WRITING ON THE ETHER: Should Authors Stop Linking to Amazon To Support Bookstores?

 Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook

Table of Contents

  1. Should Authors Stop Linking to Amazon?
  2. Timing, and Interdependence
  3. Chewing Each Other’s Legs Off
  4. Mr. Smith Goes to Town
  5. “Don’t Link to Amazon.” But She Does It.

Should Authors Stop Linking to Amazon?

I feel angry that these authors, unthinkingly or by design, have chosen to support Amazon, W H Smith or Waterstones without giving a fig for independent bookshops.

The Bookshop Kibworth, Leicestershire, celebrates Independent Booksellers Week in the UK. Image: IndependentBooksellersWeek.org.uk

The Bookshop Kibworth, Leicestershire, decked out for Booksellers Week. IndependentBooksellersWeek.org.uk

Do you not “give a fig” for independent bookshops?

If you provide links to your Amazon sale pages on your author site, does it mean you don’t care about the future of your neighborhood bookstore?

If your Amazon Associates link gives you, as it does me, a small percentage of a sale that costs the reader nothing, are you in it because you’re ready to see the last bookstores close?

I’m guessing you’re answering no to these questions.

But that’s one reason this debate is so valuable. It’s one of those issues—like so many in the upended business of publishing—that has no villain, regardless of how harsh someone’s accusations may be.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook

Keith and Frances Smith

You’re hearing a strongly stated opinion here, yes, from bookstore owner Keith Smith, in an opinion piece at The Bookseller, headlined Action not words. His commentary seems to come from earnest frustration:

I speak as someone who has built up two profitable indies, but whose turnover has declined in the past couple of years, beset as we are not only by the general economic malaise and the infiltration of ebooks, but more significantly by undercutting from supermarkets, multiples [bookstore chains], and Amazon.

“The infiltration of ebooks” is an interesting phrase, isn’t it?

Do you remember hearing of a springtime petition drive in the UK in which independent booksellers were asking people to demand that Amazon pay more corporation tax there?

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Mercy Pilkington

Mercy Pilkington at GoodEReader had a write on it in April as more than 150,000 petition signatures were in-hand: Change.org Petition to Require Amazon to Pay Tax Delivered to British PM.

Pilkington wrote, “The Smiths, bookshop owners since 2004 who now own two locations, started a petition in order to ask David Cameron to enact change to correct what they feel is a situation that allows a much bigger entity to benefit over the smaller businesses unfairly.”

Same guy you’re hearing from now. Keith Smith.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBookHe and his wife Frances own and operate Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books. Each shop is in the English town for which it’s named. Those towns are about 15 miles apart, Google Maps inform me. I don’t recall having the pleasure of seeing either town, but they’re near Coventry. I visited its bombed cathedral and radiant new one as a kid.

Smith, the owner of these two bookshops, isn’t attacking Amazon this time. He’s attacking authors who make sales there.

Is this really the type of company and operation and morality that authors want to support? Because that is what they are supporting and every day they do so drives another nail into the coffin of the independent sector, which is now in desperate straits. 

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Roz Morris

Here’s an answer for him, from author Roz Morris, an Ether sponsor with a new book out, Nail Your Novel: Bring Characters to Life.

Morris just wrote up her positive experiences in working with independent booksellers in her own area in How Indie Authors Can Get Their Books Stocked in Bookshops at the Alliance of Independent Authors blog.

And in direct answer to Smith?

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBookMorris tells me:

I don’t want to be unsupportive of Amazon. Without the tools and platforms they have made available, I would still be locked up by the gatekeepers. With their [Amazon’s] algorithms, I’m finding readers. But if Mr Smith wants to stock my books and encourage his clientele to try them, I’ll add him to my list of recommended suppliers.

Morris is hardly alone. Many authors see Amazon as their biggest friend, not simply a richer sales venue than the shop down the lane—and absolutely not as their enemy.

Smith, this time, has turned on people of his own business—the essential people, authors, the creators of the stories without whom neither of his bookstores means a thing. What a gamble.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook

Alison Weir

When my Bookseller colleague Lisa Campbell followed the Smith column with authors’ reactions in Anger over authors’ website links to Amazon, historian and author Alison Weir—a seller of more than 2.3 million books—gave her an extensive response that includes these lines:

The fact remains that publishers can shift large quantities of books through Amazon, W H Smith, Waterstones and the supermarkets, which are their main clients. Amazon also pays authors on their associates programme fees based on the number of books sold. Authors do have a living to make and Amazon can provide a great source of income which, sadly, independent book shops could not possibly meet. I understand the concerns of independent booksellers…But accusing authors like me…of not ‘giving a fig’ for independents is not only ignorant but untrue; I think my deeds over the years give substance to my words.” 

And here’s a question no one seems to want to hear: why do folks like Smith and others want all or nothing? As Morris’ comments ask by implication, what is the advantage to authors in trading Amazon links for local-store options? Shouldn’t every entrepreneurial writer pursue every possible avenue for sales, meaning the biggest possible online retailer and local independent booksellers? (Update: You’ll see author Victoria Noe raise this question in our comments below.)

