Retailer as Publisher -or- How Amazon Took Over the World

I worry about the future of big traditional publishing houses, I really do.  They are behemoths, giant corporate entities owned by giant conglomerates.  Change comes slowly, when it comes at all.

For decades these groups have had a stranglehold on readers, and therefore also on writers, of books.  A kind of monopoly of their own–you couldn’t get into the major distribution channels without them, and you couldn’t get into bookstores without the distribution channels.  Certainly self-publishing, or even vanity publishing, were always options.

They just weren’t options that were very likely to succeed.

Along came the POD press.  Along came the eBook.  On their own, these didn’t cause any revolution–eBooks tied you to a computer and were inconvenient.  POD books were pricey and of substandard quality.  Even when good POD services came along–like Lulu, one of my favorites–their prices were still high enough to make it difficult to be competitive, and the lag time between ordering and receiving a book could cause a customer to drop your book and look elsewhere for more immediate entertainment.

This is all just my view, of course.  But I credit Amazon with cracking open the status quo.  Amazon and Big Publishing have gone to the mat several times–you may remember their recent squabble over agency pricing.

Big Publishing always regarded eBooks as a passing fad that would never catch on, much like that new-fangled television set.  As I recall, when the Kindle first appeared on the scene, most big publishers weren’t exactly beating down the door to get their content on the device.  I wonder how things might be different now if they had.

Amazon dealt a 1-2 punch combo that has pretty much assured everything must change.  They started CreateSpace, and they opened up their Kindle platform to everyone.

CreateSpace, on the surface, seems like just another POD.  When I look at CreateSpace, though, I see two distinct advantages–distinct enough that other publishing services have not been able to convince me to switch.  First, CreateSpace’s pricing models are more competitive than other services I’ve seen.  Especially if you use their Pro Plan.  Concerto is over 300 pages, it’s in trade paperback format–which falls somewhere between mass market paperback and hardback on the price & quality scale–and it retails for $7.60.  Granted, I see about a quarter of that, but I’m totally stoked to be able to get prices that low.  I have trade paperbacks from traditional publishers that I’ve bought in bookstores.  Their cover prices are at least double my price.  That is, to me, pretty cool.

CreateSpace’s second advantage is in your listing on Amazon.  If you publish through any other service, your book will show “Usually ships in XX days” next to the price.  As a reader, I hate seeing that.  I’m spoiled, I’m used to instant gratification, and I hate waiting for things to ship.  If I’m going to order it, I’d at least like it to be in stock so it can ship right away.

When you book is done through CreateSpace, it will show up on Amazon as “In Stock, Ready to Ship”.  That, to me, is a pretty big advantage.  As far as price and shipping, I can be on equal footing with big publishing.

Opening up the Kindle to independent content was a huge move–one I’m not sure Big Publishing saw coming.  I know I didn’t see it coming.  Suddenly talented authors could put their work out there on their own, and sell it for $4.99, $2.99, or even $.99–and still make a profit.  Big Publishing can’t compete on those terms.  They have too much overhead.

And now, Amazon has started their own publishing imprints.  They have hired big guns to run them, and they are aggressively pursuing books–some of the same ones Big Publishing is after.  Their contracts, from what I have heard, are more author-friendly than traditional contracts.

What would it mean for all of us if the next Stephen King, or Nora Roberts, or Dean Koontz novel came to us through an Amazon imprint?

What does this mean for Big Publishing?  I don’t know.  I wish I did.  The only thing I’m certain of at this moment is that things are not going to stay the same.  With the opening of the Kindle and like devices, Big Publishing cannot compete.  So they have two options: face extinction, or change the rules so that they can compete again.

Given the history of publishing, I think I know which one of those options I would bet on.  The only question is how successful they will be with their attempt, and I think Amazon will be a large determining factor in that.

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