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Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?

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     In 1995, in Chicago, Bezos manned an Amazon booth at the annual conclave of the publishing industry, which is now called BookExpo America. Roger Doeren, from a Kansas City store called Rainy Day Books, was stopped short by Amazon’s sign: “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore.” Approaching Bezos, he asked, “Where is Earth’s biggest bookstore?”

    “Cyberspace,” Bezos replied.

    “We started a Web site last year. Who are your suppliers?”

    “Ingram, and Baker & Taylor.”

    “Ours, too. What’s your database?”

    “ ‘Books in Print.’ ”

    “Ours, too. So what makes you Earth’s biggest?”

    “We have the most affiliate links”—a form of online advertising.

    Doeren considered this, then asked, “What’s your business model?”

    Bezos said that Amazon intended to sell books as a way of gathering data on affluent, educated shoppers. The books would be priced close to cost, in order to increase sales volume. After collecting data on millions of customers, Amazon could figure out how to sell everything else dirt cheap on the Internet. (Amazon says that its original business plan “contemplated only books.”)

    Afterward, Doeren told his partner at Rainy Day Books, Vivien Jennings, “I just met the world’s biggest snake-oil salesman. It’s going to be really bad for books.”


Read the entire 12,000 word article in The New Yorker






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One, that article is not an article it's a book. It's an amazing study of the capitalistic nature of Amazon and how efficient it is as a business. I admire it to the detriment of my own career as a writer. When I first started writing, I had an agent who found it difficult to sell my books because of the sistergirl phenomena and then I was kind of left out because of the "street" lit movement. I didn't necessarily fit in either model so my agent and I parted ways. I started CB Publishing and with with Lightning Source, but I never really promoted the books and got tired of paying for fees while I was coaching basketball and not selling books, so I pulled the books from Lightning Source and the books were out of print.


This article speaks about how Amazon has developed the ability to control the production and the distribution. I know exactly how. When I decided to get back into maybe selling books, I went with Createspace. Amazon carries my books and they are the only platform (I'm also on Lulu) where my book is available. If any other platform wants my books, they have to come from Amazon. I never really thought about that until I read this article.


I can't be upset at someone with a fantastic business model. I tend to think the antiquated way of submission to an agent and then from agent to publisher actually hurts the writer. It was good, but what happened was (and I'm not saying I'm the greatest writer) a lot of really good writers not interested in street or sistagirl lit, were left out in the cold. When a market is already small and difficult to crack, limiting the scope of what is carried in physical locations hurts. Then again, this goes hand in hand with your discussions on the death of the Black book store which is basically why I think my books disappeared. I happen to think that now that I'm actually paying attention to the business, that a Black book store would know how to position my writing.


It's a vicious cycle. Unfortunately I also feel that Amazon is a lifeline for my other interests. I can not get distribution in running shoe stores or footwear stores because the larger accounts freeze out small shoe companies and don't offer shelf space. (Doesn't this sound like books?) The only way I was able to get distribution was by getting a GSN account and UPCs and selling through Amazon. So, I see the value of Amazon because I make a living because of them. It's a difficult discussion.

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Man I hear you but Amazon's business model is as brilliant that a crack dealer's; they are both gansta.  Amazon unbeknownst to me is actually strong arming publishers--bit-h slappin' them in submission.


For a stark contrast you should watch 60 Minutes coverage of Amazon then you will appreciate how the mass helps Amazon.  60 minutes by contrast was "Di*k Ridding" Bezos.  It was hard to believe this was the same 60 Minutes that used to bum rush people exposing folks...


For my newest website we are using MahoganyBooks as our bookseller.  I'm glad to do this because I recognize the problem Amazon poses.  I also understand I'm losing sales as a result, because we (Black folks) will overwhelmingly buy from Amazon before buying from a MaghoganyBooks.  I pray this will not always the case and I'm fighting to ensure that it is not.


See the "value" Amazon provides is an illusion, much like the value of aforementioned drug dealer, cigarette manufacturer or Ponsi-scheme operator.  What little short-term value anyone obtains comes at the high cost paid by someone else--often the person themselves.  We are too blinded by our own perceived gain to see the collective loss.


The argument that authors can now get their books published, when they could not do so when major housed dominated, falls flat.  You see most self-published books don't make any money.  However, Amazon makes money on EVERY self-published book --whether is sells or not.  Indeed Amazon doesn't even care if the books sells--they generate revenue from the book's production costs, paid by the author.  If the book does sell a few copies they get a piece of whatever you make. 


Today a self-published author really can't do anything with their book without Amazon's hand is in their pockets.  At least traditional publishers used to assumed the financial risk of publishing a book.

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Yes traditional houses did assume the responsibility, but for writer's who didn't fit into a certain genre traditional houses did a very poor job of publishing "different" books and even then Black author's had to assume the risk of book tours and setting up their own events. Amazon is definitely gangsta. Nike is gangsta, Facebook is gangsta, but gangstas only exist because we allow them to exist.