Back to Table of Contents

 

Timing, and Interdependence

Smith lodged his post at The Bookseller to time with the UK’s Independent Bookseller Week. That celebration continues through this Saturday with special events. Here’s Kealey Rigden‘s Independent Booksellers Week: 29th June – 6th July from the Telegraph, lots of details.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook

Ruth Ozeki

The Booksellers Week site includes plenty of pictures from shops’ activities on this page. And some of the warmest commentary about the importance of independent bookstores comes from author Ruth Ozeki. She is the winner of the Independent Booksellers Week Book Award for her A Tale for the Time Being. In her own post at The Bookseller, Keystone species, Ozeki writes with candor and power:

My books are not easy to describe or categorise. People have told me this. They are ungainly things that seem to fall between genres and unwittingly confound the machinery of mass marketing. The way books like mine find their way into readers’ hands is through word of mouth and the kind of personal and patient hand-selling that independent booksellers are famous for, and I’m grateful for this. But my gratitude is about more than just my particular books finding readers. Books like mine exist in the niches and at the edges of our cultural ecosystem, and without independent booksellers to hold open a place for them on the shelf, they would be far less likely to get written.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBookHer headline, “Keystone species,” she explains this way:

Independent bookshops are the keystone species of our cultural ecosystem. When they are endangered, the other species are imperiled as well. When they flourish, so do we all.

I’m not sure that some wouldn’t want to argue with that. The artist, the author, may be one step more fundamental in this ecosystem than the store. The store has nothing to sell without the author. But Ozeki is making a good play here. She’s going for the symbiosis of it all, of course:

Luckily, we know this somehow. Independent booksellers are an adaptable and resilient lot, and readers and writers are loyal and stubborn, and together we form a strong relationship of symbiotic mutualism.

It’s impossible not to wonder if comments of such grace and sincerity as Ozeki’s might not do far more good for independent bookstores than Smith’s cutting criticism of the authors on which those stores depend. Back to Table of Contents     Sadness is Boring poem by Sage Cohen VQR   @sagecohen  

Chewing Each Other’s Legs Off

Ironically, Smith says he doesn’t care much for Independent Booksellers Week (IBW). It just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?

Željka Marošević

In a Q&A with the perennially anti-Amazonian Melville House‘s new UK presence—Independent Booksellers Week: Q&A with Keith Smith from Warwick and Kenilworth Bookshops—Smith tells Željka Marošević:

I feel really guilty about this, but we put on so many events throughout the year, and so many promotions, IBW doesn’t really fit into our program. It’s the wrong time of year, it’s too amorphous… I would much rather have an International Book Day as in Spain. And whilst I’m moaning I absolutely hate World Book Night and refuse to participate. Giving away hundreds of thousands of cheap books that look cheap, but which the middle-classes snap up ‘cos they always want something free…where’s the sense in that?

It would seem that not even the “middle-classes” are safe from Smith’s treasure chest of complaints.  


And while some US bookshop owners might line right up for a special nationwide week of attention, do remember that the UK’s Independent Bookseller Week had a peculiar preface this year, when the American author and Nashville bookstore owner Ann Patchett was asked to make some comments.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBookHer advance remarks to Campbell and her Bookseller associate Joshua Farrington touched off loud protest among many entrepreneurial authors. We covered the rough patch Patchett put herself through in Ether for Authors: United We Divide at Publishing Perspectives. No need to drag ourselves through that one again, thanks.

There was what might be called respectful coverage this week—maybe even muted coverage this week?—of her frequently recounted bookstore-opening story. Patchett has contributed a version of that story to Booksellers Week festivities as a one-time hardcopy, The Bookshop Strikes Back.

There is a polite piece on it in the Guardian by Liz Bury. Her short article is Ann Patchett flies flag for indie bookshops with her own storeThe “Strikes Back” essay is here, in an edition run by The Atlantic in November of last year, should you care to read it.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook

Ann Patchett

And would you like more of Patchett’s excellent work? (I’m a fan.)

Easy: Here is her author page. On Amazon.

To writers, I’d recommend in particular her Kindle Single, The Getaway Car.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook

From AnnPatchett.com

And since Smith has put before us the question of how good authors link to retailers on their sites in the age of the Seattle Satan, go to Patchett’s own site and check her best-known title, Bel Canto.

You’ll find that she offers links to many retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many specific stores—but there seems to be no link to her own shop. Not even in a dropdown that lists many independent stores.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBookCheck State of Wonder. Even on the book’s page at HarperCollins, there is no listing of Patchett’s own bookshop, Parnassus.

In fact, HarperCollins does not seem to realize that it released the book on June 7, 2011. The page there says “Pre-order the book.”  I’ve helpfully circled that for you on our screengrab.

Nothing messed up about publishing today, is there?

