Friday, 13 June 2008

Bookarazzi on Amazon

There’s a very interesting blog post here on Bookarazzi about the latest attempts at world domination by Amazon. They suggest that bloggers put the text on their own blogs, but I’m leaving you to follow the link if you’re interested in Amazon’s hegemony.

I find myself torn in this whole debate. And here’s why. Testament is now ‘temporarily out of stock’ on Amazon and, though the site still confidently says ‘Order now and we’ll deliver when available’ it’s not clear to me that it’s going to be available anytime before January and the publication of the paperback. Because, essentially, it’s sold out. As in, the whole print run has been sold to booksellers, not as in every copy printed has now ended up on somebody’s shelf. (Because I do not have a subscription to Nielsen Bookscan (surprise!) I don’t know how it’s sold out of bookshops. I’d be delighted to hear from anybody who has seen it in a bookshop recently…)
Would Testament have sold so well if people had had to get off their bums and go to bookshops and buy it? I don’t know. The fact that it has sold so well is a great mystery to me. Not because I don’t think people will enjoy it – clearly, I very much hope they do – but because I don’t know how people have come across it.

Who has been buying it? And why? It’s not won prizes, it hasn’t caused any kind of scandal, there aren’t huge ads on buses and on tube stations, so where have people heard about it? Is it this blog? Unlikely. I’ve never been brave enough to put any kind of traffic-meter on the site as I don’t want to know how few people read it but I am under no illusions that these maunderings about my writing and reading life have produced hundreds and hundreds of sales.

It’s been reviewed here and there. I think some of the recent sales on Amazon are probably due to the really nice review which I mentioned here in the Church Times. But, apart from that, am I seriously to suppose that reviews in various local papers have generated hundreds of sales? Or my popping up now and again on BBC Radio Kent? Maybe I'm just ignorant of the publicity power these appearances generate...

The question I’m getting at is, has Amazon generated lots of sales for me via its ‘Perfect Partner’ and ‘People who looked at this also looked at this other book’ features? Because if that is what’s going on, then my reaction to their attempts to squeeze publishers (and therefore authors, therefore me) are bound – on a selfish level – to be different than if they did not contribute to my earnings in any way but the negative.
They may be squeezing the price by discounting and paying less for the book in the first place but if they then sell more, I’m no worse off.

Or am I? Sales on Amazon could potentially be made in a real live bookshop. But the thing is, would they be?

I have to put my hand up, here, and admit that, many a time, I have read about a book online and immediately clicked over to Amazon and bought it instantly (yes, I am on one-click ordering) whereas I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write the title down, go into town the following day or on the weekend and buy it. Or, more likely, order it.
So is Amazon denying real bookshops sales or are they doing two different things?

Does Amazon exist for immediate must haves, especially of the kind of book likely to have disappeared from the shelves; while bookshops exist for browsing, talking to booksellers and seeing what’s hot and what’s not. Because all of the latter are difficult, if not impossible, on Amazon.

What do other people think?


Tim Stretton said...

Interesting post, Alis.

It's easy--almost too easy--for bien-pensant writers to throw stones at Amazon. The retailer has a dominant market influence which is only going to increase; they use their commercial muscle to extort favourable terms from their suppliers: boo! the unacceptable face of capitalism. It's easy--but wrong.

In any commercial sphere, a dominant retailer will try and reduce its supply costs. Favourably regarded supermarkets like Sainsburys and Marks & Spencer are notorious for it. It's part of life, and Amazon are not unique. And what about the monstrous discounts--and full returnability--demanded by Waterstones?

Amazon stand or fall on whether they give customers what they want. And as someone who buys a lot of books--a hell of a lot of books--they certainly give me what I want. I've no doubt that I buy more books because it's so easy. I read about "Year of Wonders" or "Resistance", and five minutes later the book's on its way to me. So Amazon gives me, and readers in general, what we want.

Even as a writer there's no downside.My self-pubbed books are on Amazon and allowed me a publication outlet before I joined MNW. Yes, I get a lower royalty per copy for The Dog of the North because Amazon discounts it so heavily--but if it translates into more sales I'm happy. I'd much rather my royalties came from lower unit returns and higher volumes sold, because books sold is good currency with my publisher, and more readers is what I'm after as a writer.

I think Amazon get a lot of stick because they're the market leader. Ultimately I'm sure they'll damage high street booksellers (so Waterstones, who destroyed so many independent booksellers, will themselves suffer). But if you think that getting people to read the books is more important than how they get into readers' hands, I can't see Amazon as anything other a positive development.

Alis said...

Hi Tim. Yes, to everything you say. I'm finding that I'm becoming more and more pro-Amazon. It also doesn't stop displaying books after the run of a few months which is all new fiction tends to get in order to make its pitch and sell.
And of course, you're right - whatever the financial implications of discounting for us, more people reading our books is good. That is, after all, why we're doing it.

David Isaak said...

If a book's available locally, I buy it in a bookshop. I like visiting bookstores and I'd like to see them stay in business. Plus this is California, and we have to keep up our reputation for leaping into the car at the smallest excuse. (I also enjoy the primitive hunter-gatherer satisfaction of searching through the shelves and immediately having it in my hands.)

When a book isn't available locally, I buy it online--and it's amazing how often this happens. But I'm certainly not to worry about it; if the bookshops can't be bothered to stock what I want, then they can expect my business to go elsewhere.

Alis said...

California man - a hunter-gatherer species... Hmmm. Not quite how I'd envisaged you all over there!

Mickmouse said...

Hi Alis

Just found your blog through my friend Kat's blog and I am really excited by your new book. As a hopeful writer of historical/fantasy fiction for children and a medieval history graduate, your book sounds fantastic. So pleased it is selling well, I will look out for it locally as we have some cracking local bookshops who may just have a copy. All the very best and I am pleased to have found your blog
Kind regards

Alis said...

Hi Michelle - thanks! Hope you find a copy of Testament (there are always some on the new & used on Amazon) and that you enjoy it. You never know, there might be a copy at the library.
Hope to see you in the comments box regularly and the very best of luck with your own work.

KatW said...

This subject is on blogs and writing groups everywhere - it makes my head spin as I want to do the 'right' thing. But the 'right' thing to do is always a subjective judgement. So like others I intend to buy locally where I can but will continue to buy on Amazon & other huge companies. Or at least until I'm convinced otherwise.


KAREN said...

I enjoy visiting bookshops but must confess if I don't order books through the library I buy them from Amazon. I love it - from a buyer's point of a writer, getting your book read is the thing and if they fulfil that role I'd have no complaints!

Juxtabook said...

As a secondhand bookseller on Amazon I worry about their market dominance but can't deny their attractiveness for buyers. I still buy new books on there too, though I try to buy new books from shops as well. Interestingly I can tell from the style of order that Amazon attracts largely a different custmer from other bookselling sites, so I suspect that they attact a different customer from real shops too. I also suspect, entirely anecdotatlly, that they (and the likes of Tescos) probably result in more books sold overall by reaching out to thhose that wouldn't ordinarily buy books, and by making it so clickably easy. However, if you would like to spread your bookbuying pound about online then you could try or one of the other new book bookselling sites.