Reactions to Amazon Source
Perhaps to bridge the gap between Amazon and indie booksellers that has undoubtedly formed, the superstore recently announced Amazon Source. This new program allows independent bookstores to purchase Kindles for 6% off the retail price and resell them in their stores, receiving 10% of the e-book sales brought in by the Kindles they sell. Further details of the new program can be found in a company press release here. The announcement was followed by rather colorful responses from indie booksellers and anti-Amazon crusaders.
Melville House’s Dustin Kurtz gathered together numerous responses to the Amazon source program in a post titled “’We are not Amazon franchises’: booksellers respond to Amazon Source." While the comments, ranging from withering sarcasm to intense anger, are great for a laugh, they also reveal the complexity behind the indie/Amazon relationship. Booksellers are driven to scorn the program by not only the terms, but also a deep suspicion of any overture from Amazon at all.
On the other hand, David Wilk of Digital Book World wrote an article on why indies should accept the Amazon Source program, citing profit, long-term customer value, and other business reasons in his article “Eight Reasons Indie Bookstores Should Work with Amazon Source.” Wilk calls “demonizing competitors” a “natural emotional response when one’s livelihood is threatened.” He proposes that booksellers somehow negotiate the terms to increase the advantage for booksellers, rather than reject the proposal outright. What do you think?
Lessons From the Online Superstore
Amazon's Publishing Model
With all of the buzz surrounding Larry Kirshbaum’s decision to leave his position as head of Amazon’s general publishing division, the publishing industry has again focused on Amazon’s controversial move to compete with the big powerhouse publishers. Kirshbaum’s departure is hailed by many as a sign of the company’s failure to become a real book publisher, a failure seemingly caused by poor distribution into bookstores. Many independent booksellers, followed by Barnes and Noble, announced they would not carry Amazon’s books, although some will order the books for customers upon request. As Sean Vitka of Slate.com remarks, “it’s worth noting the beating that even a company like Amazon can suffer when engaging in disruptive entrepreneurship.” While many regard Amazon’s publishing venture as disruptive, it also can be very instructive—and we decided to look at what the Amazon publishing model can teach us.
Amazon’s Publishing Model
Amazon’s publishing is divided into 11 imprints, with offices and editors divided between New York and Seattle. However, it began much more modestly with just Amazon Encore, an imprint that republishes books deemed to have great sales potential, especially with the marketing support of Amazon now behind them. A year later, Amazon announced an imprint that translates foreign language books to English. Another year later, and Amazon announced its genre imprints for romance and mystery. In 2011, Amazon announced it had hired Larry Kirshbaum, the publishing veteran, to run a new general imprint. Many took this move as proof of Amazon’s aggressive intent to compete with the major publishing houses, an unwelcome move considering the havoc Amazon has already wreaked on the traditional bookselling system.
Amazon publishing follows the traditional model; authors work closely with the Amazon team through every step of the production process, from editorial to design, and are also supplied with marketing and publicity support. As noted on its site, Amazon publishing also promises to go above and beyond the expected publisher’s role with monthly royalty payments, daily sales reports, and an Author Relations Manager.
However, limited book distribution with traditional booksellers means the publishing arm depends almost entirely on the Amazon system to move sales. According to a Publishers Weekly article, Kirshbaum’s replacement Daphne Durham thinks that this fits perfectly with Amazon’s publishing business model. To make up for the lack of retailers, Amazon offers a superb publishing experience. For many authors, this is not a problem; Amazon has the weight and power to deliver sales without traditional distribution, as well as the ability to offer better royalties and high exposure with so much daily traffic to the website. Other authors are less inclined to give up that highly-coveted potential place in major bookstores.
So what can we take from Amazon’s publishing model?
Provide the Support
As far as it is in your resources to do so, give your authors the attention and collaborative efforts they need to produce a quality book. According to an article by Therese Poletti of MarketWatch, authors who published with Amazon were very positive about the experience, even with the limited distribution to traditional bookstores that comes with an Amazon publishing contract. To make up for the lower sales with retailers, Amazon recognizes that it must offer its authors this great publishing experience. From providing them with access to excellent creative teams to supplying detailed post-publication reports, there are many ways to ensure your authors have a positive publishing experience.
Build the Hype
Amazon publishing can provide incredible marketing through its site alone. For an indie publisher, this same reach is probably not feasible through a company website. However, small publishers and self-published authors can learn from Amazon’s dynamic approach to marketing tactics. Unable to give books the chance to land on the coveted front table in a well-trafficked bookstore, Amazon continually develops other methods to get its books in front of potential readers. One such tactic recently announced is Amazon’s Kindle First program.
The program allows AmazonPrime members to choose one of four upcoming Amazon Publishing titles to read for free, in advance of publication. For non-Prime members, the book can be purchased at $1.99 ahead of publication. There are two advantages for Amazon behind the Kindle First program. The program seeks to propel the Kindle above and beyond other e-readers by offering exclusive reads to loyal users. In addition, it builds hype for books published by Amazon. While the success of the program in marketing Amazon’s books remains to be seen, the program ultimately rewards the reader. Providing exclusive previews to loyal readers is an excellent way to strengthen ties between an author and a fan base. The program also gets new releases in front of readers who may not have found the titles otherwise. To a smaller extent, self-published authors and indie publishers can implement similar programs with their own upcoming titles. To build the hype and reward loyal readers, consider releasing exclusive sample chapters, hosting book giveaways, or providing upcoming titles to loyal readers in advance.
Respond to the Market
Whatever your personal preference on the e-book sales growth, it cannot be denied that many readers prefer the e-reader experience to traditional bound books. While we don’t expect you to compete in the e-book industry on Amazon’s level, we do see the benefit in embracing the growing role of digital books in the industry. New publishing platforms specifically catering to e-readers are cropping up (see IP’s articles on KiteReaders and Script Lit eBooks) while more and more indie publishers are making room for e-books in their publishing program (see IP’s article on Dzanc Books here). Don’t let a personal preference or distaste for e-books keep you from making your titles available on e-readers.
Lauren White recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in History and English. She is serving as assistant editor at Independent Publisher for summer 2013 and hopes to continue her career in publishing in New York City. Please email her at larenee [at] umich.edu with any questions and comments.