Perilous Times for Books and Those Who Love Them

AMAZON-master495Publishers, authors and readers who have any sense need to turn around, tell Amazon to take a hike, and figure out what really makes sense. This doesn’t as presently configured.

FEED THE BEAST (OR ELSE) New York Times, July 13, 2014

“Among the buttons Amazon could push: raise the price, recommend something cheaper, make the book disappear from promotional lists.”

Guys, first the bookstores went down one by one, big and small, the beloved neighborhood bookstores, a staple of American life for centuries–just–disappeared.

[I’d had an independent bookstore for 13 years a long time ago, and watching this broke my heart. They were more than just places to sell and buy books.  They were community resources, friendly places .Welcoming settings, browseable, and where one was likely to have the opportunity to engage in a lively, interesting conversation with neighbors and friends,]

Then the relentless amassing, coalescing of leverage and power by online retailers continued, and the weaklings among them were weeded out.

And then and then and then:  the victor, emerged, Amazon, which forthwith, to make up for past losses to achieve the “mountaintop,” started squeezing everyone hard, publishers and authors, all “vendors,” and anyway they could. Margins! Their shakey stock price had to be buttressed, Margins! They have to improve them somehow, some way.

So what we are left with? Who is really viable as a purveyor of books in America, who is left standing? Amazon.

Read the article, please. [Link above] For Amazon, it’s about margins.  For the rest of us, it’s about something far more important. Books. Choices. Access. The best books, uncensored by “margin” considerations.

Publishers, authors and readers have other things uppermost in their minds. Books. Access.

[take a peek at comments below ;)]



About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
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4 Responses to Perilous Times for Books and Those Who Love Them

  1. Jnana Hodson says:

    The online behemoths, led by Amazon, pose a threat to nearly all small-scale retailers and their face-to-face interchanges.
    For its part, the commercial book publishing industry has been concentrating too long on blockbusters at the expense of mid-range voices. No wonder they’re so vulnerable today.
    Speaking as an indie, “experimental” poet and novelist, I’ve watched an overall decline in what’s been available. So much has simply felt generic.
    Maybe it will be a matter of smaller, niche-oriented retailers who will be the alternative … the ones whose tastes you come to trust and rely on. I remember a small family-run bookstore in Bloomington, Indiana, that stocked Black Sparrow Press offerings, volumes I still possess.
    There’s a need for something similar in the ebook realm, too, even if it lacks the comfy neighborhood feel.
    The key, as you note in your title, is those who love books rather than the bottom line.


    • Thank you for your thoughtful observations. I’ve held executive positions in just about everything having to do with publishing, book distribution and retailing (just check my LinkedIn career saga), and this is the worst instance of overweening grasping power I’ve ever witnessed in the book industry. I was around when the discount chains sprang up and independent booksellers quaked in their books. When I was at Ingram as VP marketing, I used to call on Bobby Haft founder and CEO at Crown Books whose dad had a line of discount drugstores. “Why not books? Huh?” he said. He wrote his MBA paper on just that at Harvard and the rest is history haha. He’s long gone now, rich and happy, and another form of rapacity is afoot, but this is far worse. The right kind of savvy technology telescopes businesses cycles, shortens them, both booms and busts. Amazon will not last forever, it is under a lot of pressure, has subtly eroded/cut back on its services to its self-published minions, and they are making classic Napoleonic mistakes. Advancing on too many fronts. If the AAP or 5-6 major publishers called it quits with them, they’d instantly be out of the book business–and it could happen. Major publishers have discretely begun selling their books directly to consumers from their own websites! Yes. It’s a start. But it’s just so sad to see the angst, the waste, the good and great books that fall to the wayside, unremarked, unreviewed, unread, as collateral damage from this book battle royale. It has nothing to do with books for Amazon, but has everything to do with culture, the intellectual life, and free unfettered access to information for the American public. I suspect publishers and authors will splinter off, try new things, just for the independence and freedom the creative and intellectual life of the mind requires.


      • Jnana Hodson says:

        We just wish it didn’t have to be so hard. In the meantime, some writers sell copies each time they do a reading. Maybe that’s the real intellectual life, cell by cell.


        • I know. It’s hard, it hurts. Authors have to go to heroic lengths today to reach their potential readers. And the sheer deafening din of people promoting their books on social media has not helped. Other routes need to be explored, maybe as you say, “cell by cell.” 😉


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