Guest Column: What We Should Learn From Amazon
Last year, Amazon’s 10-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission listed publishers as its competitors in addition to bookstores and others—which started a flurry of chatter in the industry concerning the threat the online retailer poses to publishers in general. The nervous types worry that Amazon will eventually remove the need for middlemen like agents, distributors and even traditional publishers, as they create a one-on-one author/reader experience and purchasing system.
Fast forward to May of this year, when Amazon announced AmazonEncore, a program the company says “will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate.” Amazon buys the rights to these selections and intends to push them not only on its site, but also through traditional retail channels. The chatter became louder as people tried to sort out exactly what net effect Amazon’s move would have on publishing as we know it.
Despite the long-standing speculation that Amazon would move into direct competition with publishers, and the discomfort expressed by so many at the announcement of the AmazonEncore program, it’s not uncommon for a retailer in any industry to produce its own product. (Sterling Publishing is a wholly owned subsidiary of Barnes and Noble, for instance.) And while Amazon’s position of power in e-tailing is undebatable, the move to make AmazonEncore titles available to retail is a nod to the greater market share of the brick-and-mortar channels. It’s far too early for Amazon to do anything to alienate traditional publishers (its biggest suppliers of book content); rather than seeing AmazonEncore as an ominous strike against the current acquisition and distribution process, book industry players should take the opportunity to learn from one of the smartest players in the field.
It’s not surprising that our industry’s knee-jerk reactions to these developments are fear and resistance to change. This year’s BookExpo America CEO panels showed that fear of free books was the primary (if not misguided) concern of big publishers. The focus on fear instead of opportunity is all too common in this industry. The reality is that Amazon should be commended for forcing publishers to take a closer look at how talent is discovered. The model currently in place in traditional publishing—which puts content discovery in the hands of a select few agents and editors—becomes less and less viable as the volume of new titles continues to explode.