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Self-publishing News: Is Amazon Too Big?

Self-publishing News: Is Amazon Too Big?

In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway looks at the US bookselling industry's call for antitrust action against Amazon.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi's News Editor Dan Holloway

ALLi’s new guidebook, 150 Self-Publishing Questions Answered: ALLi’s Writing, Publishing, and Book Marketing Tips for Authors and Poets, written by ALLi’s Outreach Manager M.L. Ronn (Michael La Ronn), is available now. You can read an excerpt in this blog post and you can purchase the book here. As with all our guides, ALLi members can access their complimentary e-book copy in the member zone. Members: just log in and navigate to “Guidebooks”.

Is Amazon Too Big?

Of course we know that before Covid, people in the book world had a lot to say about Amazon. They have always been controversial, of course. But in the past year or so the antipathy has grown. Most notably we have seen bookstores refuse to stock titles shortlisted for major awards if their publisher was an Amazon imprint.

But in the last few months, the increase in antipathy has accelerated even more. We saw just recently that sales for the behemoth have grown more than 40% during lockdown whilst bookstores have struggled. Now there is a rare show of unity between authors, publishers, and booksellers in the USA. And Amazon is in their sights. Specifically, they have written to the House Antitrust Subcommittee saying Amazon’s levers are just too big and too many. It’s too big to do anyone any good, that is, except Amazon.

It’s worth reading this alongside Passive Guy’s take. He points out that the Big 5 is hardly the poster icon for a diverse and flourishing industry.

Bookshop – A Good Alternative to Amazon?

One of the problems alleged with Amazon is they are so big they squeeze the terms everyone gets. Bookshop is the largest app set up as a way to offer an alternative to Amazon. If you buy through the app, you can nominate a local store to benefit from the sale. Great. And recently $1m was shared among 861 stores. Great. But this week, the American Booksellers’ Association has started to grumble. Bookshop’s margins are tight. They have to be, of course, because they are competing with Amazon. But that means bookstores struggle to work with them. It’s a dilemma I’m not sure we can work around. And as long as we can't Amazon's size will continue to hover over us all.

Too Many Books?

Back in the early days of my time self-publishing, I remember a lot of talk about “the long tail.” One of the things that, as indies, we celebrated was that in our world there is space for everyone. Of course, not all commentators saw it that way. In the next phase of self-publishing we had to cope with phrases like “tsunami of crap.” And the fact that there are so many books self-published has always made many slightly uneasy. It makes industry figures based on ISBNs or statistics from Bookscan feel almost quaint. And in more sinister ways, the sheer numbers can hide some pretty nefarious practices like scraping and even plagiarism.

And at the same time, words like “curation” have gained traction. Publishers and bookstores have used it to distance themselves from us. And even in indie ranks, many are keen to make themselves stand out because they do the things the industry does.

This week, we had an illustration of just how different the two communities’ approach to numbers of titles really is. Lockdown has, we know, delayed many a launch. Just as it has done in the film industry. The result is now that things are easing, the industry is going to be overwhelmed. There are just too many titles all coming at the same time. In a single week, there will be a whole, gigantic…600!

Audio in Lockdown

We have heard a lot about the impact of Covid-19 on various forms of reading. As has been the case for several years now, audiobooks have been at the forefront of this. First there was speculation that sales would plummet because no one was commuting. Then there was speculation sales would soar because everyone was using subscription services.

And then the figures started to emerge – and the latter camp most definitely seemed to have it. This week, we have more to support this. Storytel’s Q2 figures have increased 43% year on year. And a Bookwire barometer offers a fascinating insight into the impact of Covid-19 on audiobook sales in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. What is clear is not so much that lockdown has increased or decreased sales. Rather, the growth if audio seems to have continued regardless.

And on the subject of Bookwire, the organization has been brought under the umbrella of EDRLab. European Digital Reading Lab is a group that (thanks to Mark Williams for the quote) is “working on the deployment of an open, interoperable and accessible digital publishing ecosystem in Europe.” Which sounds a lot like the work that W3C does for the internet as a whole.

US booksellers, publishers, and authors call for antitrust action against Amazon, and top #selfpub news stories for #indieauthors, in one quick read, by #ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway @agnieszkasshoes #digitaleconomy… Click To Tweet

Upcoming Conferences and Events

Help us fill this with great online events in the coming weeks and months.

Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) – Zoom meetings the 2nd Saturday of each month


Dublin International Writers' Festival, 10-13 Sep


Frankfurter Buchmesse, 14-18 Oct [Frankfurt/online]

Over to You

Let us know about online events of interest to indies in the comments below.

Author: Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40


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