Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Could Amazon someday make major publishers superfluous?

Could Amazon someday make major publishers superfluous? Amazon probably would like to offer the perfect publication and delivery system for books (I want a Kindle, as soon as a few of the current kinks -- big and small -- are worked out). And Amazon has already revolutionized the book publishing industry.

Amazon offers distribution for nearly all books in print. That means that, even if Barnes and Noble/Borders/independent bricks-and-mortar bookstores don't carry a book, media consumers can still buy it ... which, by extension, means that a book promotion campaign can be a worthwhile investment. That was not the case B.A. (Before Amazon), when an author who sought book promotion opportunities but whose book was difficult to purchase could not benefit from media visibility. I remember those days well, because as a book publicist with integrity, I used to turn down the opportunity to represent self-published books just for that reason.

With the advent of Amazon, media consumers could suddenly buy books online as soon as they saw, or heard about, or read about the author ... so book promotion opportunities could become sales opportunities, too. And that was true whether your book was published by a mainstream publishing house or whether you had your own, as-yet-unknown imprint (or were working with an obscure, specialized book publishing house).

So Amazon has already affected book promotion, and it has changed our book-buying habits, and it probably holds the key to our future reading rituals. But could Amazon ever make major publishers superfluous? We know that authors who self-publish their work can use BookSurge (or not) and national book promotion campaigns to get their books in front of the masses. But would bestselling authors ever jump ship from major houses to Amazon's publishing and delivery systems? Would authors earn more money if they did? What about the other side of it -- what would authors sacrifice if they forfeited the prestigious imprints on their books and published directly through Amazon?

Check out this article, "Why the Lack of a Jeff Bezos Dooms Mainstream Publishing," in Dear Author for an interesting take on why Amazon might, eventually, render mainstream publishing houses just so much extra baggage for the most successful authors (it goes without saying that, for most authors, mainstream publishing was never an option).

As the article points out, mainstream publishers are cowering in the corner, bemoaning poor book sales and lamenting the fact that "no one is reading anymore." At the same time, Amazon's Jeff Bezos is essentially experimenting with different ideas every minute, and finding success with enough of them to be truly excited about the future of publishing. Given those two distinct camps -- the chest-beating, traditional publishers and the future-facing Amazon -- isn't it apparent that, one day, Amazon could make major publishers superfluous?

Could be. And, if that happens -- harsh though this may sound -- I'd have to say that major publishers deserve what they get. If you're not growing and changing, then your stagnating ... and nothing good has ever come from standing still, in publishing or in any other industry.

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