Why Can’t Publishers Quit Amazon?

Amazon and Hachette Book Group are still battling it out as Amazon seeks to squeeze the publisher’s profit margins in their new contract. Amazon continues to deploy a tactic we’ve called “slow walking,” purposefully putting what appears to be hundreds of Hachette books on two to three week back order to remind Hachette of Amazon’s market power. (See “Amazon Slow-walks Books by Gladwell, Colbert, Others in Spat with Hachette” for more.)

The dispute prompts Laura Miller at Salon to ask why publishers just can’t quit Amazon. Miller points out that Amazon is being selective in the books it places on two to three weeks delay and senses vulnerability:

Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store” documents Amazon’s view of itself as a proud predator, a “cheetah” that aims to take down the “gazelle” of book publishing.

But even cheetahs have their weaknesses, and a little poking around on Amazon’s site revealed that the retailer is not hobbling every Hachette title in its online store. Specifically, Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch,” a bestseller since it was released last fall and the recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, can still be purchased, in hardcover, at a handsome 45 percent discount and without its buyers being subjected to pitches for substitutes.

“The Goldfinch,” number seven on Amazon’s hardcover bestseller list this morning, is treated with special care, Miller thinks, because there’s no substitute book for it. If a customer wants “The Goldfinch,” the customer wants it in particular, and shipping delays

would send too many readers back to their Google search results, to the scroll-down button and the revelation that Amazon is not the only game in town. Later, they’d remember that barnesandnoble.com, not Amazon, was able send them the novel everyone was talking about, and right away.

The whole article is well worth reading, as Miller discusses her own decision to quit Amazon.

Comments: more
  • Stephen Doiron

    Dawn, there’s a famous old poem by the German cleric Martin Niemöller which spoke to a situation not dissimilar to what’s confronting us all in the Trade Press business, subject to Amazon’s hijack attempt.
    He was referring to the spinelessness German intellectuals who chose to remain silent at the outset of the Nazi rise to power.

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    In this mélée we are all publishers, and writers, and consumers; else, we all lose.

  • http://www.rowenachery.com rowenacherry

    I was under the impression that a traditionally published author’s royalties were based on a percentage of what the publisher receives. If that is the case, surely Amazon will take a bite out of the authors’ royalties.

  • Dawn Watson

    As an author, I really could not care less what a publisher’s profit margins are, and neither should the Author’s Guild. That’s why it’s called the AUTHOR’s Guild, not the PUBLISHER’s Guild. Reason 359 why I will not join.