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.