In the ongoing back-and-forth between Amazon and Hachette, it’s easy to paint Amazon as a schoolyard bully, but the e-commerce site might actually be the “very best thing” for small independent publishers.
For the last several weeks, Amazon and the “Big Five” book publisher Hachette have been having an incredibly public pricing debate wherein Amazon has removed pre-order buttons for Hachette books, tweaked its recommendation to feature non-Hachette titles, and ordered fewer copies of certain books, causing shipping delays.
This isn’t the first time that Amazon has used extreme tactics to negotiate better prices, so suspicion of Amazon’s actions is warranted. However, Marty Shepard, co-publisher at The Permanent Press, says that, despite the boo-hooing of huge publishers like Hachette, which is part of a $US10 billion conglomerate, Amazon is actually the “very best thing” for small independent presses because it levels the playing field. Amazon cited Shepard in a press release as part of its war against Hachette.
“All the anti-Amazon stuff lately would have you believe that Amazon is squeezing all of the publishers,” Shepard told Business Insider. “I don’t know what they do with the big guys, but for us, what Amazon has created is the best outcome that one could possibly deal with.”
Shepard feels that Amazon has democratized the book market: He says that small publishers no longer need to buy publicity, because their books will get just as much room online as Hachette titles.
“They’re preserving a literary culture, not just best sellers,” he says. “This is a very good thing.”
Of the more than 2,000 publishers in the U.S., Shepard argues that the smaller ones like his love Amazon because it builds in marketing with its recommendation algorithms, generally sells out of titles that it orders, gives them the same amount of digital real estate for reviews as the big players (downplaying the need to buy expensive ads), and has caused a surge in popularity of ebooks, which are a great money maker for both publisher and author because there are virtually no production costs.
In a public statement, Amazon linked to Shepard’s blog post defending the company. Shepard had originally written the post for submission in Publisher’s Weekly, and had no idea that Amazon was planning to link to it in its statement. His post has since gone viral.
“I’ve heard from a ton of other small publishers since posting the blog,” Shepard told Business Insider. “The vast majority of non-conglomerate presses that I’ve heard from seem to have the same thoughts and experiences that I wrote about.”
Here are Shepard’s four main points about the benefits of Amazon:
- When you send orders to a store, distributor or wholesaler, publishers can count on returns of 20 to 80%. If Amazon orders books (which they do in increasingly larger numbers) it’s rare to get more than one or two per cent returned. They are masters at this and consequently enable us to cut-down on our print runs.
- Amazon makes it easy to post reviews of our books, whether they are online or print reviews. Nor is there any discrimination, space-wise, between the coverage we get for individual titles or Hachette gets. Additionally, when one of our books is ordered, they list other titles of ours that might be of interest, proving themselves to be great marketers.
- Earnings from Kindle sales are excellent as both publisher and author find more profit (especially when we, as publishers, split eBook income on a 50:50 basis with our writers) with virtually no production costs. I’ve heard that most of the bigger houses don’t do this, writing contracts giving most authors only 25% of electronic income. Perhaps some of the authors complaining about Amazon on social media, would be better served if they complained to their publishers, like Melville or Hachette, if they are not getting 50% of this pie.
- Amazon generally pays us within 30 days, with wire transfers to our bank. Nobody else in the industry come anywhere close to them and enables us to keep up with printing costs and salaries.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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