Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Amazon's Game of Monopoly

Okay, so back in May I facetiously wrote a post called, Amazon Seeks (Publishing) World Domination. It's looking less like a joke every day.

Let's recap. Amazon has six imprints: AmazonEncore (publishing overlooked books and authors), Amazon Crossing (publishing popular overseas titles for English-speaking markets), The Domino Project (publishing "Idea Manifestos" whatever that means), Montlake (publishing romance titles), Thomas & Mercer (publishing mysteries and thrillers), and 47North (publishing science fiction/fantasy/horror). They'll be launching their seventh imprint next year, headed up by publishing veteran Larry Kirshbaum. They have also taken over and forged a dubious book-rental partnership with Overdrive (dubious because it isn't clear how authors will receive royalties on some of the rented titles). 

Their latest move? Acquiring more than 450 children's titles from Marshall Cavendish. (Here's a link to the New York Times article.) So not only are they causing unfair competition with bricks-and-mortar retailers by not charging sales tax in many states, they're also competing directly with the very companies that helped establish them as a powerhouse company: publishers.

Amazon has many positives. Their website is easy to use and they've become the go-to site for finding information on books and authors, no matter how obscure. They've also been a great resource for self-publishers. But their growing dominance as a book seller AND publishing company will continue to impact this industry in many ways. And I'm not sure how much of that impact is positive.

What do you think?


Laura Pauling said...

I've read some great articles on this I just can't remember whose blog they were on. I did listen to youtube video of Barry Eisler speaking and he broke it down so well. He talked about both the quasi monopoly the NY publishers have going on and Amazon. And that they both make decisions to make money. And he doesn't fault them for that.

People/writers have accepted as normal the monopoly of publishers with many imprints. Amazon is offering competition and will hopefully force some much needed change in the book world as the world turns digital.

That being said, I hope the publishers do change. I hope there is always healthy competition in the book world. Competition is good. It keeps other companies honest. And the NY publishers have never truly faced any competition.

In what direction Amazon will take their company and if I'll always like what they do - that i cant' answer.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

What Laura said. #shesbrilliant

I think embracing change is the only way to go. It reminds me of body surfing the Pacific. Have you done this? There's a point when the wave dumps you that you have to go with it or you will be pounded into the sand. The forces at work in the industry right now are giant, but if you can find a way to move with it and not rail against the tide for coming in, I think you're less likely to end up bruised.


Susan R. Mills said...

I agree with Laura...competition is good.

Sherrie Petersen said...

I agree with both of you on your points about competition in the publishing industry. It's been obvious for a while that publishing companies need to change and are too slow to respond to market needs.

But what about the sales tax issue? Why are they spending millions to fight paying taxes in states where they do business? That hurts not only bricks-and-mortar businesses (not just booksellers -- Amazon literally sells everything) but states who depend on sales tax revenue for a portion of their budget.

(Sorry to rant. I just live in a state facing a budget deficit and paying taxes in a state where you do business seems like a no-brainer to me!)

Unknown said...

Sherrie--thanks so much for the informative post! I find that things are interesting in the publication industry right down to the details, like your questions about sales tax.

It's a brave new world out there, and I agree with Laura, and SKQ--we need to roll with the changes. (And be VERY VERY careful to protect our interests--you know the publishers and agents are protecting their own interests!!)

Anonymous said...

Interesting post and discussion. If I were Amazon, I'd be fighting sales tax too, on books at least. Books shouldn't be taxed. The government should pay us to read them.

Annalisa said...

I love Amazon, I really do, but their dominance scares me. I agree that competition is good.

Personally, I think books should be taxed. If we want to read for free, we can go to the library (which isn't free, but you have to pay for it anyway), instead of taking away yet another revenue for the government when we're already struggling with its debt. If you can afford to buy your books, you can afford the tax on them.

Lillie (AliseOnLife) said...


I hear you on your concerns. Yes, I agree that the Big 6 (and all "legacy" print pubs) have had a stranglehold on the publication and distribution of reading material for a long time. So, when Amazon grows into the giant it is, it's hard not to "pot meet kettle" when they cry foul.

However, I have serious reservations about Amazon's greater involvement in the publishing industry. There does need to be an alternative for Indie authors, no question. But, a company that seeks to do what Amazon is doing should, in my eyes, be above reproach in terms of its TOS for authors and consumers, and its contribution to the overall economy.

Bookstores pay sales tax. Music outlets pay sales tax. Independent sellers in any market pay sales tax. Consumers pay sales tax. And they pay according to the state requirements for where they distribute.

I also find it an incredible conflict of interest to be both a publisher and a distributer of the same merchandise. Amazon has TOS that can allow them to profit off the publishing of a book while also having the power to disallow advertising or purchase of the same book in their nebulous definition of "inappropriate".

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

It makes me a little nervous, to be quite honest. I'm not sure of the kind of impact this will have on authors. I just don't see it turning out well.

C.R. Evers said...

I'm still taking time to develop my opinion on the matter . . . so it's fun reading what everyone has to say. Great post!

Tiana Smith said...

Did you hear about this too?:

It used to be that little stores had one advantage over Amazon - physical products, or a showroom that lets people see things. Now Amazon is trying to get an edge there too. I'm still not sure what I think of it all, but I think more competition is needed.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Tiana: I was actually going to add an update to comment on that Amazon app. One bookseller has called it predatory and I would agree.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I love being able to order books I know i want on line is great, but it's not the same as browsing through a book store and flipping the pages.

Jackee said...

It's a bit scary to me. I tried to explain the Amazon jog into publishing to a few non-writer friends of mine recently and they were so confused. Come to think of it, their multifaceted approach is confusing to me too. lol

Thanks for clearing it up a bit!

-blessed holy socks, the non-perishable-zealot said...

Looove thy blog title, girl. fabYOOlous. Catchy and brilliant. Meet me in Heaven, babe, where we can write about everything. We'll have eternity, dear. God bless you. Love you.

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