from promotional positions. Titles affected included those from the likes of Stephen King and James Patterson.

It’s the equivalent of going into a bookshop and asking for “Under the Dome” and being told to fuck off. Now I worked in a bookshop for a couple of years, and when people came in to buy books by Katie Price I was seriously tempted to give just that response, but I wouldn’t dare. You give the people want they want – no matter how terrible their taste might be.

You could argue – and Amazon has done just that – that the consumer will be the winner in such a battle. But here’s the nightmare scenario: Amazon become the biggest book retailer in the planet. They dictate terms with all of the publishers. They fine (and this has already happened) those who don’t deliver books on time – a difficult situation for the smaller publisher. Publishers can only make enough to cover their overheads if they publish titles with a massive and proven audience. The independent publishers go the same way as the independent bookshops. As for writers? The experimental, the new, the literary...anyone who comes under the category of being Less Than A Sure Thing is faced with the choice of publishing with an online and on-demand “publisher” or publishing limbo for the rest of their career. Which to be fair, between these two choices is surely one and the same thing.

Wonderful (can you TASTE the sarcasm) the consumer gets cheap books. They just all happen to be from the same dwindling group of writers and the odd ham-fisted attempt from the latest celebrity-author. Never mind the quality, folks feel the price.

As for choice... what choice?

The bloggy world is full of authors who are now removing the Amazon buy button from their sites, but ultimately the decision is yours. You, the consumer get to decide. Do you want choice and a continued strong reading experience or do you want the scenario outlined above? If you don’t the option is simple. Get off-line, walk into your nearest bookshop and buy a book. And NO, Tesco and Asda don’t count.


  1. Brilliant post. I think you've summed up the situation really well.

  2. Cheers, Helen. I think we need to rally the troops, don't you? Abebooks are just as good.

  3. Hmm - thanks for making me think about this, Michael.

  4. Hey Rosemary. We all need to be aware of this issue and do what little we can. Spread the word.

  5. I'm pleased to report that I often walk into a bookshop and buy books. On the other hand, I use Amazon heaviliy to buy books not usually stocked in the real world. Tricky...

    I've seen it said somewhere that if we want to buy cheap books then, as authors, we have to accept a lower income (or words to that effect). The situation is by no means clear-cut, I feel.

    Personally, I would rather know that lots of people are reading my work than be made rich by it, but - given that I am, as yet, unpublished - what do I know?

    Interesting post.

  6. Great post Michael, I haven'tbought anything from Amazon since the Hachette affair. I buy direct from the publishers, bookshops or it they are hard to find ABE books. I also spread the Amazon hate word whenever I can. Thanks

  7. Catherine, I too would love to be in a position to earn something, no matter how little it was. My worry is that the monopoly that Amazon/ Asda/ Tesco represent might make it even more difficult to get into print in the first place.

    Moira, keep the faith and keep spreading the word.

  8. Great and timely post, Michael. Your dream of a consolidated front against the giants (not just Amazon, but Tesco et al) is wonderful and based on the most persuasive arguments and facts. I suppose the best hope is that Macmillan, Hachette and a few others say 'Bugger this' and take their books elsewhere. Forlorn hope, though, since capital and profit are the drivers of everything nowadays. But you're dead right to set out the case for sanity (not a sentence I ever thought I'd use about you).

  9. I'm afraid it's about as likely as getting rid of Walmart but all we can do is try. Great post, Michael.

    And I did finally find a nice trade paperback copy of the Name of the Wind at my LOCAL bookstore. How about that?

  10. Bill, me and sanity are on strong terms. For the moment. Anyone who says otherwise is a purplish dipdog.

    wuhoo, Martie. local bookshops RULE.

  11. If only I had a local bookshop !

    I totally agree that this is hard on small publishers but the biggies are just as agressive in business as Amazon.

    Bill has a point, they should stand up for themselves, I'm sure an "exclusive" Waterstone's deal would benefit both parties.

    To play Devil's Advocate - Doesn't Amazon Marketplace support independent booksellers?

  12. Ricky, I feel your pain dude. no local bookshop. Re the Amazon marketplace, I'm not sure how that works. I know a lot of indies sell second hand books on Amazon. And they earn more from postage than they do from the sale of the book. And from that how much is going to the author? Nada.