Amazon & The Cultural Landscape of Books

The small print publisher 404 Ink’s discussion of their finances, particularly the portion on the cost to small press publishers to have their books sold via Amazon, is a bit of an eye-opener. On some level, I was aware that the discounts that Amazon is able to offer on books had to be squeezed from authors and publishers (but apparently not distributors). But, I was not sure of the exact scope.

I’m imagining a publisher like Dorothy selling Sabrina Orah Mark’s Wild Milk. On the publisher’s website, it is $16.00. On Amazon, it is being sold for $14.87. If we assume a similar distribution like 404 Ink’s, then:

  • Printing cost (9%): $1.44
  • Royalty to author (12%): $1.60
  • Share to distributor (12%): $1.92
  • Share to publisher (9%): $1.44
  • Share to Amazon (60%): $8.48

So, the $1.13 difference between Amazon and Publisher prices is 7%, which Amazon offers as part of a package with Amazon Prime, free delivery and so forth to create a price sensitive, captive book market that buys primarily through them. But, even with the 7% off they are still making 13%, or $2.08, more on a $16 book than a traditional book seller.

And let’s be real about mom and pop book shops. Books selling have been dominated by the likes of Walden’s, Borders, Books-a-Million and other chain book stores for decades. I don’t really care if Amazon puts them out of business. But, there are still independent shops that are trying to carve out space in the cracks, promoting books that are not in the cultural mainstream. The problem is that there are not many cracks that Amazon isn’t in.

There’s also a large question about our cultural output. If there is no room for an independent publisher or book store to make a living doing that kind of work, and publishing houses like Dorothy are doing vital cultural work in promoting emerging women writers, what happens to those writers? Do they stay at their technical writing jobs, in the corporate cubicle, etc. and never produce any work? Or, do they end up channelling their creative energy to generate page views, followers and what not, hoping there’s a life to be found, like salt sprinkled in a wound?

There’s an argument here, beyond the standard argument about the feudal internet, the Rating Rabbit Hole, and so forth that we should pay the extra $1.13, buy directly from publishers, and consider this a tax to support diversity in our cultural landscape. Because every time we buy from Amazon rather than directly from these small publishing houses, we are voting with our dollars to essentially destroy the very stories we are showing we are willing to buy, just to save a small fraction of the cost. It’s a tragedy.

Of course, you could argue that if there is no money to be made on Amazon, then these small publishers will turn to alternatives, such as print on demand, and they will develop a market outside of Amazon. This is true, and it is happening. But, relegating a large portion of our cultural output to the long tail is also an exercise in diminishment. The diversity of the long tail will be a function of the amount of effort we put into creating it, and the first step is to stop using Amazon to buy books.

6 thoughts on “Amazon & The Cultural Landscape of Books

  1. This is really eye opening, I will not buy from Amazon. I am not able to even if I wanted to anyway. I did have an account and someone hacked into it 4 times, not to buy anything or get my information but to use my account to put false reviews on some of the sites using my name. I finally told Amazon to shut everything down and that is how it stands months later.

    Just this morning I was talking with someone about using the word ‘fuck’ in my blog as in ‘fucked up’
    not using asterisks, I agree with you there.
    I have been writing a piece about a rather bizarre incident regarding a Labyrinth:)…… I wanted to describe human error and ‘screwed up’ just doesn’t describe it well enough.
    Later in the day I thought I could use FUBAR instead, those who knew what it meant would get it and those that didn’t would look it up. Overall I would get my point across without really having to print the word.

      1. Thank you.Looks like a very good path to follow for better security. We have a Mac so perhaps have not been so diligent. I will definitely follow the instructions once I have some time after visitors. My interactions with, the tenacious rehacking of the site and ultimately an email from someone asking me how I “really felt” about the orthotics I did not buy:) A month of crazy frustration….

      2. Being on Apple doesn’t solve password problems. Take a look at 1Password, I’ve heard it’s the best on Apple, although I haven’t checked recently.

      3. This will take a day when I can somehow get my right brain switched over to my left. the left is unfortunately not well tended but I am determined to get in there and dig around and get something growing. Thank you for your assistance as always a wealth of information.

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