Not to worry. That’s why you have the Ether: Parnassus Books in Nashville.  Cheers, Ann.

Back to Table of Contents

 

Mr. Smith Goes to Town

 

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook

Diana Kimpton

Neither the comforts of Booksellers Week nor the endlessly traveled story of the author-who-started-a-bookstore-in-Nashville-so-there seem to have afforded Smith any particular cover in chasing authors around the Internet.   Paul St. John Mackintosh’s coverage at Teleread in Anti-Amazon links bashing in The Bookseller brings new bout of bathos, picks right up on the comments at The Bookseller of author Diana  Kimpton.   Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBookHer response is long and detailed, firmly rejecting Smith’s reading of the corporation tax issue that has embroiled not only Amazon but also Starbucks and other companies in the UK. Kimpton writes, in part:

Yes, [Amazon] does organise itself in a way that minimises its tax bill but paying tax in Luxembourg on profits made in the UK is absolutely legal under EU rules and seems quite similar to the equally legal system authors like myself use when we pay tax in the UK on profits made in the US.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook

Joanna Penn

And while this mention of UK authors’ sales in the US has come up, I’ve checked again with Ether sponsor and self-publishing author Joanna Penn—who has just released her new How To Market a Book, by the way. Penn confirms that she still sees 95 percent of her fiction ebook sales and some 70 percent of her nonfiction ebook sales made in the US. She is, she notes, primarily an ebook author and what print copies she does sell are produced by Amazon’s CreateSpace. Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBookIn a case like hers, Smith’s proposal that an author use local-store links instead of Amazon links would mean walking away from most of her sales. Her American readers would need to board transatlantic jets and travel to her selected nearby shops in London to buy her work. And yet, here is Smith in his piece at The Bookseller:

The Booksellers Association should contact all authors immediately and ask them to stop supporting Amazon directly.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook

Nick Harkaway

And a traditionally published author? Nick Harkaway, whose most recent title, Angelmaker, is from Random House, says:

I think bookshops asking authors to support them over the dominant force in the marketplace is not a good scene. A much more interesting approach is to ask what indies can do for authors to become their natural home, and the answer is probably that an independent book shop can become the sole point of sale for, say, line-and-signed books and other author stuff. Cut the author in at a decent rate and be a real partner, justifying the higher price with unique access. I think a straightforward “back us over them because we’re nicer” is a mistake.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBookHarkaway may be putting his finger on the issue when he mentions partnership. For all the agonies of the digital disruption in publishing, we continue to see riffs open inside the industry! the industry! like this one between a main who rails against “the behemoth that is Amazon” and the authors who do business with it. What does Amazon do for authors? Kimpton:

Amazon runs an excellent website that it built up for years at a loss while everyone else laughed. It has constantly improved during the 14 years we have been Amazon Associates, and it has won customers’ confidence and loyalty by offering good service. It helps people discover books they might never find otherwise, and it keeps backlist titles selling long after the bricks and mortar shops have taken them off the shelves. It has also done more than anyone else to create the current ebook market and, by opening up viable methods of self publishing, it has given authors new freedom to turn down the low royalties and restrictive contracts many publishers are offering these days. 

 

  In an energetic exchange of comments that follow Smith’s post, writer Marc Cabot reflects some of the values to authors of Amazon’s sales capacity this way:

I’d be glad to link directly to your store. You in return will promise to keep every single one of my books in stock at all times and recommend them to anyone who buys or expresses interest in a similar book, of course?…How about you agree to stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and sell my books to anyone who wants one, any time they want one?…You just promise to give me 35% of cover price for every copy you sell, net forty-five. Unless I’m in your country. Then it’s 70%. That’s fair, right?…What I’m hearing is that I have some nebulous, undefined but extremely important moral responsibility to take away custom from the entity that treats me and every other author on Earth better than any author has ever been treated by a publisher or retailer in, well, the history of Mankind, and give it to you.

 

  Bookseller Smith, again, from his original post:

We put a lot of effort into supporting authors, promoting their work, diligently hand-selling, inviting them to our festivals and “meet the author events”. Not many of us work less than six days a week often seven in doing so. It’s about time they supported us.

Morris again, from her comments to me:

Of course we care about bookshops – the ones I know are a valuable hub for booklovers in the community. But I’m not going to nanny readers about where they choose to buy. That’s their choice. All I can do is present them with the options. If you want to buy in a bookshop, here’s the one I’d love you to support if possible. If you want to buy online, thank you for considering my work and here are your options. No author can afford the kind of boycott Keith Smith is suggesting.

And lest we leave this as simply a squabble in the back room of the shops, a bit more has just come in. Back to Table of Contents

 

“Don’t Link to Amazon.” But She Does It.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook

Lisa Campbell

As dawn arrives on the American Independence Day, Bookseller Week in the UK has featured a debate at Southbank Centre.

The event overnight was titled “The Perfect Storm; Why Bookshops Are in the Frontline for the Battle for the High Street.”

