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The biggest difference between Amazon and book publishers

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“We’re in a major battle right now for the future of the industry,” Brian Napack, a senior advisor at Providence Equity and the former CEO of book publisher Macmillan, said at the Publishers Launch conference at BookExpo America Wednesday.

“We have Amazon as an example, and certainly not the only example, of someone who’s coming at this business from a completely different angle,” Napack told Publishers Lunch CEO Michael Cader. “Amazon, at its heart, is a customer relationship management company. [Book] publishers, at their heart, are author relationship management companies.

“Those two worlds could coexist nicely for awhile. The problem is, in Amazon’s search to grow and enhance its customer relationships…they are going headlong after what we think is book publishing, and what they think is an expansion of their customer relationship.

“[Publishers] have to do a great job of customer relationship management as well. [That means] we are going after [Amazon’s] business…not Amazon’s e-commerce, but Amazon’s customer relationships. That’s where these two are going to clash.”

20 Responses to “The biggest difference between Amazon and book publishers”

  1. edward de bono

    this was an interesting thread, thanks everyone…broadly speaking i think we are on the cusp of yet another major change online. What i dont understand about ebook folk is, who wants to look at and interact with an ipad, kindle etc to relax? reading a book has always been a way to relax for me and I find looking at a computer is completely the opposite. We spend enough time looking at LCD screens…..i want to sit on the verandah with sun on my legs, a cup of tea or wine and turn some pages. Amazon, if you play your cards right as an author and spend enough time and money promoting your work, Amazon could be the answer to your dream of living and working from home. Go for it!

  2. Confusted in California

    This whole book publishing industry is very confusing to me. I published a book with a self publishing company. I was told that this is a total negative for my book in the “brick & mortar” world. It was edited and is as near to perfect as most books get in that aspect of it. What is the deal if you write a book and self publish in the traditional manner? What if you take that same book and republishing it through and then make up your own press name and make it look like an independent press published it? What is the difference?

    Confused in California

  3. In the ebook arena hands down Amazon is the way to go, but in the physical which is still out there and the current majority of books sold you need a means to produce and sell your product “book”. The fact is you almost have to have two deals if you don’t go with a traditional publishing deal, you need the Amazon ebook deal and you need some decent print on demand or low volume print capability alliance, and I know Amazon has that btoo but man it is not very good looking in comparison. Then you still have the problem of being able to sell books in what brick and morter are left, so in essance you solve the ebook side but you almost have to become your own book publishing company and be ready to find sales streams, deal with charge backs and manufaturig ad most importantly all the related promotional aspects and editig. That seems to be the reality.

    • wordwan

      And isn’t it odd that Amazon has SUCH good service and here’s another person commenting on the poor quality of their Print-on-demand service.

      Why would that be? They don’t have a clue about quality? Or they want to discourage hardcover books in favor of ebooks, of which they have that handy-dandy Kindle for you to use.


      I recently read where a company called Baen, I think, for quite a while was using the ebook as a promotional device. And what was really strange, said the owner is:

      People were BUYING more hardcover books. Maybe check them out as a hardcover publisher.



  4. IPornographerbooks Com

    The reason I like Amazon as an author is that you can load up your manuscript and design a cover and it will be on sale the next day You can also make changes to content anytime using their user friendly dashboard. As the lifeblood of book publishing is more titles and new emerging authors then until competing publishers offer these services free like Amazon then they will continue to be supreme…

    • wordwan

      Someone somewhere said Amazon’s business is the book DELIVERY business. I noticed someone comment on the ‘ease of access’ of an Amazon ebook.

      In neither of those two statements did the words, “I paid money for this book/the author got paid” pop up in my head.

      Amazon is using a lot of old ‘traditional publishing’ processes in a slightly different way. You are part of their lottery if they are making you money. And it worries me that in such a short time, I’ve encountered some pretty disgruntled Amazon users.


      Thanks for the comment.


