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Amazon: The good, the bad and the …

July 8, 2011
Book Stack

Books, where next? (Courtesy: OCAL, from clker.com)

Well, let’s not go there because, really, we all want convenient, economic access to good books don’t we? And Amazon has done a great job of forging/championing a whole new world of book distribution – both through their online service for  selling traditional books and then their development of the Kindle and eBook distribution. (I know Amazon was not necessarily the first in all these services, but it has certainly brought them into the mainstream.)

This is not to say I haven’t had my grumbles –  about such things as freight costs (no supersaver deals for we downunder) and the more limited availability of eBook titles for our market – but I am glad such online services exist. I have been able to purchase books that would previously have been difficult if not impossible to get any other way. Similarly, readers overseas (that is, over the seas from me!) who find it hard to locate Australian literature can purchase Australian titles from Amazon, including more obscure works like those from Sydney University Press‘s Australian Classics Library. Now that’s what I call a good Amazon deal! And then there’s the fact that people living in remote areas where bookshops don’t exist and housebound people have been able to purchase books far more easily than they could before. There is a lot to like.

But of course, it’s not all good. What change is? Monopolies (and near-monopolies) are rarely beneficial in the longterm (for consumers anyhow), so the news of an Amazon-Book Depository merger is rather concerning. But it’s not a fait accompli (yet). And the continuing loss of traditional face-to-face book stores is also disappointing – but I don’t understand the economics enough to know where and how this one can be resolved. We like to browse bookshops but we also like the convenience, and sometimes cheaper prices, of online and/or eBook purchase. Can we have our cake and eat it too? If someone knows the answer to this one, I’d love to hear it.

I am not defending Amazon per se. Nor am I cheering on their Book Depository merger plans. We should feel concerned. We are right to question. But, I’d like to recognise what Amazon has achieved and what we have gained. I (selfishly) wish I knew how we can keep the industry (authors, publishers, distributors) strong so that we readers can get what we want, when we want it, at a price that is reasonable for all. Ideas anyone?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2011 10:29 am

    Hi Whispering, This news arrived this morning. See how influential your blog has become!

    “Amazon.co.uk offers FREE Super Saver Delivery to the following countries (offer ends August 15, 2011)
    Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa”

    • July 8, 2011 11:03 am

      Ha … First Amazon, next the world!

    • July 8, 2011 8:43 pm

      Mum, that’s the deal with which I purchased the books that are steadily arriving at your place. I’m nervous, now, if that was some sort of ploy to facilitate the BookDep takeover and, afterwards, we’ll be back to high shipping costs :S

      P.S. Has the second package arrived yet?

      • July 8, 2011 10:19 pm

        Who knows what this is about – but one does wonder what the economics of all this is. Is TBD up for a takeover because the free shipping did them in, or is Amazon offering free shipping because they’re starting to lose custom to TBD?? None of it makes clear sense to me!

        I don’t think a second Amazon package has arrived.

    • July 9, 2011 11:42 am

      Yes, I think The Book Depository was hurting sales from Amazon UK to the Antipodes. They’ve had free shipping (as a temporary measure, but with many extensions so far) for a few months now. Amazon UK makes you spend 25 pounds, but TBD you can buy just one book and it’s free shipping. I’ve been using them instead of the American Amazon this year.

      • July 9, 2011 2:25 pm

        I hadn’t noticed the Amazon deal because I stopped checking their store once I discovered TBD — except the Kindle store where of course there are no delivery charges. And, as you say their SuperSaver deals always do have a minimum purchase amount before you qualify so it doesn’t really attract me.

  2. July 8, 2011 11:13 am

    Doesn’t Amazon also own ABE books? I dunno Gummie: it’s a mixed bag. I used to go to bookshops and find stuff to buy, but now it’s slim pickings. Hence the internet. I really like the way Amazon offers recommendations. One must be aware, of course, of Amazon’s product placement programme, but apart from that, their recommendations are often very very useful.

    It makes sense for used book sellers to use a larger marketplace as an umbrella host. There’s always e-bay and Alibris.

    • July 8, 2011 5:12 pm

      Yes, I agree it’s a mixed bag. I don’t go to bookshops as much these days either. I love the National Library of Australia bookshop and there are a couple of excellent independent stores here that I like to visit but online is a wonderfully convenient service. You’re right about things like product placement … we do have to be cluey consumers. (Then again, the NLA bookshop does some very clever product placement on their sales counter – they’ve got me a few times!!)

  3. July 9, 2011 2:12 am

    Like most businesses, Amazon isn’t all good nor are they all bad. Clearly they offer an excellent and needed service otherwise they wouldn’t still be in business. If TBD merger goes through there will be good results and unhappy results. Hopefully the free shipping won’t go away. I’m sure if I knew where the balance was between online, bricks-and-mortar, e-books and print books, I could potentially be a wealthy woman. Ok, maybe not wealthy, we are talking the book business here. Let’s go for comparatively well-off 🙂

    • July 9, 2011 7:42 am

      What a shame you don’t have the answer – for you and the book world! I agree of course re good and bad but there is a tendency once a company gets big – amazon, google, microsoft – for it to be assumed that they are BAD and that we all agree. Commentary tends to start from the basis that whatevr they are doing is wrong/bad. And what they are doing may have bad consequences but we shouldn’t leap to that assumption I think, but look to the facts of the case (which of course may not be easy to ascertain – and so I tie myself up in knots yet again!)

  4. July 10, 2011 2:08 pm

    If I once used to be very loud and defensive in my support for Amazon, today I’m a little more careful. What was once a convenient, reliable source of books, CDs, DVDs and more has become a bloated, frustrating monopolizer. Things like unfair pricing, manipulative marketing, unfair customer manipulations (I somehow ended up paying for Amazon Prime despite attempting to cancel my free trial membership… still not sure how that happened!)… as the years went by, I began to trust them less and less. Only in the last year did I begin to notice and use the Book Depository (what with living abroad), thankful for the free shipping and the not-Amazon quality.

    And now? Now I’m just a little sadder.

    • July 10, 2011 2:28 pm

      It certainly pays to be careful and to not stay loyal when things change. I liked the fact that Amazon was there but its prices for me – shipping, and poor exchange rates (until very recently) tended to make them not worth it. That Prime thing sounds scary — it can sometimes be quite hard to exactly know what you are getting into when are signing up for things online.

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