The good Campbell at The Bookseller duly reports on it today in Trade debates high street for IBW.

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Lindsay Mackie

Comments include English PEN board member Lindsay Mackie.

She’s quoted talking of a “market with a society attached onto the side of it,” of “neo-liberalism (as) the primary of an unregulated market” and of a need to prevent the United Kingdom “rocketing towards a powerless society.”

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Anne Sebba

But the more colorful comments come from Anne Sebba, chairwoman of the Society of Authors, quoted saying:

I think there are some things authors can do and the first thing they can do is take that button off their website which says ‘buy from Amazon’—it doesn’t need to be there.

 Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook

Anne Sebba exhorts authors to “take that button off their website which says ‘buy from Amazon.'” But you’ll find — I’ve circled it on this screengrab of 4 July 2013 — a link for just that, buying at amazon.co.uk, on her site’s book pages, including this one about her fine Wallis Simpson book, That Woman.

It’s interesting that Sebba’s own site includes Amazon links for sales of her books, isn’t it?

They can be seen at the bottom of the synopsis of her book, That Woman, and on other book pages.

And Sebba’s remarks (her Amazon author page is here for you) may have revealed at least as much about the suspicion and dislike many in the publishing community still harbor for ebooks as about their concern for how today’s books are sold.

She’s quoted as saying:

Publishers need to make a point about the physicality of books, something which makes us feel “this is a wonderful object.”

What comes of so much of this is a better understanding of how wide the spectrum is in terms of digital recognition, acceptance, and adoption.

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Gordon Wise

Even within the business, there are vast distances between the view of a Society of Authors chairwoman who asks her authors to give up their largest sales venue and the comments of Curtis Brown agent Gordon Wise, who, Campbell tells us, seems to have tried to point out some limitations of that “physicality” when it comes to a bookstore and the range of what it can stock.

Wise also spoke to the practical issues facing an industry that some don’t seem to realize is already global:

We have all got to fight extremely hard to keep our place at the table. Publishers will find it is very difficult to keep individual relationships with all these shops. Why aren’t there more regional alliances of booksellers?

The debate may have ended at Southbank but it’s far, far from over.

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/trade-debates-high-street-ibw.htmlI’ve focused here on the UK conversation because it cropped up as a feature of the British Independent Booksellers Week.

But, of course, these issues have riled many in the US bookselling community for years.

And with Barnes & Noble facing what appears to be an increasingly uncertain future—there’s something of that for you this week in Ether for Authors: Which Way Should B&N Go From Here?—we could soon see a re-sharpening of these questions, as we did during the collapse of Borders.

Morris, meanwhile, would at least like Smith of Kenilworth and Warwick to know that bookshop workers aren’t the only ones doing some long hours:

I’d like to point out that authors work at least six days a week too. If Mr. Smith thinks otherwise, he can’t know many authors.

And tell me now, what do you think? Is it thinkable for authors to cast off from the biggest marketplace for their work in history at the behest of beleaguered merchants? Or are we approaching a point at which the digital dynamic will so profoundly revise the business that the issue will soon become moot? Have at it. And, if on the left side of the Atlantic, happy Fourth. Back to Table of Contents


Main image: iStockphoto – TriggerMouse

Posted in Writing on the Ether and tagged , , , , .

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He’s The Bookseller’s (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He’s a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he’s a regular contributor of “Provocations in Publishing” with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal’s SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair’s Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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51 Comments on "WRITING ON THE ETHER: Should Authors Stop Linking to Amazon To Support Bookstores?"

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Victoria_Noe
I guess my question is, why the assumption that it’s either/or? I wrestled with this question for about 15 seconds when my first book came out. For the time being, at least, my strategy is to make my books available through a wide range of outlets. I don’t have the Amazon Associates advantage: they shut down all the Illinois AA accounts because of the sales tax issue. I’ve been assured this will change sooner rather than later, but it’s certainly an income opportunity that eludes me. On my blog, there are sales links for Kobo, B&N, Amazon and my favorite… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@Victoria_Noe:disqus Hey, Viki, happy Fourth! And I’m right with you. No one has made a sensible (or good faith) case yet to ask authors to commit potential career suicide because the exigencies of the digital dynamic aren’t kind to bookstores. However much we may love bookstores, it’s not the obligation of authors to lose their own shirts to save the shops, at least as far as I’ve had anyone argue it so far to me. And not trying to sell your work in the Amazon marketplace is tantamount to crazy. That you should have to give up one marketplace to… Read more »
AJ SIkes
I read Smith’s rant and had to chuckle. I was happy, however, to learn that independents have their own affiliate programs. Then, upon mentioning it to a writer friend who has his own press to run as well, learned that it ain’t so cut-n-dried as Smith wants us to believe. The indy shop needs to stock the books first, and here’s where I see things breaking down in a way that almost makes me want to wag an accusatory finger at Amazon. Independent authors need all the help we can get. So, too, independent booksellers. Wouldn’t it be great if… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@f8089fc9074b34812a8c6b0347bb80ba:disqus Hey, Aaron, Seems to me the actualities you mention here of authors needing to ante up for books to be stocked and the stores then being willing to stock them make sense in that partnership concept that Nick Harkaway touches on. I know that Roz Morris, for example, has written of having had copies of her books printed and taking them in to stores. So yes, in that case, the author was taking the risk of having some printed. On the other hand, POD via CreateSpace will produce those copies on Amazon orders, making it less a risk, letting… Read more »
AJ Sikes

