Why Amazon Isn’t the Only Game in Town

Last week I wrote about the strong-arm tactics is using to force POD publishers into using BookSurge for printing. BookSurge is an Amazon company, bought in 2004, for its POD functionality. The huge online store may have had other reasons, in addition to the POD functionality, for buying BookSurge, but I don’t know what those would be. I’m only aware of the POD aspect of the merger.

(As a short aside – back in 2004, when my company, WME Books, was just getting off the ground, we were in discussion with BookSurge to partner with them on producing POD books overseas. We wanted a POD partner with a presence in Great Britain, India, and several other countries, and BookSurge fit the bill. Those talks did not go far because they were already in talks with Amazon, and once Amazon purchased them we lost contact. The person we dealt with left the company, and repeated attempts to engage someone new, there, failed.)

Onward to 2008, and Amazon’s decision to rule book distribution—that’s my take on it. Amazon surely doesn’t need the extra income that will be generated by forcing POD publishers to print with BookSurge, so my only conclusion is that they want to rule book distribution. Angela Hoy, of course, is keeping up with this issue, (see her latest post on the subject here) and last week PODy Mouth got into the act with a good post, also. To date, she and Angela have the best information on this. Both include a note on how to contact the Attorney General’s Office of Washington State.

SPAN (Small Publishers Association of North America) has also weighed in on the subject. You can read SPAN’s statement here. In an email to members, the PMA, The Independent Book Publisher’s Association, said, “This policy imposes a significant financial burden on tens of thousands of small and independent publishers who can least afford it…Without the opportunity to benefit from competitive pricing, small publishers risk, at best, an expensive and needless overhaul of their manufacturing process, and, at worst, the loss of their livelihood.”

But this post is not totally about Amazon. It’s also about other book distribution options. No one can predict where the Amazon fiasco will end up, certainly not you or I, nor any supporting orgs, nor bloggers. Therefore, let’s move on to an article that caught my eye this week and has me thinking out of the Amazon box, so to speak.

Self-published authors and POD authors are never guaranteed distribution in any online or offline bookstore, the way most traditionally published books are. We have to be not only our own marketing department, but our own distribution department. That means finding our own ways to get our books out there, in front of the audience we wrote it for, by being intelligent (researching our options), clever (making friends with local bookstores, who can also introduce us to non-local places we could get our books noticed) and crafty (inventing new ways to move our books). This article is about a new way to move books, regardless of who your publisher is.

On April 5th, Michael S. Rosenwald of the Washington Post wrote this article, which I find fascinating, “The Changing Bookstore Battle.” In it, Rosenwald describes the future (maybe?) of book distribution – sans Amazon, and even Barnes and Noble.

Now, I’m not foolish enough to think Amazon or Barnes and Noble are going away, or that they will not still dominate the book selling universe. But I am willing to step out of my box and say, “Wow. I have other options. My authors have other options. Amazon and B&N are NOT the only way to go.”

Here’s the inside scoop: Rosenwald discusses the ‘demise’ of Borders, even noting that B&N is interested in purchasing the failing bookstore. I don’t have feelings about that, one way or another, just yet. What I am excited about is the solution Rosenwald presents: distribution at big box retailers—yep, the Costcos, Wal-marts, and Sam’s Clubs of the world. We all know they have book sections, but who knows how to get books on those shelves or in those bins? Well, someone knows…and a quick phone call to each store might open some doors. And, according to Rosenwald, Costco routinely holds book signings!

“Because there is a romantic quality to books,” Rosenwald says, “– curling up with them on the couch on a rainy Sunday afternoon is an eternal exercise in passing time — people often forget that books are a business, too, with price tags, economics, marketing, competition, growth, stagnation and all the other trappings of commerce.”

That’s why it’s imperative that all authors—not just self-published authors, not just POD authors, but all authors—know all their options. To explore distribution as a business focus, not a vanity task (how many stores can I get my book into). It’s encouraging to see new avenues open up and to have options for book distribution beyond the bullying arm of Amazon or the restricted focus of Barnes and Noble. There is a certain sense of gratification knowing we have options, new options, in our book distribution goals. The challenge is in pursing those options, diligently, persistently, and proactively.

As we all know, self-publishing and POD are challenging, in and of themselves; the road to success is full of potholes and bumps, put there by those who would see us fail. The challenge of making it at the Costcos and the Wal-Marts is just another bump in the road. It only takes one of us to show these stores we’re serious, we produce quality work, and our authors are worth it, to create a booming opportunity for all the rest of us.

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One Response to “Why Amazon Isn’t the Only Game in Town”

  1. Manchild July 18, 2008 at 7:34 am #

    Hello Yvonne,

    I'm glad that I stumbled across your site today. Thank you for sharing such an insightful, informative post. I, too, have chosen to dance to the beat of a different drum.


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