Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

07/17/2015

Is It Possible That Amazon Is Not ‘All’ Bad News For Publishers?


Might Amazon’s debilitating effect on local shops be about to change?

For the past 20 years Amazon has disrupted the publishing industry from stem to stern. Could it be that much of the resulting adaptation and metamorphosis has actually been good news for publishers?

Depends on what you consider. What kind of publisher? What kind of book? Book audience location. Book platform. Book distribution system access. Digital technology, etc., etc.

Hell, many of these considerations weren’t even in existence 20 years ago! And while Amazon didn’t create or discover all of the above mentioned ingredients, they were the first to mix them in a masterful menu – creating a smorgasbord of possibilities – the understanding of which is still being deciphered today.

Tonight’s topic will discuss the how’s and where’s of some of the possible positive changes that Amazon has wrought within the publishing industry and the reaction/attitude of the big five publishing houses as well as others (Bowker’s, etc.) in the overall industry.

Key excerpts from tonight’s research/resource article:

“It has been presented as a David and Goliath battle. This is despite the underdog status of the largest publishing houses in the world. As Amazon has become the primary destination for books online, it has been able to lower book prices through their influence over the book trade. Many have argued that this has reduced the book to “a thing of minimal value”.”

“Despite this pervasive narrative of the evil overlord milking its underlings for all their worth, Amazon has actually offered some positive changes in the publishing industry over the last 20 years. Most notably, the website has increased the visibility of books as a form of entertainment in a competitive media environment. This is an achievement that should not be diminished in our increasingly digital world.”

Presenting:

Amazon is 20 years old – and far from bad news for publishers

By , as published in The Conversation (UK). Academic rigor, journalistic flair  

It has now been 20 years since Amazon sold its first book: the titillating-sounding Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies, by Douglas Hofstadter. Since then publishers have often expressed concern over Amazon. Recent public spates with Hachette and Penguin Random House have heightened the public’s awareness of this fraught relationship.

It has been presented as a David and Goliath battle. This is despite the underdog status as the largest publishing houses in the world. As Amazon has become the primary destination for books online, it has been able to lower book prices through their influence over the book trade. Many have argued that this has reduced the book to “a thing of minimal value”.

Despite this pervasive narrative of the evil overlord milking its underlings for all their worth, Amazon has actually offered some positive changes in the publishing industry over the last 20 years. Most notably, the website has increased the visibility of books as a form of entertainment in a competitive media environment. This is an achievement that should not be diminished in our increasingly digital world.

Democratising data

In Amazon’s early years, Jeff Bezos, the company’s CEO, was keen to avoid stocking books. Instead, he wanted to work as a go-between for customers and wholesalers. Instead of building costly warehouses, Amazon would instead buy books as customers ordered them. This would pass the savings on to the customers. (It wasn’t long, however, until Amazon started building large warehouses to ensure faster delivery times.)

This promise of a large selection of books required a large database of available books for customers to search. Prior to Amazon’s launch, this data was available to those who needed it from Bowker’s Books in Print, an expensive data source run by the people who controlled the International Standardised Book Number (ISBN) standard in the USA.

ISBN was the principle way in which people discovered books, and Bowker controlled this by documenting the availability of published and forthcoming titles. This made them one of the most powerful companies in the publishing industry and also created a division between traditional and self-published books.

Bowker allowed third parties to re-use their information, so Amazon linked this data to their website. Users could now see any book Bowker reported as available. This led to Amazon’s boasts that they had the largest bookstore in the world, despite their lack of inventory in their early years. But many other book retailers had exactly the same potential inventory through access to the same suppliers and Bowker’s Books in Print.

Amazon’s decision to open up the data in Bowker’s Books in Print to customers democratised the ability to discover of books that had previously been locked in to the sales system of physical book stores. And as Amazon’s reputation improved, they soon collected more data than Bowker.

For the first time, users could access data about what publishers had recently released and basic information about forthcoming titles. Even if customers did not buy books from Amazon, they could still access the information. This change benefited publishers as readers who can quickly find information about new books are more likely to buy new books.

World domination?

As Amazon expanded beyond books, ISBN was no longer the most useful form for recalling information about items they sold. So the company came up with a new version: Amazon Standardized Identifier Numbers (ASINs), Amazon’s equivalent of ISBNs. This allowed customers to shop for books, toys and electronics in one place.

The ASIN is central to any Amazon catalogue record and with Amazon’s expansion into selling eBooks and second hand books, it connects various editions of books. ASINs are the glue that connect eBooks on the Kindle to shared highlights, associated reviews, and second hand print copies on sale. Publishers, and their supporters, can use ASINs as a way of directing customers to relevant titles in new ways.

Will Cookson’s Bookindy is an example of this. The mobile app allows readers to find out if a particular book is available for sale cheaper than Amazon in an independent bookstore nearby. So Amazon’s advantage of being the largest source of book-related information is transformed into a way to build the local economy.