Cheers, Porter. Completely agree that we (authors) can’t be expected to turn our backs on Amazon, not if we want to eat. Eventually, we’ve sold all the books we’re going to sell in our geographical location. And unless an author lives in a tourism economy, you have to have online sales running alongside the bookshelf variety.

Always a fun read on the Ether. Keep ’em coming 🙂

Porter Anderson

That’s it exactly, Aaron. Some things do still come down to physical marketplace and how long before you tap that thing out?
Thanks again!
-p.

Dina Santorelli
Gosh, can’t we all just get along? As Roz says, many of us would not be here without Amazon’s support. I have no desire to turn my back on the company, which arguably has done more for reading than anyone else these days. Plus, I hate to break the news to Mr. Smith but, not all indie bookstores are receptive to indie authors. Lots — and I mean LOTS — have turned their backs on me, saying, “Oh, we don’t work with self-published authors,” “…don’t have consignment programs,” etc. But do I hold a grudge? Of course not. We’re all… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@dinasantorelli:disqus Hey, Dina, I love the attitude you’re talking about of, first, remembering that there really needs to be no blame in any direction — as you say, everybody is trying to find a way forward — and then of trying to work as many angles as possible. I do know of many bookstores unwilling to work with self-published authors (which is one reason, as I understand it, that Roz Morris was hesitant when she took printed copies of her books to local stores to see if they’d carry them — in her case, the answer was happier than it… Read more »
R.W. Ridley
I feel for the independent bookstores, but historically they haven’t been very supportive of authors like me (self-published). In the past, they would cut me off without hesitation once they learned I wasn’t working through a publisher. Amazon not only has been supportive of indie authors, they’ve facilitated programs that have provided incredible income opportunities for authors such as me. How are we supposed to turn away from the very organization that in many ways is responsible for our success? I’m happy to see that the independent bookstores are now trying to work with those of us outside of the… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@4baa54194427261f658aab6ea714015a:disqus Hey, RW, thanks for reading and commenting, good to have you. I think you’re right on the money, especially in pointing out that the entire landscape is now overhauled and beginning to grow in new ways — the penetration of the digital dynamic so deeply into publishing means that whole structural ranges are faltering (not just in sales but in the publishing establishment, as you note). This, I think is what drives the fear that’s behind rather outlandish demands such as these we hear to abandon Amazon. The idea of authors hurling themselves onto the sole mercy of independent… Read more »
Pam Stucky
Thanks for an interesting article and discussion. I think the struggle here is not that anyone wants either authors or indie bookstores to fail; the challenge is that there’s much uncertainty in the world of stories these days, and no one is clear about the path forward. There are, of course, pros and cons in every outlet for self-published / indie / artisan / whatever authors such as myself. Without Amazon, I couldn’t even hope to be successful; with it, I can reach a worldwide audience. On the other hand, we can’t deny that the opening of the gates has… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@pamstucky:disqus Hi, Pam, Thanks so much for joining us here and commenting, and my compliments on your plan to pull together a summit and then to be in touch with Amazon’s self-publishing folks. My own experience as a journalist with Amazon’s independent publishing team has been fantastic, they’re terrific to work with. In fact, let me offer you this edition of the Ether from just after BookExpo America, in which I covered a roundtable that Amazon’s self-publishing leadership pulled together and invited some of us in the media to join: https://janefriedman.com/2013/06/06/writing-on-the-ether-93/ You’re right that bringing the parties together is the… Read more »
Pam Stucky
Hi, Porter! Yes, when I think of how bookstores might re-invent themselves, I’m not sure what they’d think of my ideas. What I envision, though, is exactly what you’re speaking of – a hybrid of bookstore and cultural/artistic/community hub of some sort. Not so much a bookstore anymore but rather a story center. Whether they’ll like that idea, I don’t know, but I’ll offer it up and if they listen, great; if not, I’ve tried. The energy going forward is in sharing stories. Whatever bookstores can do to capture that energy to their advantage would be wise, IMHO. I don’t… Read more »
Porter Anderson

@pamstucky:disqus
Well, you couldn’t be more right about the roomful of books problem, Pam, LOL. That clearly won’t cut it – not even in libraries, as we’re discovering. So more power to you, the “story center” idea is it, and so danged amorphous and crazy-making that I’m sure we’ll be years and years watching ourselves walk into walls trying to make it happen, lol.

All the best with it, thanks again!
-p.

