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On Not Linking to Amazon

Every so often someone in the book industry tries to make an argument that websites should not link to the one site where everyone knows that they can find the books they want (Amazon).

This time around the ramblings come from Publishers Weekly:

Michael and I contacted the respective publications. Surely they could see the disconnect in sourcing a book list from local bookshops and then pushing readers to buy those books from an online discount megastore? Both removed the Amazon links. But why did we have to ask?

It seems to be a trend. Even as people seek out the expertise of indie booksellers, they treat Amazon as the default for book links. Bloggers write about shopping local while linking to Amazon. Authors appeal to bookstores for book tours and sales but announce their books on Facebook with Amazon links (yes, even for a book titled How to Find Love in a Bookshop).

Outlets and individuals who publish compelling content exert some control over the cultural conversation. With their choice of links, they drive consumer behavior as well. It’s one thing to publish a book review; it’s another to publish a book review in which each book title is linked to a website that sells books. One is a piece of criticism; the other is criticism and a sales tool. When people click those links, a habit forms. Book-loving social media users, bloggers, and editors have the power to shape those habits.

The thing that gets me about pleas like this is how they never offer a practical alternative.

It’s not just that they can’t match the financial incentive of linking to Amazon (and so what they are really asking is for websites to give up on income) but also that the suggested alternatives are of no benefit to readers.

Sure, I could link to my local bookstore, West Bumfuck Books and Bait. Anyone who lives in the area will of course have the time to go there and buy the books I mention.

And of course WBBB has those books in stock, and they sell online. Anyone who lives in San Francisco and happens to read my article will, of course want to buy the books I mention from WBBB because the store has an immense warehouse of books at prices far below the publisher’s list price and will ship anywhere in two days at no charge.

eBooks? WBBB has an amazing ereader and great Android and iPhone apps that let me download any ebook I want in seconds at really low prices, sometimes even free.

(Want to hear something funny? Pleas like this is are so repetitive that I was able to respond by cribbing text that was published on The Passive Voice blog four years ago.)

Why is it that so many that make this type of plea are so unaware of the fact that they’re repeating ideas that simply don’t work?

Here’s what the OP suggested:

What if book titles in online media linked to each book’s page on its publisher’s site instead, where the “buy” button offers multiple options? Or what if titles linked to, the online shopping site managed by the American Booksellers Association, which connects users to the independent shops nearest them as well as indies that ship nationwide?

Finding the publisher website, and then finding a given book on that website, is difficult to impossible. And as for Indiebound, it charges full retail price, and it takes 4 days or more to process an order. I’m not helping my readers by sending them there. (It also doesn’t sell ebooks, so if that’s what they want to buy then they will be SOL.)

The other thing about Indiebound is that it won’t help you find indie bookstores. It will only direct you to ABA members, a group that includes museum gift shops, college bookstores, airport bookstores, and online booksellers.

Sure, I will send someone to Indiebound; that way, if they are within driving distance of Staunton, VA, they can buy the book they want from ABA member Pufferbellies Toys.

I am sure it will be in stock.

image by chidorian via Flickr

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Scott October 16, 2017 um 12:44 pm

RE: “Finding the publisher website, and then finding a given book on that website, is difficult to impossible.”
Presumably the suggestion was to link directly to the works in question. Given that the site went to indie bookstores for the content, it does seem bad form to then link to Amazon. Linking to the pub site seems like the best/neutral thing to do. With title and author known, it really isn’t going to be that hard for the site to get the links.

Nate Hoffelder October 16, 2017 um 1:02 pm

"Given that the site went to indie bookstores for the content, it does seem bad form to then link to Amazon."

Yeas and no. Speaking as someone who self-promotes through guest posts, I put the blame on the indie bookstore. It’s up to them to write the article and then work their name into it (or get paid money for doing the work). If the bookseller miffed this then it is on them.

And for the record, I build websites but I also discuss alternatives like Squarespace, etc because they are valid choices. The thing about indie booksellers is that they are unhappy about Amazon being the better option for buying a book, only they don’t want to put it that way.

Allen F October 16, 2017 um 1:48 pm

Hmmm, point them at a website that seems bent on not letting you find/buy anything, or one that tries to make it as easy as possible – and has a lot of other stuff you might be interested in.

That’s a tough one …

Kit October 16, 2017 um 2:57 pm

I wonder how much those links actually influence people. I’d be curious to know how many people actually click on the link, and of those how many people actually buy the book. My guess would be that if you’re reading book reviews, you’re probably a fairly regular reader, and you probably have already sorted out where you buy your books.

Anne October 16, 2017 um 9:00 pm

I moved completely to Amazon after agency pricing took effect. Articles like these gets the author of said article added to my do not buy list. Yes, it’s a long list. It started with those that signed the Hachette letter but thanks to Amazon, I now have far more reading choices than ever before.

Chris Meadows October 16, 2017 um 11:10 pm

Interesting, I did run across an article discussing a potential alternative source of revenue to Amazon affiliate fees, called Clickbank, as a trackback link to one of my TeleRead articles. It’s interesting to read, and this alternative definitely has its pros and cons.

Nate Hoffelder October 17, 2017 um 12:05 am

I’m actually working on a list post for this.

Harvey Stanbrough October 17, 2017 um 7:07 am

One of the distributors for my ebooks is Draft2Digital. (I also use others to distribute to different stores.)

On publication, D2D provides a universal link that leads readers to purchase from their favorite etailer, whether Amazon, B&N, Kobo or even the other distributor, which also has an online store.

But to link directly and only to Amazon? Bezos doesn’t need my help in establishing, maintaining and expanding what is, for all practical purposes, a monopoly.

As for writers/publishers who distribute solely to Amazon, congrats on being brazen, greedy and self-centered enough to thumb your nose at the millions of readers who buy elsewhere.

Henry Vogel October 18, 2017 um 7:08 am

Many authors have tried wide distribution and found they maximize their income by selling exclusively on Amazon and enrolling in Kindle Unlimited. Note that there is a vast difference between ‘maximizing income’ and ‘greed’. I’d list selling a 12 page short story for $2.99 as a prime example of the latter, but maybe that’s just my brazen, self-centered attitude speaking.

Robert Nagle October 17, 2017 um 10:15 am

As a matter of convenience I link to the Amazon page because it tends to have a lot of reviews and book information. But I do check to see if non-drm epubs are available at smashwords or other places when buying. Strangely, sometimes publishers will price epubs bought directly from them at a higher price than what it sells for from Amazon.

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