Let me open this blog post by clearly stating my position: I am not for or against Amazon. I am not for or against Hachette. I am on the side of the marketplace.
Sometimes, this is the toughest position to be in. Loyalty pulls in one direction while, often, practicality pulls in another.
Consider: I am an avid reader of books. If I find myself in a store that sells books, the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of me leaving there with at least one new book, usually more. My purchases are spread out over a host of different brick-and-mortar retail brands, but I admit that Barnes & Noble receives the lion’s share of my book-buying budget for paperbacks and hardcovers.
That said, I get my e-books exclusively through Amazon. I have a Kindle (it was a gift) and I both use it and lend it out with regularity. I plan to get a Nook, too, at some point, so that I can compare the two systems as a consumer (reader) and not just as a supplier (author).
All of my published e-books are available only on Amazon.
Three years ago, I started out by making my first published work available on all the major e-book retailers. (I credit Smashwords with devising a fantastic model that helps the “little guy” circumnavigate the challenges inherent in formatting an e-book so it is compatible with all e-book platforms.)
Still, there were problems with other parts of the process.
When using Smashwords, I did experience difficulty in areas such as getting the right category listing (I do not write erotica!) and getting a proper author bio on the destination websites. There is a surprising amount of management time required to maintain a presence with multiple online e-book retailers, and finding that extra time in an already packed schedule was a constant challenge for me.
Also, Amazon is very smart about the promotional tools they put in the hands of their DIY suppliers (a/k/a, self-published authors). Over the past two years, I’ve written a number of blog posts begging Barnes & Noble to evolve their Nook platform and services, to see themselves in a new way.
To play ball.
THE most critical component of any marketplace is the presence of real competition. If Barnes & Noble had evolved their model and had opened their online doors to harness the marketing power of the self-published and indie author communities, I would have rejoiced.
And I would have stayed.
Eventually, the bottom line couldn’t be ignored any longer; my books weren’t selling on those other sites, so I trimmed my e-book distribution channels back to just one, Amazon.
The majority of my self-published and indie author friends, too, sell their e-books only on Amazon. I buy many of these authors’ books, always in the e-book format. Being supportive of them has been more important to me than worrying over Amazon’s dominance in e-book sales. Part of being on the side of the marketplace is believing that if a competitor wants to carve out a larger share of e-book sales, they will find a way.
But first, they have to want to do it.
The fact is that Amazon knows that even when using its “nuclear” option, it will not lose measurable customer share. Not across the board. Customers are too entrenched, too enveloped in the Amazon model — and I credit Amazon Prime with holding the anchor position for customer retention.
Only a fool would overlook the extraordinary leadership of Jeff Bezos in the rise of Amazon. Who has ever seen such a gigantic corporation move with nimble steps and consistent recalibration the way Amazon does?
But Bezos and his team need to remember that no matter how powerful and smart the CEO, Amazon’s success — and through that success, Amazon’s power — is the direct result of consumer choice. There is no law on record that says “Thou shalt buy only from Amazon!”
Right now, you are winning, Amazon. Will that remain so forever? Companies, like humans, have lifespans. Peaks and valleys. When we are on top, riding the crest of a seemingly endless wave, we forget that what goes up must come down.
How old is the oldest surviving corporation? How old is the oldest surviving book?
The lure of money, of gains, will only hold the people in place for so long. Ask any politician.
A gracious winner, however, is a change agent. Finding something in an opponent to praise — even in an opponent who has lost, or who never had a chance of winning in the first place — earns respect. And from respect comes loyalty. For if a competitor holds nothing of value, a victory over that competitor is hollow indeed.
Amazon’s use of the “nuclear” option seems sloppy to me – and revealing. If Amazon really was holding all the cards, then they wouldn’t need to implement such drastic measures. Perhaps they are using this dispute with Hachette to permanently disarm any other publishing companies that may be considering stepping up in support of Hachette’s position.
It is a basic political maneuver, at least where I come from.
It is a tactic I have never admired, nor sought to emulate.
I am confident you have the ability to be a gracious winner, Amazon, and I hope you hold out an olive branch and sit back down at the table with the publishers and create a (reasonably) amicable solution to the pricing dispute.
Hachette needs to acknowledge, too, that old models don’t always fit new days.
Things have changed. The rise of self-publishing has received a tremendous amount of disdain and disrespect, yet it continues to alter decades of “business as usual” in the publishing industry. But would it have been possible for self-publishing to gain such a foothold in the marketplace if that marketplace hadn’t been ripe for change?
I think not.
You, Hachette, are in the business of books. Amazon is in the business of business. The middle ground, and the basis for compromise, is that you both want sales. Yes, you want market share and loyalty, too, but sales come first. Always.
Amazon may be seeking a no-holds-barred path to global domination of the overall retail marketplace (notice I don’t specify “online” marketplace), but history has proved that a single book can have the power to evolve the hearts and minds — and loyalties — of women and men in every corner of this beautiful planet.
To me, Hachette, that makes your position in history more valuable, as you are the bringer of ideas and not the bringer of products.
Many authors and other members of the publishing industry’s supply chain could be deeply affected by a continuing standoff between Amazon and Hachette. Achieving a solution for the greater good, in the form of compromise from two unwilling parties, may be a huge challenge.
But the unalterable fact is that progress is messy.
Maybe, just maybe, things will be a whole lot less messy if both companies seek, and find, that patch of middle ground.
For the sake of the marketplace, I genuinely hope they do.