ASINs are primarily useful for finding and purchasing books from within the Amazon bookstore, but this is changing. For example, many self-published eBooks don’t have ISBNs, so Amazon’s data structure can be used to discover current trends in the publishing industry. Amazon’s data allows publishers to track the popularity of books in all forms and shape their future catalogues based on their findings.

While ISBNs will remain the standard for print books, ASIN and Amazon’s large amount of data clearly benefits publishers through increasing their visibility. Amazon have forever altered bookselling and the publishing industry, but this does not mean that its large database cannot be an invaluable resource for publishers who wish to direct customers to new books outside of Amazon.

This Publishing/Writing Blog is available on Kindle here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

9 Comments »

  1. […] to the rest at Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue and thanks to Chris for the […]

    Pingback by Is It Possible That Amazon Is Not ‘All’ Bad News For Publishers? | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing — 07/22/2015 @ 10:00 am | Reply

  2. A great example of someone harvesting the free data on Amazon are the reports on authorearnings.com.

    Comment by Nirmala — 07/22/2015 @ 10:08 am | Reply

  3. John, if you don’t have written permission to include the article, you have engaged in blatant copyright infringement. Do you have permission? NB: I tried to contact you privately, and was informed that you have blocked such messages.

    Comment by Marion Gropen — 07/22/2015 @ 12:41 pm | Reply

    • Marion – I have commented on this in your LinkedIn group. Also, I have not blocked any kind of communication on LinkedIn. I will check to see, If I even know how.

      Anyway, this is my comment from your LinkedIn group:

      Marion – This is not a pirated article. I discuss the points of the research/resource article in my own words for the first half of the blog. I then present the article with full credit given as to the author and the published source (these articles are sometimes published in more than one public source). So, where is the piracy?

      I used to present just part of the research articles or excerpts with a link referring back to another published source, but, I found that people would rarely click on the link to finish the article for the complete picture; this resulted in comments based on only partial info, taken out of context comments you might say.

      I do link back to the author and the published source.

      I have been taught that you can quote part of a source or the whole source as long as proper credit is given. And I always give proper credit.

      I am always honored whenever someone reposts one of my works, whether they include others’ research articles or not.

      Since this point has come up in this group before, and sometimes not so politely, I would suggest a discussion clarifying the proper use of quoted or reposted work by others with proper credit given. Included qualified credited sources of teachings and not opinions would be appreciated 🙂

      Comment by gator1965 — 07/22/2015 @ 2:46 pm | Reply

      • YOU may be honored. That’s your privilege. But it’s NOT legal.

        Plagiarism is TOTALLY different than piracy. You didn’t plagiarize. But you did violate copyright if you don’t have permission.

        In scholarly works, you are allowed to quote from a piece, but NOT to use the whole piece. In other works, like this one, the restrictions on how much you may quote and still be within Fair Use Guidelines are even more restrictive.

        Using the whole piece, with or without the link? Totally and completely illegal.

        Here’s what you can do: you can summarize the article and include a link to allow others to get the whole thing. You can quote small parts, with attribution. But if it is too important to the impact of the piece, you can’t even do that.

        You can talk about the article.

        You CANNOT use the whole thing without permission. The only exceptions I am aware of are in the Google decisions, where it was declared legal for Google to scan, index, and make a work searchable. To do that, they have to store the thing entire in their database. But they don’t DELIVER that to anyone. And even the Google decisions have an opt-out provision.

        You are just plain wrong on the law. I’m sorry, but this is de facto and de jure infringement unless and until you have permission, not from the author, but from the rights-holder (who may be the author, and who may not).

        Comment by Marion Gropen — 07/22/2015 @ 3:30 pm

  4. How fascinating. I must admit if I were Simon, the original writer, I would be over the moon that someone was spreading my views. I am not sure that Simon gets paid for his contribution in The Conversation but having looked it up it seems to act like an on line newspaper. I cannot see how by forwarding the article for no money our original poster on this site is breaking the law. Actually, having now looked up the law on copywright in U K
    he is not breaking the law, precisely because there is NO monetary gain. Oh grief, another headache on a beautiful sunny morn. Enjoy the summer.
    And as Ether ( my company) tries to take on the Amazon predominance and give some power back to the publishers, wish me luck

    Comment by Andrew Hayward — 07/23/2015 @ 12:57 am | Reply

    • In the US, monetary gain is irrelevant when you quote the whole thing. If you quote a small piece, then the fair use guidelines include 4 components, one of which is monetary gain and monetary damage done to the author.

      I don’t know UK law, but those who do have told me that it is the same or similar.

      Comment by Marion Gropen — 03/24/2016 @ 9:57 am | Reply

  5. Reblogged this on Writer's Resource Blog.

    Comment by Laine Cunningham — 07/23/2015 @ 8:26 am | Reply

  6. […] which the commetariat almost seemed to be hoping for. Here’s another, more recent story from Publishing/Writing giving a sane appraisal of Amazon’s undoubted strengths and value. (Link via The Passive […]

    Pingback by Amazon: savior of the book industry? | Making Book — 08/18/2015 @ 9:09 am | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: