The God of Amazonia

“Amazon are undoubtedly the most important player in the book world today. Whether print books or e-books. They really are the central platform around which the whole publishing industry is operating these days. Publishers think about Jeff Bezos kind of like how they might think about God – as a very distant, inaccessible figure who is all powerful and all knowing.”

That was Michael Bhaskar, digital publishing director at Profile Books, being interviewed on “Amazon’s Retail Revolution“, part of the Business Boomers series, which aired last night (21st April) on BBC Two in the UK and quoted in The Bookseller.

A key statistic that the documentary highlighted: More than half of Britain’s online retail spend goes to Amazon, working out at £70 for every man, woman and child in the country.

I am nearly finished reading (okay, listening to) The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon  and, though author Brad Stone doesn’t paint Bezos as a Mr Nice Guy, he does reflect a brilliant one. Eminently unlikable much of the time, by the sound of things, and prone to nasty outbursts known as “nutters”, but certainly not one whose success has fallen into his lap. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

The book “shows Bezos to be a sponge for information, and a fearless inquisitor, approaching even seasoned competitors to soak up knowledge from them, explains Adam Lashinsky in his CCN Money article ‘The Uncomfortable Truth about Brad Stone’s Amazon Book’, adding as an aside that “This is one of the many qualities Bezos shares with Jobs, and reading this book is another opportunity to lament that Jobs isn’t still around so that we could watch these two gladiators go after each other.”

All of this and more – especially as I am labouring to help establish a new startup in the book world – is why Jeff Bezos is on my #unlikeablementors list. “If you aren’t up to speed on the Bezos playbook, then you aren’t current with what it takes to start or run or a business,” as Lashinsky puts it.


Amazon: ebooks, print books, more and me

Amazon Says Now Selling More E-Books Than Print Books – Eric Savitz – The Tech Trade – Forbes.

As of 1 April, says Amazon, they were selling 105 e-books for every 100 printed books. The good news, though, is that they’re also selling more books in total. People really are reading more, it seems. This is good news for authors and for publishers. Now is not the time for doom and gloom.

Yes, I know books smell wonderful. No need to alert me to that fact. And that they provide a great tactile experience. Indeed. But enough about books; let’s talk about me: I carry a library of books with me in my handbag. Which is why last week, when I was heading home from work and passed a quaint little pub and pulled in, I ended up staying for hours and hours: I ‘happened’ to have a book with me in my iPad that was gripping. I read and read and read and… No matter how wonderful books smell, I wouldn’t have had the most charmingly fragranced one with me on that occasion.

And another of my favourites (did I mention, this is all about me?): the writer in me loves the way I can highlight bits and pieces. In the aforementioned pub, I found myself highlighting all kinds of facts, which I’ll be able to quickly find again, either to form the words and sentences in my mouth and head to inspire my own writing, or to quote the facts, once again in my own writing.

Does that mean I’m done with printed books? Not at all. Just this morning I was close to tears with the emotion of finally holding a book we’ve been working on for quite some time. Called ‘Beneath‘, this is a weighty hardcover with the most sublime illustrations. ‘Exploring the Unconscious in Individuals’ says our slugline. It’s a book that I, as a reader, would want in e-book AND hard copy format. The e-book would be where I’d highlight and search and be able to dip in. The hard copy would be the one I’d sit on the couch in solitude and read with all seriousness as I try to work out why the hell I’m reverting to the same old patterns that have screwed up previous relationships. It’d be a heavy read. A serious one. A soulful one.

You need paper for that.

Below, the cover and some sample pages to show the beautiful photographs and illustrations that bring Beneath to life.


‘Go the F— to Sleep’: The Case of the Viral PDF

I just absolutely love this story. Here is a book that is only due to be published in mid June, the publisher admits to having done absolutely nothing to promote it, and yet it is already at the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists.
How, you ask?

Read the story here: Go the F— to Sleep’: The Case of the Viral PDF – The Bay Citizen.

“Amazon hates you,” claims FastCompany.

That’s a bit strong, don’t you think?

The mag – or at least their writer Kit Eaton – goes on to claim that Amazon hates publishers too. In an online story featured in their newsletter today, Eaton summarises last week’s falling-out between prominent publisher Macmillan and the online bookselling behemoth.

First, his summary of what happened: ‘Amazon and Macmillan books entered into discussions about the prices Amazon charges for e-books from the publisher, with Macmillan pressuring for a higher price–perhaps around $15, which is much more than Amazon’s strict $9.99 limit. It’s clear the move was inspired by Apple’s iPad and simultaneous iBooks launch event, which promises a fairer share, more favorable terms and conditions than Amazon, and higher price points. Amazon, of course, operates something like a supermarket giant does in the food industry — leveraging its huge size to force suppliers to sell to it at wholesale prices. This tactic has caused issues in the food market, and now its doing the same in the books market: Amazon refused, and without warning pulled all Macmillan books from its store. That’s one of the “big six” U.S. publishers, mind you. Macmillan’s CEO stood his ground, and explained his thinking in an open letter, and Amazon was forced to “capitulate” and return Macmillan books to the store.’

I would have thought the obvious conclusion would be that the consumer had lost – that you and I are now forced to pay higher prices because this publisher was a capitalistic ogre. Eaton’s argument is that the whole episode, to the contrary, illustrates the fact that Amazon does not care about readers or publishers: ‘it petulantly pulled stock from the Amazon store without warning — meaning the book-buying public was denied access to around one-sixth of titles published in the U.S., with no explanation.’ And of course it tried to bully this key publisher in a way that ‘eats into the revenue of the publisher, and subsequently authors themselves, by basically insisting that it decide how much to pay them for their product.’

Interesting times indeed. And, call me a fool, I think there’s still a great future for publishing. I’m pleased to be part of it.