Everyone we seem to meet these days is attacking Amazon. If the company is not making life difficult for the publishers, then it is forcing bookstores into liquidation. Don’t get me wrong, we feel for publishers as much as we do for the retailers. Just because we focus on publishing ebooks does not mean that we don’t like browsing in a bookstore. Several bookstores are so cosy and welcoming that sometimes it’s tempting to stay all day, and it’s almost impossible to leave without a bag of books if you possess even a modicum of curiosity. God forbid that bookstores disappear from the highstreet. We will be the first to sign a petition to bring them back!
Yet, this does not mean that a particular business model automatically has the right to stay profitable when new business models come on the scene that make it uncompetitive. It’s called capitalism this means that companies and industries which are not competitive go out of business. Simple as that. It’s tough but that’s what we have to deal with until the system changes or comes crashing down (very possible). There is too much ‘woe is us’ in the book world and we need to get over it.
Don’t get us wrong, Amazon is worryingly big. And believe it or not, even digital publishers are not free from the risk this poses as the majority of digital sales still come through Amazon and via the Kindle. Sony may have invented the first e-reading device but they made such a hash of this and made such a poor effort with both their device and their ‘Reader store’, that we have not even bothered selling our ebooks through them. We’ve had very little success with Kobo, which despite a massive investment from Rakuten and some serious advertising does not seem particularly effective. Their interface is painful to use. The Apple iBookstore is great, from its curated approach to the user experience it offers, but people get distracted by emails and internet on an iPad so we don’t expect the iBookstore to take over the market. BN.com, despite their current problems, offer a pretty good experience and we would not write them off just yet.
But this still leaves Amazon as our best channel to market by a long way. If Amazon decides to double its fees overnight, we will have little choice but to comply and who knows what effect that will have on our business. Not a good one we guess!
So we have every right to complain, just as much as the traditional publishers and the bookstores. But that’s childish and unprofessional. If a business is blowing you out of the water, don’t just sit there and cry, or call them pitiless! Do something about it! You have several choices:
1. Study their business - see what they are doing, how they are doing it and try and get an idea of where they see their business going. We are amazed at the amount of businesses which do not assess the user experience of their strongest competitors. It’s like issuing a new travel guide without walking into a bookshop and seeing what already exists.
2. Brainstorm a different business model - if you don’t have the brains in house to do that ask yourself why. What do you think the music world did when everything went digital? OK, they may have cried a little but they soon came up with a plan to fight back.
3. Offer a better customer experience - there are many ways in which to do this.
4. Acquire experience - if the competitor is so good, this means that the company probably has a lot of good people. Every good business is not entirely driven from the top. Headhunt staff if necessary. Everybody has his/her price!
5. Speed up! - we were amazed at the amount of agents and publishers which let Amazon walk away with their business because they were so slow to act. It’s not like there was no warning.
Publishing is an old creaky business that does business the way it has done for decades. Don’t sit and complain that Amazon is taking away your business. That’s like constantly retreating when what you need to do is attack. Yes, Amazon is big, and yes that’s a worry for everybody, even consumers in the long run, but let’s applaud them for bringing the book world into the 21st century, not chastise them because we are unable to keep up!