In case you missed it, London Book Fair 2014 was a week ago. And while we believe it’s important that publishers and even authors attend publishing industry events like LBF14, sometimes you just can’t fly half way across the world. In that case, you can scour the Internet for highlights and articles about the seminars, exhibits, and events so you can stay on top of trends and current industry conversations.
One of the most talked about speeches from LBF14 is the keynote speech by bestselling British author Anthony Horowitz, who called out Amazon as evil bastards that are contributing—if not single-handedly—to the decline of the publishing industry by dominating the book market with low prices that undermine actual value, DRM, and as Chief Executive of UK Booksellers Association Tim Godfray said, “destroying the competition…and then lock[ing] those customers in with their own proprietary systems.” But as Horowitz noted, he still uses Amazon because they are “wonderful.”
So the question is, if Amazon is leading the publishing industry into such a state of decline, how can they be wonderful? Well, as someone who has worked with the publishing side of Amazon, I can say they aren’t wonderful, not in a publishing sense. They don’t necessarily care about the publishing industry so much as making money and disrupting a market. Not that that’s a bad thing, but they aren’t the revolutionaries many self-published authors hope them to be. Because while they are cornering the book market and knocking the competition over, Amazon is also becoming too big and oversaturated with content. Which means unless an author already has a successful brand campaign, an established reader base, or is a guru at self-marketing, discoverability is going to be even more of a problem, especially for newly self-published authors
There’s no denying that Amazon is headed by smart businesspeople who understand customers. And in that aspect, they’ve been innovative and disruptive in a way that has allowed authors and forward-thinking publishers to control when, where, and how their content is distributed, as Jane Friedman similarly noted in her keynote speech at PubSmartCon this past week.
But both authors and publishers should realize that Amazon isn’t truly part of the publishing industry. They are merely an uninterested middle man, providing a service built on innovative technology that has created a drastic change in the delivery of content everywhere…while allowing them to profit exponentially. And yes, Amazon has contributed to the decline of the publishing industry—the old publishing industry, and yes, they have allowed authors more freedom and the ability to control content distribution. But publishers are not the enemy of authors, and authors are not the anti-theses of successful publishers. Publishers and authors are in this together. We both want the same thing—to create and distribute content to readers. Because as an industry, our duty is not to ourselves, it’s to the readers.
As Dan Holloway said, “The simple truth of it is this. Everyone in the business of books has just one duty. And it’s not to themselves. It’s not to progress and nor is it to the preservation of the physical book…and it’s not—though I wish it were—to writers. Every one of us has a duty to readers. To those who read avidly—that they keep coming back for more. To those who might one day read—that the experience brings something wonderful to their lives. To those who have never read before…”
That is the fight we have forgotten: the fight to feed the readers with words and sustain the reader relationship. Not this unnecessary war of us vs. them—authors vs. publishers. That’s what Amazon has really done—acted as a catalyst for this publishing war between authors and publishers. Because Amazon is first and foremost a business—and not even a publishing business. It’s important that both sides remember that fact. And rather than participate in this unnecessary publishing war, authors and publishers should understand that they can work together to cut out the “evil” Amazonian middle man and create a new, better publishing industry.