Consequences of Amazon inheriting the Earth – how does this affect their authors?

For those who are living under a rock, Amazon has partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to print and distribute their books. This is in addition to Amazon buying publishers – and their authors. Many are singing from the mountain tops. “Finally, we’ll have store placement AND online distribution. Amazon is wise. Amazon is good.”

But is it? Bookstores are fighting back. Barnes and Noble told Amazon not to count on them to shelve their books. Likewise, Books-A-Million has told Amazon to go forth and multiply with a diseased yak. Those are two huge marketplaces that are shutting Amazon out.

This is an interesting blow to Amazon…and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. And to the authors, who are caught in between.

A large part of me isn’t crying croc tears. Amazon has managed to usurp much of the book-buying business, which has prompted the closing of many bookstores – which adversely affects us publishers. Now they’re doing the same thing with publishing by signing some very big deals with established authors and buying up other publishing companies in a bid to become the premier go-to publisher.

However, this bid to inherit the Earth will be for naught if they can’t get shelf placement with the remaining chain bookstores.

I’m a capitalistic pig, so I’m a proponent of letting the marketplace take care of itself. And sure, I felt my intestines rumble when Amazon decided they wanted to play publisher. They have the money to hire the talent, and are signing only big-whup authors in order to put out a quality product. They have the $$ to undercut any market, and to pay the big advances.

The one thing they lacked was store distribution – which they took care of with the print/distribution deal with HMH. Amazon is good. Amazon is wise.

I saw the HMH agreement as a bit cannibalistic because Amazon is threatening publishers, yet a publisher signed a deal with them. Silly world. What would have been delicious is if no publisher was willing to sign any deal with Amazon that afforded them printing and distribution. But everyone is looking for money, so the deal was struck, which put the monkey on B&N’s back as to whether they’d shelve those books – which they have passed on.

Since it appears as at least one publisher sold out and is willing to sleep with the devil to maintain financial viability, Amazon has overcome it’s last big hurdle – printing and distribution. The only one that appears willing to stand up to Amazon is the book chains. Now Amazon has hit a wall.

We all cheer. Or do we? Let’s not forget those who stand to lose the most – authors.

The Flip Side

At the heart of all this is, of course, the authors. Many were taken along for the ride when Amazon swallowed up their publishing companies. All they could do is hope for the best. With B&N and BAM shutting them out, those authors – many of them solid-selling authors with a faithful readership – are now in flux. Where they used to have shelf placement, they’re orphans.

This means those authors are now going to be e-book authors only, which has a huge impact on promotion because many of these authors do events where their books are sold. And let’s not forget print and TV media, who like to review the physical book before they interview an author. Now what? Those new Amazon-by-proxy authors have to completely reorganize their entire promo strategy that excludes a bound book. Because really, why would HMH print a book if it has nowhere to go?

It doesn’t stop at promotion. What about genre? Not every genre sells well in the e-book format because their readership doesn’t buy Kindles, or they’d rather have the physical book. Bound books in nonfiction still outsells e-books. E-book sales lag behind in YA because that readership owns fewer Kindles.

So what are these authors supposed to do now that no big bookstore will shelve their books? More importantly, how will this affect authors’ sales? Where they once sold 100k units, will that dilute down to a few thousand? And how will those lower sales impact their future with their publisher?

You can see how this is a domino effect. One domino can’t fall without impacting all the other dominoes down the line. This is where it’s vital to pull away from our desks and try to peer into the future and appreciate how intertwined we are in the publishing industry. If you give any one company absolute power of inheriting the Earth, then how does that influence everything else?

The authors who are crowing over their fat deals with Amazon may find themselves not laughing quite so hard. If I’ve learned one thing is this psychotic business is that we all depend on each other to maintain a balance.

My heart breaks for those caught in between. And that’s the way it always works. When Mom and Dad fight, it’s the authors who are most adversely affected. Publishers will find a way to make money, but the individual author may be sacrificed to service the many. It sucks.

Where Do They Go From Here?

This is anyone’s guess. Knowing Amazon, they won’t take the shutout lying down. There are rumors they may open their own satellite stores – something they deny. But they have added new warehouses in strategic locations, so who knows? The explanation is the warehouses will allow them to get product to the customer more quickly. What…two days isn’t fast enough?

What I fear is that a backroom deal will be made between Amazon, B&N and BAM, voila, Amazon’s HMH-pubbed books will magically appear from sea to shining sea. It will be lovely for the authors caught in No-Man’s Land, but it will portend something very different for publishers.

2 Responses to Consequences of Amazon inheriting the Earth – how does this affect their authors?

  1. Julie Rowe says:

    The publishing landscape is changing so fast I feel like I’ve got permanent whiplash. Makes career planning tough for authors, but I have to wonder how this affects smaller publishers like yourself Lynn.
    Do you keep doing what you’ve always been doing (which has worked well so far!) or might you change how you do buisness?

  2. It behooves anyone involved in publishing – on both sides of the desk – to be aware of the changes because it can affect your career.

    You asked a really good question, Julie, and the answer is two-fold.

    Amazon is trying to dilute the power of the Big Guys by making lucrative advance offers to a select few who sell well or have very big platforms. This doesn’t affect smaller publishers because you’re talking about more rarified air, and we pretty much breathe the same air as real people. If anything, we’re getting far better quality of writers because those mid-list authors are the ones feeling the squeeze.

    In terms of book placement, we’re all on vying for a finite amount of shelf space, and it’s far harder for the little spud than the Big Guns, who have the lion’s share. With Amazon kicked out of this particular scenario, our situation is basically unchanged.

    The thing that is to a small press’ advantage is our ability to evolve more quickly because we don’t have layers upon layers to approve a change. We discuss things with our distributor and marketing and sales teams, and make the change.

    We also have to promote our authors more equally because we don’t publish as many books as the Big Guns. They need to protect their marketing dollars and spend them “sure bets.” We have to commit $$ to expose all of our books. And because of that, I know that some of our bigger books are getting better personalized attention because they’re our #1 titles. If those same books were with a Big Gun, they’d be mid-list.

    We’re always looking at ways to be more effective, so for now, I don’t see this Amazon thing having an impact on us. But I always sleep with one eye open.

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