Monday 19 September 2011

The trouble with Amazon is that it sells books

There’s a lot I like about Amazon – particularly as a reader and book buyer. Sometimes it serves me well as an author, though not always. It’s good free advertising / distribution for me as a publisher. What we have to remember, though, is that it is a business that wants to make money by selling books. And hooray. It supports books. It could probably make tons more money if it sold something else. Well, of course it does, but even selling electrical equipment has not stopped it giving enough attention to the books.  
It does mean as publishers we can’t dictate what it puts on its site. We would like it to put correct and full information. It doesn’t always. Goodness knows why, but sometimes it fails to add an image even though the image was supplied at the same time as the ISBN to Nielsens. It picks up what it will of the blurb and that might not be always the choice morsel you yourself would have picked.
There is a rather quirky thing that happens with some of our anthologies. We have a lovely author, Sally Angell, and Amazon often make it look as if the whole book has been written by her. It is of course because they put the authors in alphabetical order for as much space as they have. I occasionally I get lucky with the surname James and the other Bridge House partner, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt gets lucky even more often. But it makes you feel for the Smiths, Thomases, Wilsons and Wrights.
“They’ve left my name off. Please rectify it,” they cry. But we can’t. We can’t put anything on Amazon other than what it allows in the publisher’s space. And no, we are NOT going to start posting reviews under false names. That is totally unethical.
When a book first comes out, Amazon will often claim it is going to take three weeks to get it, or it is an unusual book that is hard to find. Other online stores don’t tend to do that. When we used to do all our own distribution, they would sometimes even say we were out of print. Now that we are hooked up to about 30 distributers and wholesalers, they don’t do that. But it stays with the three week message until one person has ordered a book. You see, it is protecting its relationship with its customer. It usually actually delivers well with the three weeks and delights the clients. It’s a “just in case” message.  
We could give a much bigger discount. We give booksellers 35%. Amazon would really like 55%. They’d risk keeping a stock form the word go with that. Because we are a small publisher we just can’t do that – we can’t buy or distribute the bigger print runs that would bring the unit cost down enough. But 35% is perfectly respectable as are our prices compared with other indie publishers. And Amazon still works for us. It does offer purchasers a small discount on the RRP usually.
What authors and publishers must realise is that Amazon is not designed as a marketing tool for us, even though we can, with a bit of care, use it quite effectively as such. It is designed as a marketing tool for itself and we have to respect that. And I wouldn’t be without it, despite its faults, as an author, as a book-buyer or as a publisher.