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The Ubiquitous Bookstore, Or Why Amazon is Winning at Publishing

14297008796_93393a1729_zScholarly Kitchen posted an article yesterday which explains why Amazon is so much better at marketing and selling than the book publishing industry.

Joseph Esposito uses the post to lay out his vision for a new type of bookstore – one which could compete with Amazon. Describing Amazon as a destination site, Esposito sees its success as primarily due to pull marketing. In other words, Amazon draws people in by offering a huge warehouse of books and a great shopping experience.

To compete with Amazon, Esposito thinks publishers need to adapt to the new nature of the internet:

But the Web is now being brought to us; it’s evolving into a push medium. All that time we spend looking at the news feeds for Facebook, Flipboard, and Twitter point to where the Web is going and where new bookstores will have to be. To build a bookstore that goes head to head with Amazon is foolhardy. It would be easier to carry the ball into the defensive line of the Chicago Bears.

So a new bookstore is going to have to bring its offerings to where people are rather than the other way around; a new bookstore has to be ubiquitous. A recent example of this comes from HarperCollins,which has created an arrangement with Twitter to sell copies of the bestselling Divergent series of young adult novels from within individual tweets.

The fact that this is a topic of discussion in the publishing industry, in 2015 no less – folks, this is why Amazon is winning whatever war publishing feels it is fighting with the retailer.

It’s not that Esposito is wrong so much as that he is five years late to the discussion. Both Amazon and authors started push marketing at least 5 years ago.

Authors have been on social media since at least 2010, and they’ve been pushing people to bookstore to buy books. This concept is so well established that there are dozens of blog posts by indie authors which discuss the nuances of how to go about it.

What’s more, Amazon mastered the concept of push marketing even further back. I don’t know exactly when Amazon launched its affiliate network, but that was explicitly designed to give other websites a financial incentive to push customers to Amazon (h\t to Marshall Poe for making a similar argument in TSK’s comment section).

Tell me, can I make more money by pushing people to HarperCollins' bookstore than by sending them to Amazon? No? Then why would I bother?

Speaking of HarperCollins, they are a great example of a publisher trying and failing to market and sell directly to consumers. Have you visited, and tried to browse, search, or buy an ebook?

I have, and so have several commenters on The Passive Voice. It’s terrible. If, as Esposito posits, direct retail is the future of publishing, then HC literally cannot build a retail site to save its life.

But never mind HarperCollins; let’s consider what Esposito wrote next:

From a conceptual point of view, the most interesting project I have stumbled upon for “post-destination” bookstores is that of Chris Kubica, who explained his work in two articles in Publishers Weekly, which you can find here and here. Kubica gathered a group of publishing people in New York to brainstorm about a post-Amazon bookstore. The conclusion was that each individual potentially could be the site or source of a bookstore–a bookstore of one. With seven billion people on the planet (and growing), that’s potentially seven billion bookstores. Now, how can Amazon compete with that?

Easy. Amazon thought of it first, they thought of it ages ago, and they do it better than anyone in publishing.

Folks, if you want to beat Amazon then you need to come up with an idea first. You can’t decide to adopt an SOP five years after it becomes an SOP. That’s not innovative; it’s reactionary.

image by dennisforgione

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fjtorres April 1, 2015 um 9:51 pm

Not a bad insight.
But it isn’t just eight years late, it also falls short of Amazon’s power as an online destination.
Amazon is an online destination for almost everything shopping-related, not just books. And for the vast majority of online shoppers it is the first stop for shopping research, even when they end up buying elsewhere. And since Amazon tracks customer preferences they can pitch books to readers even if they’re just poping in to check out the retro front page for April fools day.
That is a lot of eyeballs getting drive-by promos for Kindles and books.

Contrast that with that does absolutely nothing for Kobo and which not only requires users to actively seek them out, it expects them to want only HC books since that is all they carry. In fact, on the ebook side they offer up only 12,000 fiction titles. Versus the millions ebooks at Amazon.

As the old general allegedly said, "They got there firstest with the mostest."

Greg Stranberg April 2, 2015 um 11:31 am

When you do really well at something, like business, others typically lose out, get frustrated, and possibly even lash out. That means you’re winning.

Juli Monroe April 2, 2015 um 4:00 pm

Based on your post and the comments on Passive Voice, I stopped by the HC site today. Terrible doesn’t begin to cover it. The site lagged badly. Many of the books lack covers. Some lacked descriptions. If I didn’t already know the author or the series, often I had no idea what the book was about or even what genre it was in. No thanks. And don’t even get me started on filtering and sorting functions.

Then I stopped by the MobileReads forum discussing download options and saw that, while some books were in DRM-free .mobi (Hooray!), it wasn’t all the books, and it seemed like I wouldn’t know that until after I’d purchased it.

No thanks. Sure, I can buy the book, download the .epub, strip DRM, convert with Calibre and Send to Kindle, but why would I go to all that trouble when I can just seamlessly buy from Amazon? Or, since HC is in Scribd, just search for the book there and read it with my subscription?

Nate Hoffelder April 2, 2015 um 4:20 pm

It is bad, yes. Frankly, I wasn’t able to catalog all of the problems because the damned thing wouldn’t work for any length of time on my iPad.

And this is a company which is supposed to be a guiding light for the future of publishing? I don’t see it.

fjtorres April 2, 2015 um 6:57 pm

Well, they may yet turn out to be a guidelight…
…or, if they go ahead and pull out, an object lesson.
That would be very good guidance for those that follow. 🙂

puzzled April 2, 2015 um 7:27 pm

They are the guiding light.

The question is where the destination is.

Marion Gropen April 10, 2015 um 9:39 am

I’m a group manager on the ebooks group where you commented about Mr. Austin’s blog post yesterday. Please contact me at [email protected], to discuss how we managers have handled the situation.

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