The NCIBA trade show has been over for four days and my head is still reeling. I belong to the association and yet I am an Amazon associate and get a whopping 4-6% of each book (including eBooks) sold from my website. If I pull my affiliate standing, trust me, Amazon won’t feel it at all. But the more I think about the associate relationship, the greater my discomfort.
I write book reviews, not to chat about books, but to sell books. My goal is to convince a reader that a particular author and/or title is worth their consideration. In the seven months this site has been up and running, I have sold a few more than fifty books through Amazon, but not one visitor to my site has made use of the IndieBound button. The fact is that of the four choices I offer, the cheapest is always going to be Amazon.
So who is responsible? Certainly Amazon gets the lion’s share of the credit for creating a playing field that is lopsided and uneven. The other major player in this is the Amazon customer. I would be interested to know how many people across the United States who are actively participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement have bought or currently buy their books from Amazon. Authors and publishers can also be numbered among those who enable Amazon’s ethically questionable business practices to continue with impunity, freed as an Internet business from many State and Federal regulations and tax laws with which brick-and-mortar booksellers must comply. How many authors do you know who have refused to sell their work on Amazon? (I know of only one.)
Another unwilling, but inevitable, party to Amazon’s success, based on Amazon’s edge in purchasing and sales, is the Independent Bookstores themselves. Every small press publication or self-published author that indie booksellers cannot afford to stock, knows that the one store willing to list their book and sell it, no questions asked, is Amazon. Of course this no-questions-asked access to readers and customers can come with its own price (just ask many small presses who have gone the POD route about Amazon’s foot-dragging on listing POD titles that aren’t through its own pet company, and the razor-thin profit margin Amazon offers to those who do contract with the pet company).
But what about my own complicity? My recourse would be for Bookin’ with Sunny to seek a direct and active relationship with publishing houses, major and small independent presses and indie bookstores—everything from selling ad space to sharing posts, linking reviews directly to publisher and bookstore “Buy It” pages, and helping to get the word out about store/author events, reading clubs, professional meetings, etc. If I could establish these relationships, I would drop Amazon immediately.
As a result of having worked in a new/used bookstore for more than a decade, I review a fairly wide variety of titles and genres and often not those titles flying off the shelves of indie stores. With a few remarkable exceptions, most independent bookstores are not interested in making use of my review site or recommending it to their customers. As long as I continue to offer the Amazon button I cannot blame them.
The problems are both economically and ethically complex. All of us–reviewers, publishers, distributors, authors, bookstores, and the book buying public–need to take a serious look at what we say as opposed to what we do. It is easy to rationalize our anger at a corporation like Amazon, but that same anger is harder to rationalize when we contribute to its growth and success.
It has been pointed out to me that when you look closely and talk to all the small entities–authors, small presses, indie booksellers–you realize that Amazon’s business practices are damaging to everyone but Amazon, and the worst of it is that they’re incredibly divisive, making everyone scramble and be willing to work against everyone else’s best interests. This wise observer also believes, as do I, that “We’re all contributing to our own victimization, but maybe if we’re creative and collaborative, we can effectively push back against the behemoth.”