Anne R. Allen
For at least a year, I linked my books on my site to a number of retailers, in rotation. But I discovered that I moved more books when I linked to a $2.99 book at Amazon than when I linked to the same book FREE at Kobo or Smashwords. I now only link to Amazon. A number of factors are in play here. One is that independent bookstores–at least in the US–are generally no friend of independent authors. The system of returns has put booksellers 100% in thrall to corporate publishing. When I try to get my small-press books into… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@annerallen:disqus Hey, Anne — I’ve just tweeted out your line about the independents being in the thrall of the corporate returns policys, such a powerful point. And yes, I’m hearing from many people (Dina has made such comments here above) about how frequently the stores will simply not work with small presses, self-publishers, anyone outside the mainstream big system. I begin to wonder, in fact, if there are differences in general in how UK and US independent booksellers see self-publishing authors. Roz Morris’ good experiences may owe more to a cultural difference, in other words, than we realize if there’s… Read more »
Anne R. Allen
Thanks for tweeting my comment. You make a great point that things are very different in the UK. It’s not just because they’re behind us in digital technology. They have a very different book culture. It’s never been as adversarial as in the US, and authors aren’t treated like prey to be feasted upon–and tossed aside–by corporate publishers and their pet retailers. There’s a reason why a UK author famously called US agents “little sh**s” a couple of years ago. He had no idea authors are expected to “know their place” in New York publishing (usually on the bottom of… Read more »
Porter Anderson

@annerallen:disqus
You know, Anne, we’ve had the most interesting comment come in below, though, from Dougie Brimson, longtime sports-book author in England ( @DougieBrimson on You Know What Platform). His experience with bookstores there wasn’t what you and I might assume it was, you’ll have to have a look. http://ow.ly/mGxHV

Shad Boots
I’ve thought about this for a few minutes. Why don’t they find a way to work with/alongside Amazon? In my mind, the primary concern of the Indie bookseller is wasting valuable space by stocking books that don’t, or won’t, sell. I can see ways where they can use Amazon, if they partnered with them, to filter some of these things. I don’t know what would make both sides happy in this case, or if there is even a possibility of that being possible, but I think it’d be worth investigation. Turning your biggest “enemy” into your friend can pay huge… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@ShadBoots:disqus Hi, Shad, Thanks for reading the Ether and dropping in with a comment! You’re right, no question, that exploring potential liaisons with Amazon could be of use to the independent booksellers. Success there would depend, as in any such effort, on there being things that both sides needed and could help each other accomplish. If, for example, Amazon’s print work continued to find few placements in Barnes & Noble stores, it might be of interest to Seattle to have independent bookstore exposure for its Harvest line (produced as print by Houghton). Certainly for the stores, the ability to access… Read more »
Shad Boots
There are pitfalls to everything. And you are right, the sheer complexity of this type of conversation demands surprise. As we open discussion more and more, we’ll start seeing both more options and more problems than before. Which, for many people inside the industry, is a scary prospect. The easier thing to say is that one side is right and the other wrong. You can pat yourself on the back after saying it, too, because you’ll have supporters. (Clue: That solves nothing). Ultimately, the problem I see with the publishing and book selling industry is that it resists innovation. Unlike… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@ShadBoots:disqus Shad, I can tell from personal experience that the news industry was easily as resistant to the digital dynamic as publishing has been. That sounds crazy until you tour a major network’s facilities and see the antiquated equipment and conditions (and attitudes) you can find on those news floors, in edit bays, behind playout decks and sitting at many desks. I can’t account for the experience of this in each industry it has touched (I haven’t worked in the music industry, for example), but I can say that one thing publishing has going in its favor is the discussion.… Read more »
Mary DeEditor
I wonder if a point is being lost here. Amazon aims to be a corporate monopoly. Once it succeeds in being the last bookseller standing, it will do what is best for Amazon — not what’s best for readers or authors. Keep your eye on the three card monte game of the future, and its unintended consequences. Today’s NY Times has a most interesting article: “As Competition Wanes, Amazon Cuts Back Discounts” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/05/business/as-competition-wanes-amazon-cuts-back-its-discounts.html?hpw&pagewanted=all). To quote: “[Amazon’s] is an achievement built on superior customer service, a vast range of titles and, most of all, rock-bottom prices that no physical store could… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@1e180204584c9d875417c18ff1e61309:disqus Hello, Mary, Many thanks for reading Ether and commenting. I’d just make this point in answer to your lead here — unless I’ve missed it, Amazon has never stated that it “aims to be a corporate monopoly.” This, I believe–which means I’m responding only from my sense, not from any ability to know your thoughts, either– is what I can only guess is your *concept* of what Amazon as a corporation intends. And I would ask you to say that. Not to state your concept as fact. We do not know this to be true, this idea of monopolistic… Read more »
David Gaughran
IMO the NYT are fairly clueless when it comes to anything to do with the book business. In this case, the examples they use to support this theory that Amazon is now raising prices are problematic. Leaving aside the academic books (that’s its own Pandora’s Box of weirdness/stupidity), let’s take a close look at the example quoted at the top of the article. “Born to Lose” by Jim Hollock isn’t an academic text, nor is it particularly niche – it’s narrative non-fiction/popular history/true crime, and, by the blurb at least, would seem to have general commerical appeal. Except the list… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@davidgaughran:disqus Hey, David, Good to have you jump in, thanks. Here’s something interesting. I’ve just checked the Amazon listings for Born to Lose, the Jim Hollock book (Kent State University Press, September 2012) and its prices are substantially changed from list on discounts. The discounted Kindle edition here http://ow.ly/mJf83 has dropped to $9.34. (I’m looking at 12:30pET on 7 July.) The discounted paperback edition herehttp://ow.ly/mJfdg has dropped to $25.01. (Again at 12:30pET on 7 July.) So I think it’s quite possible that David Streitfeld’s piece at the Times — or your comment here on the Ether, lol — alerted the… Read more »
Mary DeEditor

