Why Amazon Will Be the Good Guy
Now let’s back up.
In the late 1990s, the American Booksellers Association sued Barnes & Noble and Borders over what they felt were unfair trade practices. Basically, B&N and Borders could command better terms from publishers than independent bookstores could; consequently, the chains could sell books at lower prices. B&N was the king of the discount. And for “bookish” folks, this was a source of friction – the cheapening of books made them seem commoditized, and our beloved independent bookstores were going out of business, diminishing the communities they were in.
Now Borders doesn’t exist at all, and B&N is seen in a much kinder light. A purveyor of massive numbers of books, some discounted, some not; host to community events, storytime, author signings. B&N is – when compared to other outlets such as Costco, Target, Wal-Mart, the drugstore – sufficiently “bookish”. Because their main business is books.
Amazon has been regarded as less than entirely “bookish” since its inception, when Bezos made it clear that books were just the beginning (and only because books were the easiest products to build a store around). The arguments over pricing are very similar to the ABA/chain arguments of the ’90s, and booksellers (Borders, specifically) are collapsing. (B&N is frantically searching the ice, looking for where the puck is going to be.)
But as the market evolves, Amazon is becoming a home for readers. There is so much for readers to do on Amazon – so much book-related content for them to peruse before buying. Yes, Amazon also sells lawn chairs. Yesterday, in fact, I received in a single shipment an order that really summed Amazon up for me: power adapters and underwear.
But we have to ask ourselves, with the collapse of physical retail for books, which company will book suppliers want to deal with most? Just as iTunes supplanted record stores, Amazon is supplanting bookstores. Of all the bookselling options out there, only the remaining indie bookstores and B&N are more “bookish”. Should they eventually collapse (or transform or get sold), Amazon will be the most bookish place for readers to go to buy books.
Which means that publishers will be even more highly dependent on it – Amazon will be where publishers are making the bulk of their sales.
And when any company is generating the bulk of sales for publishers, they are by definition “the good guys”.