The Amazon Publishing Push

If publishers could sell their own books, don’t you think they’d become retailers, too? With Amazon diving deeper into the world of publishing, traditional publishers – who are already trying to cope with changes in the marketplace – are feeling more and more pushed to the side.

Yesterday, Amazon announced that it had signed a deal to acquire 450 titles of the U.S. children’s trade books business, of Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books.

Already, the online retailer has its own imprints for business books, romances, thrillers, science fiction and works in translation. With these children’s books, Amazon will offer titles in print as well as electronic form, taking advantage of increasingly sophisticated e-readers and tablets such as its own color Kindle Fire, the company says.

Well, although publishers are angry, and even anguished about this move (one editor at a large publishing house told me that Amazon is the “new enemy” – as any Goliath would be against the weakened Davids that the publishing houses have become), this move is to be expected. Amazon has power, and it’s doing what it can to stay at the top. And publishers need to sell their books through Amazon – at this point they have no choice. More and more consumers buy their books online. And Amazon (and to a lesser extent, are where you go to buy books online.

Bookstores themselves no longer sell just books. They can’t afford to: They need to be more things to more people, offering toys, games, mugs – e-readers. People don’t go into bookstores just to buy books any longer; bookstores are mini-malls, now that consumers aren’t simply book-buyers but browsers. Bookstores can’t offer the wide selection of merchandise that Amazon can, but in their way they’re trying to compete.

Unfortunately, publishers can’t diversify in the same way and are stuck selling books through other outlets. They’re still trying to figure out new business models – not only how to work best with their authors, but how to compete using new forms of information distribution.

For someone who’s writing a book, or building a platform from which to reach an audience, Amazon offers yet another option, another possibility for sales. For publishers, it’s a challenge. Perhaps Amazon’s aggressive move into an area that publishers had owned for decades will prompt publishers to think more creatively  about how to sell their books, if they’re able to. It would be a good thing – Amazon is a terrific online retailer that provides wonderful service to its customers, but competition leads to innovation. And I hope publishers find a way to compete.

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