Fitting Amazon for The Black Hat?

Recently Barnes & Noble announced that it would not sell books in its brick and mortar store that are published by Amazon’s new print publishing division.

They made this decision due to “Amazon’s continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent.” Because B&N cannot offer these ebooks to their customers, they believe that Amazon is denying many people from having access to the content. And, further, that “[Amazon’s] actions have undermined the industry as a whole.

Shortly after this, Books-a-Million and Canada’s largest bookseller, Indigo Books and Music, also announced that they were joining the boycott. The American Booksellers Association has recently gotten in on the act as well. Indigo believes that “Amazon’s actions are not in the long-term interests of the reading public and book retailing industry.”

Amazon has, indeed, signed exclusive deals with popular authors such as Ian McEwen and Timothy Ferris.

And if that weren’t interesting enough, rumors are afloat that Amazon is to open brick and mortar stores, starting with one in Seattle. One theory floating around is that they would create small stores, with low inventory, and showcase the Kindle and Kindle Fire. Another theory also involves small inventory, showcasing not just the Kindle but also their own publishing line. And offer a physical place where people could order from Presumably this would be if folks just happened to be out and about since we can already do this from, well, anywhere.

And oh, by the way, Amazon also struck a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for HMH to publish and distribute the titles from Amazon’s East Coast publishing office.

These are, indeed, interesting times we live in. Have you ever heard of an instance like this? In ANY industry? Competitor B launches a boycott of competitor A, paints it as being for the good of the industry, and gets support from other competitors? Not I.

Questions abound here, of course. Such as: Where is the line between B&N’s (and the other sellers’) self-interest and their passion for the good of the industry? It isn’t just that readers will be denied access to certain content, it’s that B&N can’t make money by selling that content.

Another question I have is this: Is anybody upset with the authors that signed those exclusive deals? No doubt, Amazon waved lots of money in front of them, but why should Amazon be the only one who must care about the “good of the industry”? Surely these authors, and their agents, are smart enough to realize the short- and long-term impact on a struggling industry of exclusive deals like this? Don’t they bear some responsibility here?

By no means do I like what Amazon is doing with exclusive deals. Look out, but here comes another parallel to the music industry. Major outlets like Wal-Mart, Target and Starbucks all sell exclusive versions of CDs. If you still buy CDs and want that content, you must go to one of those places.

It’s always been the American way that the ones with the biggest piles of money get to call the shots. Certainly, in recent years, the few with more have gotten bigger and bigger shares of any pot. The rate of income increase for the 1% far outstrips the 99%. It should not come as a shock that Amazon is increasingly throwing its weight around. Apple does it, Google does it….

Don’t like it? Do your own personal boycott. Find an independent bookstore and give them your credit card for some of your purchases. I’ll even recommend one for you— the St. Mark’s Bookshop.

Michael Weinstein is a member of the Publishing Executive Hall of Fame and has 35 years experience in production, manufacturing, content management and change management.

He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.

In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.
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  • Maryan Pelland

    I was one of Amazon’s very first customers – in fact, they sent me a ballpoint pen for Christmas one of their first years in business. I loved them. Shopped Amazon for almost everything for years. Now, I find they don’t listen to readers, customers, or authors. Their pricing on many items in Prime, which is supposed to give free shipping, is higher than the same items non-Prime. It’s concealed shipping. The company appears not only to hold a lot of the market share, they’ve ceased to remember or care how they got there. Am about done with Amazon, I fear.

  • Jill Little

    Excellent viewpoint, Michael. Thank you for putting it out there. JL

  • Heather Savage

    I do order from Amazon purely out of laziness. I like the one step purchase. However, as a publisher I find that they are late with their payments and tax forms, demand exclusivity in their lending that once entered cannot be changed and have other such demands. It is a delicate balance and one to be considered carefully. Sometimes the exposure they provide makes the limitations worthwhile. Other times, they just make me crazy. Whenever I can, I go to my local bookstore, Reading Frenzy. They order anything I want and have it free of shipping costs within a week. Beats Amazon plus it’s greener (share packaging/shipping with the other orders). Go indie bookstores and publishers! –Heather Savage, Staccato Publishing

  • Tom Plain

    Cheapest is not always best.

  • Uva_Be

    Do authors have a choice? I didn’t sign the exclusive contract, and other e-book retailers don’t seem to sell books. Also most readers of e-books depend on reviews generated by Amazon. So? what do we do now?

  • fmillmd

    As a new author, I have decided to work with an independent digital publisher distributor who exports to Amazon as well as others. With Amazon I like them for what they do, participate in their avenues that suit me, i.e., do reviews, but I keep them at arms’ length and am not their exclusive property and advise others to do the same.