Who Can Effectively Challenge Amazon in the Book Business? [Smart Set]

Smart Set

Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I share three smart pieces worth reading about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.

“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams


[How to Give] Amazon a Headache by Mike Shatzkin

Industry analyst Mike Shatzkin floats an interesting idea, partly inspired by how Google and Barnes & Noble recently partnered for same-day delivery of books (a big yawn for industry observers.)

What if Google and Ingram, the book business’s largest wholesaler and distributor, became partners? Shatzkin writes:

[Ingram is] already providing global digital and print distribution as well as print-on-demand. Ingram is positioned to deliver any book in any form anywhere extremely efficiently. They also have a robust and accurate database of book metadata which, if combined with Google’s data and search mastery (and capabilities that match Amazon’s “Search Inside” offering as well), could challenge Amazon effectively as a “best first place to look” for any information about books.

What Google needs to take on board to make the strategic leap to explore a partnership like this is that most book consumers read both print and digital and probably will for some time to come. It will get harder and harder to compete with Amazon without a print-and-digital offering; you can’t be fully effective with either one unless you do both.

Read the full post.

Thoughts & questions:

  • Is it true that both print and digital offerings are needed to compete with Amazon?
  • Does Google really need Ingram if it’s serious about becoming one of the biggest players in the book business?
  • What value would Google-Ingram provide to customers that Amazon does not? Or is that irrelevant since Google is baked into so many people’s day-to-day experiences? (E.g., you search for something, Google recommends a book you should reference—but do you automatically go to Amazon to buy it? Why buy from Google-Ingram?)

Amazon’s Fan-Fiction Portal Kindle Worlds Is a Bust for Fans, and For Writers Too by Jeff John Roberts

The headline is misleading and the article is flawed, but the piece is still worth a look.

Last year, Amazon launched Kindle Worlds, which allows authors to write and profit from new work that’s based on licensed properties. (It’s the only way you might legitimately profit from any form of fan fiction, as far as I’m aware). At the time, many prognosticators said the effort would fail because profiting from fan fiction is antithetical to the philosophy and practices of the community.

A new paper by law professor Rebecca Tushnet explores the Kindle World initiative, its restrictions, and its limitations. She does not conclude that the effort is a bust—either in the eyes of Amazon or for the writers who use the service (thus the misleading headline and flawed article). And Amazon has not indicated they plan to pull back on their efforts. But it’s interesting to pause and consider how the initiative has developed, and what its long-term place might be in the fan-fiction community. (For a critique of the piece, check out The Digital Reader.)

Thoughts & questions:

  • As Nate Hoffelder says in his critique, what we don’t know is the profitability of Kindle Worlds material (whether for Amazon, the writers, or the copyright holders). That’s a fairly significant unanswered question.
  • Have you written any fiction for Kindle World, or purchased any Kindle World work? Let us know about the experience in the comments.

Blurb Puts Its Big-Boy Pants On by Mick Rooney

Rooney rightly points out that Blurb is a “sleeping giant” of the self-publishing services world. It’s most well-known for specializing in full-color, illustrated books, and has quietly been doing very well for years. (It’s especially popular in the photography community, and I’ve used it myself for personal projects.) In April, Blurb added distribution through Amazon, and they just announced distribution via Ingram. They’re one to keep an eye on.

Thoughts & questions:

  • I’ve always liked Blurb as a service because of its quality product and transparency. They don’t try to sell you stuff you don’t need. If you have an experience to share about Blurb, please comment.
Posted in Smart Set.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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4 Comments on "Who Can Effectively Challenge Amazon in the Book Business? [Smart Set]"

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William Ash
Blurb is a horrible choice for independent authors. They are more expensive than Ingrams POD services and way more than real printing companies, they charge you to put your imprint on the book, and they have limited choices for book type and size. There is no way you can price for the marketplace using Blurb. They are a vanity press, not a choice for self publishers looking to build a business. I really don’t know why they keep coming up as a choice for self publishers. Particularly, if a self publisher wants to go into illustrated books, Blurb is just… Read more »
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[…] Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I share three smart pieces worth reading about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.  […]

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