Over the last several weeks I’ve followed the continuing war between Hachette and Amazon, watching more and more of the publishing industry weigh in as the pundits make this national news. In the process, I realized I had a bit more to say about one of Amazon’s biggest falsehoods. I also want to talk a bit more about self-publishing/independent publishing/micro publishing/[insert your own nomenclature] and Amazon.
I am and have been an independent publisher since 1995. I’m involved in zine and book publishing. I’m wholly supportive of other publishers and authors. As a consumer, I do not support Amazon. I feel I need to make these points clear.
As a book distributor (my day job for the last 10+ years), I’ve learned that the idea of availability often trumps logic. I remember when publishers and authors felt like their books were only successful if they were on a store shelf – even if that store never sold a copy because the audience was wrong, and the copies would just come back as damaged returns. Now, authors fixate on Amazon showing their book as readily available, whether or not Amazon actually has copies in stock.
The idea of “in stock” and “ships in 24 hours” is a huge falsehood. The appearance of availability is a marketing tool, and it is one of Amazon’s best weapons. What people don’t realize is that most online vendors hold very few books in stock. What they do have is a lot of data and sophisticated supply chains. In its war with Hachette, Amazon has destroyed the myth of availability. Amazon took away one-click ordering, super-fast delivery, and pre-orders.
However, these books are just as available now as they were before – they just aren’t showing as available on Amazon. When you order from Amazon, very often that order is actually being fulfilled by a wholesaler. If you walk into your local bookstore and they don’t have what you want in stock, chances are they will order it for you, just like Amazon would have – just like Amazon does.
As a zine publisher, my print runs range from 100-500 copies. That is more than a lot of books published by major academic presses. Books published by academic presses are fully available to wholesalers, bookstores, and online retailers. The data is out there to make the books widely available within a variety of sales channels. The majority of zines, on the other hand, are not. But they often sell about the same numbers. Zine publishers tend to know their audience and have direct connection with readers. That is at the crux of so much of the strife – readers vs. consumers. How are you viewed by the literary businesses you support – as a reader or a consumer? Think about that for a minute.
I’m not looking to make a living off of any of my personal publishing endeavors. And that is where it gets tough for small publishers who are indeed trying to live off their writing. Amazon has built a system where that is possible. I don’t want to see that progress disappear. However, I remain steadfast that Amazon is detrimental to publishing and far too powerful. I hope that additional options are developed and utilized that help weaken Amazon’s death-grip on the publishing industry. I think that publishers of all sizes would benefit from that. I believe that can happen if people think about the options and look at the myths they are being sold. I also hope that publishers and authors look at the division Amazon has caused and repair those bridges.
Hopefully, once people stop thinking of Amazon as a primary source for books, publishers and readers will find each other again – ideally in local bookstores. Publishers, once you know who your readers are, the less likely you will need a monolithic company standing between you and them. Readers, local bookstores need you far more than Amazon needs you. Let’s fix this mess.