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Oct 30

Amazon Hammers Book Publishers

Posted by: Steve Marr

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As a writer of a number of published books I try to stay current with the publishing industry. While Amazon is a great outlet for many, book publishers face increased financial pressure because of them.

First, Amazon makes used books available at low prices. Many people don’t want to keep a book after they’ve read it.  One time through is enough. Readers may get some of the book’s price back by making their book available for sale on  Amazon matches buyers and sellers of these books.  A few years ago these books would have ended up in a used book store, donated to local library or tossed in the trash. If a customer is willing to wait six months or more, a bestseller that might have cost $29.99 in hardcover may be available for $4 to $10, sometimes even less. However, publishers and authors make nothing on these resales. 


Second, new authors can easily publish on Amazon using Kindle for e-books. These new authors flood the marketplace with books that publishing editors would not have contracted. More books equal more competition, further fragmenting publishers sales. Furthermore, publishers used to be able to successfully place books in bookstores to generate traffic and sales. Today bookstores continue to fail. Those that remain open carry fewer books. I was in my local Christian bookstore the other day and less than half the floor space was dedicated to books. Many books are sold by the author’s personal effort or on Amazon for people who search for specific solutions. These authors can typically generate better financial returns using Amazon for publishing, rather than a traditional publisher. There are exceptions. For example, a denominational publishing house maybe very successful distributing fewer books, and better-known authors still sell through the traditional selling channels with good volume.

Third, an author can use Amazon’s print-on-demand service strategically to increase profit.  For example, when an author’s book is selling fairly well or when they speak at a large gathering where they can sell 50 or more books, they can print on demand a large quantity, say 500 books, which will generate a 60 to 75% profit. These are sales which made significant money for publishers but now are lost as the author eliminates the publisher.

Finally, publishers place ads in the back of books to direct readers to similar products or websites. Some of these ads are sold to third parties as a way of generating additional revenue. When the author publishes directly on Amazon they’re free to create their own advertising pages. If the volume is significant, they can sell those pages to other interested customers wanting to promote a complementary product or service. It is another way to circumvent the publisher.

Long ago the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” (Jeremiah 18:4, NIV)  The publishing field is changing rapidly and publishers need to find a way to adapt successfully. They must reshape the industry effectively into a new pot. Otherwise publishing influence will continue to shrink.

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