  5. Eolake Stobblehouse

    “[Publishers] have to do a great job of customer relationship management as well”

    I don’t think they can do it. For one thing it’s not trivial to build up, for another thing it’s totally alien to what they always have done, it’s just lightyears away, a totally different form of action. They have never dealt with customers directly, only book stores, buying shelf meters.

  6. Peter Turner

    Another way of framing this is publishers are being forced to front the cost of creating book discovery for Amazon and it’s not clear if the margins will support this expense.

    • wordwan

      I am reading a hardcover book. That is trad publishing’s meat and potatoes. The book feels WONDERFUL in my hands; the paper is smooth, the font comfortable to read; the cover feels solid. I understand WHY people have personal libraries of this nature.

      But yanno what? I got that book for free at the used bookstore in the downtown and it’s in GREAT condition. The owner gets so many yuppies downsizing and bringing him books to buy, he can afford to put these out on the front step area and you take what you want for free.

      I would not IN MY LIFE continuously spend thirty dollars or more on one book. I came into the world as a library and paperback reader. My addiction was such that I would have had to resort to prostitution to support my reading habit if I had to read books in hardcover.

      But a lot of people used to READ hardcover books. And that market is still there.

      But so is cable t.v. And it has gazillons of stations and youtube is chewing on ITS customerbase a little bit each day.

      Someone needs to get their head out of their ass, if you will pardon my french. I don’t believe book discovery should be reduced to the level of selling one dollar chocolate bars at the front checkout of a Walmart. That’s what most ebooks cost. Why?

      Cos you’re letting Amazon price you this way. And the trad publishers have no way to compete with this, selling thirty dollar hardcover books.

      (Image: man standing on a street corner in a dirty trenchcoat.)

      “Psst…Wanna buy an ebook cheap? I got somethin’ here for ya, yer gonna love.”



      P.S. Did you know how 7/11 pays a large part of its rent?

      Slurpies. You, my writer friend are now, officially, a Slurpie.

  7. Ian Callow

    The key differentiator between Amazon and nearly every publisher when it comes to delivering digital product though, is ease of access – the ubiquity of Amazon is fostered by the ease and speed with which a customer can purchase from a central system covering many imprints and authors. It’s a centralised clearing house with which more insular publishers cannot compete for market share. Without a collaborative e-bookshop approach with which many publishers can co-locate *with a common user experience*, the customer ends up going with the path of least resistance – albeit with DRM and hardware lock-in. Amazon’s masterstroke is in the kindle app, which provides a straightforward platform agnosticism.

    No one and their dog really wants to have to register and purchase through unknown quantity e-commerce sites for each and every publisher – subscription services, variations in permitted device numbers etc. all add up to a confusing approach for the end user.

    In this at least, Amazon is way ahead of the stream.

    • wordwan

      Something clicked in my head when you mentioned how Amazon is non-denominational when it comes to books (and is ‘apparently, why trad publishers aren’t ‘winning’ at this as they feel the need to ‘push’ their own brand of ‘drug’/book.)

      Amazon is completely mercenary. They have no allegiances to a particular book brand or any particular person. So many people who are busy lauding Amazon are comparing them to the shoddy treatment they would expect from the traditional publishing industry that is presently so entrenched they can’t wriggle free from it. The lesser of two evils and Amazon hasn’t even gotten started.

      They have no reason to concern themselves about the price of an ebook–because, figuratively, ebooks ‘cost’ nothing ‘worldly’ to produce; and despite the fact there are people on this post giving glowing reports of how well Amazon ‘treats’ them, Amazon isn’t even ‘obligated’ (contractually) to PROMOTE your book. You can hang around their virtual store all you want, as a writer–it costs them nothing, and if you make a sale they get a piece of it, and even if you don’t, you are ‘content’ on a webpage. And I imagine they make money off you from ads.

      IT’S PERFECT. The perfect industry. It’s the perfect drug. And Amazon is the perfect drug pusher.

      How can you compete with that?



