Evan Hughes has written a provocative piece on Salon.com called “Here’s How Amazon Self-Destructs.” In the post, Hughes suggests that by endangering and putting bookstores out of business, Amazon will “destroy the main way readers learn about new books.” He points to the “showroom effect” of bookstores recently written about in the New York Times as a case in point.
When it comes to book discovery, different sources cite different trends. While a key takeaway from the Digital Book World Conference revealed readers look for new books on Amazon, Goodreads, or a writer’s website to find and buy the book they’re looking for, onetime Amazon employee Jason Merkoski (who helped build the Kindle) notes the limitations of technology when it comes to book recommendations. “They’ll just recommend the most popular books to me, or books that other people also bought, but they know nothing of the soul and sparkle of a great book,” Merkoski told the New York Times‘ “Bits” blog.
But even when discovery is not at issue, Amazon is not a profitable option when it’s the only option. Take comfort food mogul Paula Deen’s yanked book deal for example. Though her then yet-to-be released cook book shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list in the wake of her N-word scandal, her publishers decided to rescind her book deal anyway because brick and mortar retailers refused to carry it.
The New York Times reported an anonymous source “with knowledge of Random House’s decision to cancel the contract” as saying “When Walmart, Target and J. C. Penney all announced they are discontinuing their Paula Deen business, including books, it is awfully tough to stay the course of a publication. It was a business decision.”
So if Hughes is right and shelf space is critical to discover-ability, why wouldn’t Amazon just start opening brick and mortar bookstores? They certainly have the deep pockets to do it. If they did, however, the power would shift in publishers’ favor again, or maybe agents’ as Amazon has already been side-stepping publishers to communicate and colloborate directly with author representatives in the necessary quest to stock their shelves.
As Barnes and Noble fights for its life in the wake of bleeding sales numbers and the departure of their CEO; and independent bookstores like New York’s Revolution Books marshal literary heavyweights like Edwidge Danticat and Walter Mosley to raise funds, we shall soon find out Amazon’s next plan.