Dude, chill. I wrote a comment to a blog. That’s all. A quick comment. Not reportage where indeed I would and should go much deeper. Disagree all you like, that’s fine, but there’s no need question my integrity or comprehension of the matter.

Dougie Brimson
Funny, when I released my first book 17 years ago I had little or no support from indie bookshops in the south of England despite being published by one of the big 6 in the UK and sitting at #1 in the sports non-fiction chart for 12 weeks. Nor did they show much interest in helping me promote books 2 through to 15 even though they were and remain solid sellers. They did however, start to show some when I moved into screenwriting and brought a Hollywood star to town but by then I had seen the light and their… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@dougiebrimson:disqus Really, Dougie, Your comment is just about as expert a statement of this view — you must have talked to yourself for advice 🙂 — as we could hope for. Time and again, of course, we see the situation in which someone or something is passed up until, after decades of hard work and traction-building, a little glamour attaches to it, and — boom! — suddenly you can do no wrong and they all want you with them. This is one of the insights that I think can motivate authors who understand what the Amazonian offer really is: a… Read more »
Anne R. Allen
As in most things, this mostly shows a big difference between North and South in England. When I was selling my books in the Midlands in the early ‘oughties, I was treated very well by WH Smith’s, Ottakers, and indie shops in Notts, Lincs and East Yorkshire. To be sure I was published by a local press the community wanted to support. Not that I sold much, but they were kind about setting up tables and helping me promote my signings. Much more than any local shop does for me in the US. It sounds as if southern England is… Read more »
Porter Anderson
Right, and of course, there can be strong differences in the operation and relations in book communities in the States, as well. The bookselling / coffee-shop format has been very strong in some Southern areas, for example, with mixed results, of course. I do think there’s a lot to be said in either country for Roz Morris’ experience of having books printed and going in with them under her arm. It puts an onus on the author that isn’t even doable in some cases, yes, but it does create one level of commitment that’s immediately demonstrable on the part of… Read more »
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[…] I love independent bookstores, and I can understand their angst toward Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but to say authors are in the wrong for linking to them is unfair. Us writers are merely trying to get out there in as many ways as possible. […]

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[…] Table of Contents Should Authors Stop Linking to Amazon? Timing, and Interdependence Chewing Each Other’s Legs Off Mr. Smith Goes to Town Anne Sebba Says Don’t Link to Amazon. But She Does It. Should Authors Stop Linking to Amazon?  […]

Charity Kountz
I simply don’t understand this “all or nothing” competition in publishing. Who says there can’t be independent bookstores, chains, and online retailers all selling the same book? It’s just more ways to reach the market you’re trying to reach. I love Indie bookstores, love supporting them, love holding events at them and am always working on finding more ways to do that, especially locally. But it’s a time consuming process to manage each individual bookstore. They all have different policies and ways of doing things, some want consignment, some buy outright, some only stock a limited number of copies, etc… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@charitykountz:disqus Hey, Charity, Many thanks for your input here. You’re right, of course, that there’s no reason there shouldn’t be an across-the-board ability to use all sales avenues. The calls for all or nothing, in my estimation, are really symptoms of the fearfulness and panic gripping some in the publishing community who then translate the challenges into a crisis that needs to be addressed with all-or-nothing approaches, pledges of allegiance, and so forth. Not productive, you’re right, which is why it was important to bring this kind of thing to light. I do like your idea of a central distribution… Read more »
Philippa Rees
A point to add is the erosion between indie booksellers and Amazon.Many booksellers sell books through Amazon on the Amazon seller and undercut the RRP. I have just published a book that really needs to be handled and ‘riffled through’ because it crosses so many barriers, genres, and whole areas (both science and religion) it is indescribable in blurb short culture we now inhabit. I have worked for two years to achieve a distributor that would make it available on sale or return ( by printing 100 copies and giving most away to influential reviewers, one of whom persuaded a… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@philippa_rees:disqus Hello, Philippa, Many thanks for reading the #Ether and joining us in the discussion here. Yes, I think you make an important point that falls, in my mind, along the lines of the hypocrisy we see among some publishers that love nothing more than to bash Amazon at every chance while nevertheless selling everything they produce on Amazon, and aggressively. (Melville House, based in New York with a London office) is frequently noted to be one of the leads in this category.) Your experience in seeing bookstores, themselves. lowball your sales on Amazon is very telling and bookshop owners… Read more »
Philippa Rees
Thanks Porter. Its good to be part of a balanced conversation! I was devastated, having believed as an independent I had lined up all the ducks to make things possible in bookstores, and sensitive to their plight and need to have return options only to have some of them knock out he book in the first week! But other bookstores have been amazing so in the end it is both the individuals and the community interests that have to be congruent. I have had the extraordinary experience of another publisher offer to both put my book alongside his others and… Read more »
Porter Anderson