  8. Spot on, Laurin.

    Traditional publishers have cut too many corners trying to keep their financial heads above water. Not that I don’t sympathise a little bit; books should cost what it says they cost on the rear cover, since that’s what it costs to produce them. If you want to buy cheap books from a supermarker rather than a bookshop, expect to get supermarket-standard books. Presumably the same people would buy their food from clothes shops if it’s a little cheaper, too. Readers are getting what they deserve in their books at the moment – cheap entertainment, and a very limited range of genuine quaity. That especially applies to avant-garde fiction.

    A really good example of this can be seen in the role of literary agents, who effectively act as all-powerful gatekeepers for the publishing industry, doing their dirty work of rejecting work they regard as marketable (if they bother to read it all). Yet they get paid by the author, not the publisher, for this “service”.

  9. I think traditional book publishers are in the bookstore/book distributor relationship management biz not the author relationship biz. They are a B2B business and authors, most of us at least, are treated as interchangeable cogs. Amazon treats their authors, whether indie or published under an Amazon imprint, as customers. I’ve worked for traditional, KDP, and an Amazon imprint, and hands down, from an author point of view, Amazon has nailed treating the author like a person they value and want to do business with. The traditional publishers have a lot to learn and will have to change their corporate culture massively to compete with Amazon publishing’s author-friendly/author-respectful culture of customer relationships.

  10. Vincent

    “[Book] publishers, at their heart, are author relationship management companies.”

    Of this is something he actually believes, then his main concern should be doing a better job of it. Macmillan treats their authors like a necessary evil they’re forced to deal with in order to do business, and they know that if an author complains about the standard, total lack of attention the Macmillan imprints provide, there is a line of writers waiting right outside that will be happy to take their place and their apathetic approach to their “author relationship.”

      • wordwan

        I’ve listened to some disgruntled people on Amazon and what Vincent says about trad publishers, you could replace the word trad publishers with Amazon.

        This is what is cheesing me off here. I don’t sense Amazon is any more ‘customer’ focused than McMillan was ‘author’ focused.

        What they both seem to be is ‘how do I make as much money on this person/customer as I can.

        And I don’t really care who tells me otherwise.

        Amazon is not providing the ‘cure’ here. They are simply inventing a new addiction.


        • Heather,

          I think every business works on the idea of “how do I make as much money on this person/customer as I can.” As an author, and as a person who buys a lot of things in addition to books from Amazon, I think they are working on the money thing, but coming at it from a different angle. They want us coming back to them and they make the shopping/purchasing/publishing experience simple and easy and frankly, a lot more enjoyable than many retail experiences.

          As an author with one of Amazon Publishing’s imprints as well as an indie author via KDP who was originally published by Berkley I can only sing Amazon’s praises. They do treat me like a valued customer, something that never occurred to my original publisher, and they make it worth my while to continue working with them on new projects.

          I don’t think Amazon is providing a cure for anything except for bad customer service elsewhere. If other publishers (as well as other retailers) get on board with providing excellent customer relationships, Amazon will get a run for its money, and its customers.

          • wordwan

            No, I don’t think every business works on the idea of “how do I make as much money on this person as I can.” Perhaps you have a different emphasis here, I cannot be sure. I don’t feel every business is about being cutthroat or predatory, to be honest. People start businesses, i would hope to provide a fair service for a fair price and a willingness to ‘attach’ to the marketplace. Not try to monopolize it driving every other commodity off the planet. *grin* We don’t all need to eat Kraft Singles cheese.

            And see, that’s interesting. You start with a CONTEXT of dealing with Berkley. Shall I assume that’s some kind of traditional publisher? Every person I encounter who seems to breeze over Amazon, has had a worst ‘relationship’ somewhere else. And to me, that informs your response.

            I came to Amazon with nothing. I’m not even publishing a book. Yet.

            And all too quickly I encountered writers, reviewers, sellers and a few categories in-between, who were NOT having ‘great customer experiences’ with Amazon.

            And I put two and two together and I’m still not convinced of Amazon’s positive motives.

            Thanks for the comment.