The Amazon publishing boycott: an unexpected effect.
A war has begun. It is a war between unlikely combatants. On one side there are the world’s physical bookshops and on the other, there is the online store, Amazon. It is not a war of weapons, or of blood, but still, in one sense, it is no less deadly, for these organizations are fighting to survive. Already the Borders book chain has closed up shop, in the USA. The remaining bookshops are certainly under strain. Yet, this war has only just begun. The latest move is the decision by Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million and Indigo (the Canadian chain of 247 stores), to refuse to stock any book published by Amazon. They are basically boycotting all Amazon books.
Now, at first sight, this might appear to be a damaging move for Amazon. Any book published by Amazon will not be able to get distribution in these major chains. Thus, any book published by Amazon, would have restricted distribution, reduced sales and much lower likelihood of success than otherwise. Furthermore, any author considering a deal from Amazon Publishing, would have to reflect that their book would not be seen in major bookstores if he or she accepted the deal. This might lead authors to decline Amazon publishing deals. So, yes, at first sight this does appear damaging to Amazon. Yet, is it?
Consider this. If a book is not available in any of the major bookstores, a reader simply cannot buy it in a physical bookstore. Yet, this reader may very well have read of the book, in reviews, or online, or heard about it from friends. They may, therefore, wish to secure a copy of it. Where would they go...but to Amazon, of course. This would mean that the reader, on discovering that no physical bookstore stocks the book, would log on to Amazon and discover it there. They would then order the book from Amazon. What does this do? It is another step towards creating a habit in the reader, to buy their books from Amazon. Furthermore, the observed fact that all the physical bookstores did NOT have the book – but Amazon DOES, would reinforce the impression that Amazon is superior to physical bookstores in having a broader stock. Thus, this move by the major bookstores in boycotting Amazonian books, is actually an extremely self-defeating move. It would only prove to the reader that physical bookstores don’t have a wide range. This would increase the likelihood that, when moved to look for a book, the FIRST place that the reader will go to, would be Amazon. The major bookstores, by refusing to stock Amazon Publishing titles, are actually taking one more step towards their doom.
Remember this: most readers will not know of the war between Amazon and the physical bookstore chains. The only thing they will come to know is that the physical bookstore chains don’t stock the book they seek – but Amazon does. So, the only real effect of this boycott, is to lower the reputation of the physical bookstores. Clearly, the major book chains have not thought this move through. It is not the act of a genius of a general, but the act of a foolishly short-sighted person, who is behaving spitefully, rather than intelligently. Seeing this decision, I can only say that my estimation of the survivability of the major bookstore chains, has been lowered. I really do not think that they are being run by intelligent people. This decision is childish, short-sighted, and somewhat suicidal in flavour.
Also look at the bigger picture effect of this snub, by the major bookstore chains, on Amazon. Since Amazon is no longer allowed access to the bookstores, there is now no need AT ALL, for Amazon to permit the existence of the bookstore chains. Were Amazon’s books stocked in the major book chains, it would have reason enough not to compete too much with them, and to keep them alive, since their distribution abilities would then be useful to it. Now, however, with this boycott, the bookstore chains become superfluous to Amazon – indeed, they have become nothing more than direct competitors. In this situation, the best thing for Amazon to do, is to eliminate the competition altogether. I can therefore see that this boycott by the major bookstore chains, is going to have a contradictory effect. Instead of weakening Amazon, it is going to weaken the bookstores (for it will lower their reputation for being well-stocked and it will encourage online book purchases) – and it will also strengthen Amazon’s resolve to bring them down.
The major bookstore chains are likely to go out of business, in years to come, not because of Amazon, entirely, but because of themselves. They are not being led by wise men (or women) and their business strategies are actually self-defeating or suicidal, if viewed with a deeper understanding of all their ramifications. The major bookstore chains are doomed to die – not from competition, but from stupidity.
At this time, it looks very much like Amazon will win this war and that the major bookstore chains will leave the scene, one by one. This, however, could have been avoided if only both sides had worked out a way to co-exist. This could have been done quite simply: all the major bookstore chains had to do, was to stock Amazon’s books...then Amazon would have reason to keep them alive, or not to push them out too strongly. Now, however, it is very much a Last Man Standing scenario...and that “man” is almost certainly going to be Amazon.
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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