Which goes back to all of our original discussions. There should be more people on this thread discussing how to remove the power from Amazon. If Mahogony is a solid distribution network, I should be able to sign up for an affiliate program of some type. I could then add those links right under or in place of the Amazon Ads on my own site. If they don't have that option, then it becomes tougher to be seen. We have enough young coders who could develop an affiliate program for them so the next question is, do they have one?


As I was writing this, I went back up to click on the Mahogany link and discovered that they do have a program. I signed up and I am awaiting approval to carry the ads on CB Publishing. This is the power of sharing information and it allows for us to move away from working for the Gangstas.


Honestly, Troy, maybe your time should be spent developing an advertising program for authors. A program that operates like Google Adsense. I know this is a large project, but hell you pulled together Huria. Huria already has the search element, although not enough people have written articles about it. I did. If when writers and website owners visited Huria and could sign up for Huria Ads, you now have the information needed to sell big marketers on creating that same profit sharing that has made Amazon, Google and Yahoo, what they are. Someone has to become the media mogul for Blacks. There isn't one. I can't think of one Adshare program generated by a Black company.


As of right now, Amazon has simplified the method of publishing and creating content. In the article it talked about how they are looking to literally control the publishing of content as well as selling the content. I can't blame them. That's business, but until someone can offer a different product and get people to buy into it, the conglomerates will roll.


It's like I keep saying about sneakers. When I made my first running shoe I called local mom and pop stores and asked them to carry the shoes. They ignored and basically didn't give me the time of day. You know why? Nike will not allow them to give any shelf space to a competitor. While they can't prevent a store from carrying Adidas or New Balance, if they perceive that the store is carrying too many brands, they will pull their accounts. Nike tends to be the bread and butter for most stores because people have been so thoroughly convinced that Nike is the greatest shoe company on the planet that the non runners (insert non-readers) who are needed to keep a store afloat will not buy any other brands, until after they realize Nike makes their feet hurt. By then the small companies have left the idea of getting into a store alone. We resort to building stores on Amazon since the buyers are there already and are looking for the "best" deal.


It's a difficult thing to approach, but discussion creates ideas. Maybe we are working towards a real answer.

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Chris you simply get it--and it is refreshing.  Sometimes I feel like I'm beating by head up against the wall trying to explain to others things you seem to inherently get. 


You put the Powerlist Logo on your site as a result you are;

  • linking to MahoganyBooks and supporting a Black bookseller, one that is working to open a bookstore
  • earning commissions on any book sales generated
  • promoting the Power List the only national bestsellers llst focused on books by and about Black people
  • directly supporting the authors of these books
  • sharing a resource to readers looking for these books
  • directly supporting the ever so fragile Black book ecosystem

You see Chris, you did this without being asked.  This may sound trivial to you, but it is a pround action, for I STRUGGLE to get authors to do this--even those authors who are on the list simply don;t get it! 


I know, it sounds counterintuitive; why does an author not support a platform that directly supports them and may even generate some income?


I know part of it is technical, many auithors don't know how to do it.  But I suspect that is a small factor in explaining the situation. 





Then again I ask, why does an author invest so much time and energy in a

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Chris, I set up an advertising program several years ago.  It was rife with problems.  The biggest challange, in the Black book world, is finding sites with the right technology and sufficent traffic to make the ad network viable. 


I even looked beyond the book world.  The largest Black sites are not Black owned and the remaining top Black sites, are not ameniable to this form of collaboration.  The idea is just wrought with challenges. 

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I think because I actually run my own sites and I've seen firsthand how ad revenue and monetizing has diminished, your information is reinforcing my actions and my decision to go ahead and do it. I think if you hadn't written and said explicitly that Facebook is not helping me, I would not have paid as close attention to it as I have. What I'm still surprised about is how few authors have taken the time to fight for themselves and comment here. Now that I'm engaged in the discussions, it's become a part of my routine to check my site, and then check aalbc.com. In doing so, I would have to say that I've spent less time on Facebook than I have in the last year. Now, for the sneaker business, I'm going to post and like information, but I have to pay for that interaction. Until I can find a community that is overloaded with youngsters, then I don't have a choice in that. In regard to literature, it only makes sense to help the sites that promote literature FUBU. It's a no brainer.


I think as you develop more of a video platform and begin holding wordpress workshops maybe author's will come around, then again. That may be a stretch. We are the passive people.


In regard to author's not doing the same thing I just did... they think that it will take interest away from their books. That's it. We don't understand the idea of what's good for one, is good for all. it's the same reason I can't keep writers writing on my website. Everyone has a "what's in it for me" attitude and they don't realize that sometimes nothing is in it for you for years.

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"...they think that it will take interest away from their books." 


Maybe you are right Chris, but I also know it was not always like that.  Back before the Black book business peaked, authors would often have a page of links to other author wesbites.  Today they only link to social media. 

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