Monday, 4 July 2011

Amazon and the bookselling world

The Book Depository weren't owned by Amazon.  The Book Depository provided a viable alternative to Amazon, and I had Book Depository buttons up on my site and this blog.  Amazon have just reached an agreement to buy Book Depository International.   From the sound of the report, it looks as if Amazon will have The Book Depository carrying on in the same form it is now, providing the illusion of competition.

The illusion of competition is something Amazon is good at exploiting.  Take the secondhand book business.   Besides selling a considerable amount of books through their own site, they own ABE, the largest secondhand bookselling site (apart from Amazon).  ABE own Chrislands, largest provider by a very long way of website facilities to secondhand booksellers, including me.  They own Fillz, Bookfinder and 40% of Librarything.  And earlier this year, ABE (and therefore Amazon) bought ZVAB, another antiquarian book selling site.

If there is competition, Amazon are not beyond attempting to control it.  Amazon introduced "price parity":  if you sell on their site, you have to agree that you will not sell your books elsewhere at less than you have them listed on Amazon.  In other words, if you have your own site (which will cost you a lot less than selling via Amazon) you cannot undercut Amazon if you sell with them too.  Although Amazon can't control what you sell at in a bricks-and-mortar store, they include the following in their selling agreement:
"We also hope that the spirit of the price parity principle will be followed with respect to other channels, and that your prices on Amazon will be competitive with your prices in physical retail stores."

This policy has been in place for a while:  it was taken by booksellers to the Fair Trade Commission, who have not yet reported.

Amazon have their own print-on-demand business.  They attempted to force publishers to use Amazon's print-on-demand services, threatening removal of the buy buttons on titles in reprisal if publishers didn't toe the line.  Amazon were taken on by Book Locker and the Long Riders' Guild Press, and Amazon retreated.

Amazon have their own publishing imprint:  AmazonEncore, which publishes already successful self-published books.  Scratch Amazon's back if they ask you to review one of their books, and they will scratch yours.  Give them a good review, and they'll offer to promote you.   I was interested to see in this piece that it's only if you give a good review that you're going to feel any benefits.   Whilst I can see that it's standard marketing practice to want to promote your products, in the overall picture of Amazon as book behemoth, it's worrying.

And there's another example of Amazon's rampaging hold:  I research bibliographies on the British Library site.  Click on a title to get the full bibliographical details and guess what - there's a link to Amazon.



It's as if Amazon's some great hawk hovering over the surface of a pond.  Every now and then attempts to escape corporate dominance bubble up to the surface and are either gobbled up (Book Depository), or exploited (self publishing).

Thank goodness J K Rowling is only releasing the ebook versions of the Harry Potter series through her own website, Pottermore.

6 comments:

Christina Wilsdon said...

I'm in Seattle...you want I should go over to their headquarters and show 'em who's boss?

Seriously, though, I've heard a local bookseller or two echo your concerns. It is alarming how a behemoth of a company can swallow up the competition while still making it appear as if there is competition.

Juxtabook said...

And then there's the Kindle ...

Jane Badger said...

Yes, it is the appearance of competition which is worrying. The vast majority of customers are just not aware of how much Amazon owns.

Juxtabook - there is indeed. I had included the Kindle in the first draft but took it out as I would have written screeds....

Charlotte Robinson said...

Amazon has not shown its teeth in owning chrislands but from 1st July ZVAB sellers have had their terms and conditions changed. Earlier in the year using the seller's own credit card facility was removed and a substantial handling fee introduced. Now the option of a commission only package has been removed so listing fee as well as commission is the only option.

I can't work out whether Amazon want to control the world or whether they want the secondhand business to become so impossible that we all have to use kindles for everything.

Nan said...

I guess that's why they called themselves 'amazon' to begin with. I looked it up and the Amazon river is the largest in the world. I hadn't heard about Book Depository. I wonder if they weren't doing well.

Jane Badger said...

I think the problem was that Book Depository were doing well, hence the desire of Amazon to acquire them. It's a good point about the name. I hadn't thought of that before.