Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Amazon and the book trade

On the subject of books and Amazon, I just wanted to make a copy of a comment on this article ('Don't Support Your Local Bookseller: Buying books on Amazon is better for authors, better for the economy, and better for you') in case I ever need to refer to these arguments again.
By the way, did you know that Amazon made a loss for 11 years after they first started up? They did that so that they could gain domination of the market i.e., so that people would instantly think of Amazon whenever they wanted to buy a book/laptop/dvd/cat basket. 
And now it's worked. They are so powerful they can negotiate enormous discounts from publishers, and the result has been to discount the value of a book in customers' minds. As this article proves, they think that independent booksellers sell at a marked-up price and Amazon sells at the real one, when in reality Amazon can afford to sell at heavily discounted prices because they are such a large company they can absorb the loss, and independent bookshops sell books at a price that reflects the real price it costs to produce them. Having bought most of my booklist for university from Amazon, now I've found out more about them I'm making a real effort to use them as little as possible. I suppose that's one more thing to add to my list of boycotts – but it would be a lot simpler if companies could just be ethical. Too much to ask?

Also, can you imagine how much money they must have had when they first started up if they could afford to make a loss for 11 years? Part of my indignation here comes from jealousy. Anyway, here's the comment:
If you want to know why “Russo and his novelist friends” support independent bookstores, it’s because those tiny shops with their passionate booksellers are the only places no longer devaluing the book. Any author who spends months and years to create a book is going to avidly support a place that treats their work like a treasure instead of a commodity.  
Your post shows SUCH a lack of understanding of the realities of publishing and the market, it’s seriously horrifying. That so many people in the comments accept what you say and argue FOR it is heartbreaking.  
“no company in recent years has done more than Amazon to ignite a national passion for buying, reading, and even writing new books.” 
That is SO COMPLETELY UNTRUE. Amazon has devalued to the book to such a place that some people now expect a $2.99 MAXIMUM price point for their literature. You said yourself that paying $9 for a paperback is outrageous. But people pay that and more to go sit in a dark room and watch a movie for two hours. If, suddenly, the public consciousness shifted, and people were no longer willing to pay even $3 to go see a movie at the theater, how many movies do you think would be made then? How many theaters could survive it? By devaluing the book, Amazon has done more to limit publishers’ lists than any other company on the planet.  
“But ebooks!”  
I am a HUGE proponent of ebooks. But the fact of the matter is that the Kindle isn’t the holy grail of ebook readers. I think ebooks has done an amazing thing for the industry. I agree that most people who own readers buy a crazy number of titles each year—far more than they would physical books most times. But that’s not solely because of Amazon. In fact, a true book lover would never buy a Kindle, as it limits you to only being able to purchase ebooks from Amazon. Every other reader allows you to upload books from any ebook retailer online. Kindle is the ONLY reader that is exclusive to a single store. That is short-sighted and ridiculous in our global economy. 
“But they support self-publishing!!”  
Yes. They do. And how many people do you know who are willing to wade through that minefield of unedited, untested books to hopefully find a gem? And do we really want to become a society who cares so little for the quality of our lit that anyone with a computer can write the story of their life, put a price tag on it, and shove it up on the shelves? Even if you are one of those who care little for the quality of the books you read, you can never claim that Amazon actually SUPPORTS the author. Their latest offerings include giving self-pubbed authors a bite at a large pool of cash, if they agree to pull their books from all distributors who are not Amazon. In case you missed that, Amazon is requiring exclusivity of their self-pub authors who want to become part of their lending library.  
What you have to say about bookstores would be laughable if it weren’t so sad that you actually believe it. You say that Amazon has reviews and suggests books based on others you’ve read and the local store recommends what the employees like. Amazon’s customer purchasing based algorithm is no match for an actual conversation with someone who loves and is passionate about books. Independent bookstore employees are specialists. They read all the time so that they can understand genre and help hand sell. Amazon’s algorithm relies on sales data from other customers. How is that a better recommendation? 
“If you don’t choose your movies based on what the guy at the box office recommends, why would you choose your books that way?” 
Um… but random internet strangers writing reviews should be our guides? We all know how the Amazon review system can be used to game the system to support or destroy an author’s rating. We’ve all, by now, accepted that any forum open to the public invites trolls, false marketing, and other deceits. When having to choose between the guy at the box office and an anonymous internet stranger? I will always go with the recommendation of an ACTUAL PERSON.  
Put any number of authors in a room together and all will start talking about the amazing independent bookstores that helped to launch their careers. Yes, Amazon sells books. Yes, authors like places that sell their books. But most of all, we love people who match the hard work and passion we put onto every page with hard work and passion to put our work into the hands of people who will love the story. That is something we will lose forever if people like you allow words like “inefficiency” “cost comparison” and “more for less” to take over the literary landscape.  
Amazon truly is the WalMart of the internet. They are lowering our expectations and doing just as much damage to small business and local communities. I just hope that our society starts to fight back a bit before it’s too late."

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