Cover Story: Amazon: The Elephant in the Room
The Amazon Future
Beyond question, no matter who is doing the critiquing, the biggest effect Amazon has had has been on the book-buying public, which can easily find and order almost any book, for rapid delivery and at an attractive price. The effect on the industry all spins off of that reality. And what happens next, and perhaps far into the future, depends on how Amazon continues to hold and refine its position as perhaps the best place, all things considered, to buy a book.
Shatzkin is betting that Amazon will be hard to dislodge. Five years from now, he says, any book that sells a lot of copies will sell 80 percent to 90 percent of them online, mostly in e‑book format. "That's a lot of change, and we're in the middle of it," he says. He sees little online competition for Amazon, and a continued decline in the significance of Barnes & Noble's position as the dominant physical bookseller.
Or not. There are still lots of other channels besides Amazon, Norris notes. They include Apple's iBooks, mass marketers like Wal-Mart and Costco, Barnes & Noble and a handful of other large booksellers, and thousands of independents. And many of those outlets did well in 2011. He doesn't think consumers are done with the physical channel, and foresees potential for innovations that combine e‑books and bookstore shopping, perhaps by using scannable codes on physical books.
"In some ways the industry's challenge is where it's always been," Norris says. "To filter and package content in such a way that consumers find it valuable. Because there are so many ways for the consumer to amuse himself, there has to be a lot of hand-holding and selling. It's about doing that one book at a time to one person at a time." BB