Amazon as a Threat to Traditional Publishing

The great multi-headed (four, to be exact) beast that is the publishing industry has a new head, one that just might bite off the others. Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Hachette Livre are wary of Amazon.

2007 Amazon Kindle model
Original 2007 Amazon Kindle

It started way back in 2007, when Amazon introduced it’s new Kindle, a clunky e-reader that used “electronic paper” and could hold newspapers, books, magazines, and blogs. It has since evolved and met with competitors along the way such as Barnes and Noble’s Nook and Apple’s iPad. But Amazon and it’s Kindle have managed to reign supreme with book sales, even over publishing houses, for a number of reasons:

Easy Discoveries: Publishing companies were long thought of as the only option for a writer to have wide-spread success. Their specialized teams can make flashy covers, run marketing campaigns, and broker sales deals with book retailers. Book retailers, such as Barnes and Noble, would then place the shiny new novel on their shelves and buyers would pick it up. This was the route of most mainstream novels.

But with the advent of e-books, things have changed. Amazon bought Goodreads, a book recommendation site, in March of 2013. Amazon and Goodreads have grown into the most popular sites people visit to find new books. No longer does an author need to be published in one of the 4 big publishing houses to become popular; they can be self-published through Amazon and experience the same boom in popularity as traditionally published books.

Easy Access: Amazon offers millions of hardcopy books to anyone with a mail service, more than any book retailer can offer in any one location. And the Kindle app can be downloaded for free on phones and computers and then filled with e-books bought with one touch.

Low Prices: Amazon initially sold e-books for a catchy $9.99. This was great for consumers, but frustrating for publishers and the authors they represented. Then there are the prices of self-published e-books on Amazon, which are typically even lower, set by the authors themselves. Buyers flock to Amazon.

Books and merchandise in Phoenix, Arizona Amazon warehouse. Credit Ralph D. Freso/Reuters
Books and merchandise in Phoenix, Arizona Amazon warehouse. Credit Ralph D. Freso/Reuters

Traditional publishing industries have attempted to squelch Amazon’s autonomy over book sales. In 2014 Hachette and Amazon quarreled over e-book pricing, Hachette demanding control of its prices, needing more revenue from e-books to support its hard-copy books and to pay its authors, and Amazon marking Hachette books as unavailable or delaying their shipping in retaliation. They eventually came to an agreement, Amazon relinquishing control of prices. But after the debacle, Hachette was down in sales and Amazon had established itself as a threat to publishing companies.

Further cementing as a true competitor with publishing houses is Amazon’s self-publishing options. Amazon offers a platform called Kindle Direct Publishing, which allows writers who have decided the traditional method isn’t for them, to instead publish electronically and set their own prices. This service has appealed to many and, with success stories like Andy Weir’s, his originally Amazon self-published novel The Martian soon to be a motion picture starring Matt Damon, has proved effective at sharing written media. Amazon has also recently expanded Kindle Scout, a platform for never-before-published books, to be chosen by readers for publishing through Kindle Press. The expansion now includes international books, written in English, that will be considered for publication in 45 days or less. Kindle Scout, along with Kindle Direct Publishing, allows Amazon to offer exclusive e-novels quickly and at little cost to them. Not only is Amazon outdoing traditional publishers in selling more books than they can, it is also selling books that they are uninvolved in, cutting them out entirely.


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