I'm cynically amused by demands from 'traditional' booksellers in France and England that their governments protect (which usually means 'subsidize') them in the face of the threat from online retailers such as Amazon.com. For example, the Guardian reports:
Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Booksellers Association, said Britain's bookshops, closing down at a rate of more than one a week, consider Amazon "the main threat to their business". He warned that if Amazon continues its "relentless expansion" even more bookshops will be driven out of business, and publishers and agents will also be forced to shut up shop, he said.
. . .
More than 73 independent booksellers closed down last year, bringing the total number of UK bookshops to 1,028, compared to 1,535 in 2005.
Jane Howe, owner of Broadway Bookshop, in east London, said: "We really need the government to do something to protect independent bookshops. We are the heart of the community – sometimes you are the only person that a customer has spoken to all week.
"If the government want to keep any type of integrity in any high street they've got to support small businesses. It would be really wonderful if they took notice of what France is trying."
There's more at the link.
What they mean, of course, is that they want the state to subsidize their outdated, inefficient business models. The world has moved on from bricks-and-mortar storefronts in many fields of commerce. Remember the 1980's and 1990's? Computer and electronics stores were springing up like mushrooms as far as the eye could see. How many of them are still there? Precious few. Electronics purchases are now overwhelmingly made online. The same is happening to bookstores right now - and to traditional publishers as well. Amazon is eating their lunch; but not only are they failing to do anything about it, they don't seem to know what to do about it. It's a sorry sight.
Joe Konrath put matters into profane perspective recently. Addressing his message to the entire publishing and bookselling industry, he wrote:
Blaming Amazon for your eventual downfall is like blaming a lion for being king of the jungle.
If you don't like apex predators, get the hell out of the food chain.
Here's the thing, all you whiners. You had your shot. And you blew it.
Hardcovers cost too much. So do paperbacks. As media goes, paper books cost too many dollars per hour of entertainment they provide.
The return policy for books is archaic, wasteful, and stupid. It encourages overspending, overbuying, and underselling.
Underestimating the importance of digital was suicide. Then trying to prevent its widespread adoption via windowing titles, the agency model, high prices, and DRM was just throwing gas on a fire.
Treating authors like s***, when authors are essential to the process, is bad business.
Treating readers like s***, when readers are essential to the process, is bad business.
Bookstores and publishers and distributors are NOT essential to the process. You should have evolved.
Why didn't the Big 6 invent online bookstores and ereaders? Why didn't the ABA?
Amazon INNOVATES. That's the thing you whiners don't understand. They're not dominating because they undercut you on price. Price is just one way to please customers. Service is another. Value is another. But the biggest one is technology.
Anyone can sell for cheap. Not anyone can single-handedly jump-start the digital revolution. Not everyone can create an online store that is not only a pleasure to shop at, but where it is fun to spend time.
Amazon is going to eat you all for lunch because they aren't thinking about how to make money tomorrow. They're thinking about how to make money in 2018.
They're doing all the stuff you never did--hell, they're doing stuff that you never even thought of. They're all about pushing it forward. They're all about gathering and analyzing data. They're all about challenging themselves to do better, to focus on the future, to learn from the past. They're all about pleasing the customer (and I heard from no less than half a dozen Amazonians that they consider authors to be their customers.)
They experiment. They change. They evolve.
Again, more at the link.
All these calls for 'protection' and/or subsidies are farting against thunder. The business world has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. Unless you change with it, you're going to end up like the buggy whip industry.
I'm seeing this at first hand with the publication of my first novel - on Amazon, naturally enough. I set the price at $2.99, for three reasons:
- I wanted to break into a market already overcrowded with alternatives. A low price is one way to do that (as Marko's just proved with the smashing success of his first novel).
- Even at that low figure, Amazon offers a high enough royalty percentage to give me more money per sale than a conventional publisher would offer me if they'd published my book at five times that price! Amazon can do that because it's built a far more efficient infrastructure.
- In today's economy, I know potential readers are struggling to find spare cash for entertainment. If I price my book at or below the price of a standard cup of coffee at Starbucks, I can appeal to a much broader market than if I price it at the cost of lunch at a restaurant - but again, conventional publishers won't do that. They're still insisting on pricing their e-books at much higher prices.
Amazon's approach has worked for me so far, and I think it'll go on working. The conventional publishing and bookselling industry can't survive on margins that low . . . which is why more and more 'indie' authors like myself are going it alone, and doing very nicely, thank you. It's a new world out there. Dinosaurs need no longer apply.