@philippa_rees:disqus
This is fantastic news about the offer of sales by the other publisher, Philippa, congratulations and all the best with it, what a grand assist. Great to hear!
-p.

Victoria_Noe
Why people buy on Amazon instead of brick and mortar bookstores may not actually be the question. A better question would be why buy on Amazon instead of other websites? I hate the sales tax thing, because it affects me financially (elimination of Amazon Associate accounts in Illinois). But I focus on two things when I shop online: speed and cost of shipping. I’ve comparison-shopped for books I needed, not just wanted,. What was available immediately on Amazon and “eligible for free standard shipping” required a 1-2 week wait plus out-of-proportion-to-the-cost shipping fees on other websites. Same delay if I… Read more »
Porter Anderson

@Victoria_Noe:disqus

Hi, Viki –

There also is federal legislation on the Internet sales tax issue, of course, seemingly stalled in the House after going easily through the Senate.

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/06/18/internet-sales-tax-bill-finds-few-friends-in-the-house

p.

BWKnister

Porter Anderson–However I dislike saying it–and I do–the title of your piece tells me the game is close to over. When links to a website are perceived as having the power to destroy private bookstores, it would seem to be only a matter of time.

Porter Anderson
@936e6c683b24a7467147fe53d5ab8370:disqus Hi, Barry, Yes, I think there’s a certain potential for self-fulfilling complaint here, and it doesn’t seem to cross the minds of many who lead the Amazon bashing that becoming the very victims they describe is not necessarily the best course. This does, however, line up with the reactions to digital pressures we’ve seen in many parts of the publishing world. The resistance to change has frequently been voiced as a kind of hapless sitting-duck dynamic, a form of denial which, of course, excuses those who would rather say something bad befell them than that they might have been… Read more »
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[…] This is, yes, pretty close to earthshaking in terms of what that kind of market dominance can mean for the shape and dynamic of bookselling in the UK market and elsewhere. Shatzkin’s write is not long, and well worth your time. And the suggestion from some booksellers that authors give up their Internet links to buy pages on Amazon in favor of links to independent bookstores is the topic of the latest Writing on the Ether at JaneFriedman.com. […]

janetboyer

I don’t HAVE any local (non-chain) bookstores TO support (I live in a rural area). Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million are 40 minutes away but, based on how they treat customers, there’s no way I’d support them over Amazon. You can’t beat AMZN’s customer service, not to mention how they’ve enable many of us to make a living writing. If independent booksellers did half as much as what AMZN does for authors (not to mention buyers), THEN they can whine about linking my books to my favorite 100 ton gorilla.

Porter Anderson
@janetboyer:disqus Hey, Janet, Thanks for the good comment! And yes, as several of our comment writers are saying here, the bookstores, however important to everyone they may be, simply need to come to grips with the overwhelming importance of Amazon to today’s authors and try to develop ways to work with and within that reality. As one analyst has said to me in comments on another site, it’s simply suicidal for an author to give up his or her Amazon sales links — which may be why, of course, we see the chairwoman of the Society of Authors, Anne Sebba,… Read more »
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[…] Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson Writ­ing on the Ether: Should Authors Stop Link­ing to Ama­zon To Sup­port […]

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[…] to authors linking “to the Amazon pages for their books,” you’ll find it here, in Should Authors Stop Linking to Amazon To Support Bookstores? at Writing on the Ether earlier this […]

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[…] being spotted and listed by Amazon might be an advantage, not a disadvantage. I was reminded of reporting here just last month that UK author and writing-community leader Joanna Penn tells me she makes 95 percent of her […]

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[…] WRITING ON THE ETHER | Should You Link to Ama­zon? | JANEFRIEDMAN.COM […]

Tasha O'Neill
Though I would love to support them, my own experience of indie bookshops is a mixed bag. I have, on the whole, received a much warmer response from Waterstones than my local bookshop (where I was interrogated then begrudgingly told they would stock a few copies as if they were doing me a huge favour that I didn’t really deserve). Other indie bookshops have been supportive and very impressed by the promotional material I have provided them and have worked with me to ensure a successful author event. On the whole however, even the smallest backwater indie bookshops seem to… Read more »
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