Category Archives: Amazon


Amazon is entering the real (vs. virtual) world

Amazon StoreSo the news last week was that Amazon has opened its first brick and mortar bookstore—this one is in Seattle where the company has its headquarters.  Twenty years after Amazon began as a website selling books (and before they were pushing lawnmowers and groceries), this could be an exciting beginning for those who love to browse in actual bookstores.

Evidently, most of the books in this new store are displayed cover out which could be seductive to consumers because titles will be easier to find.  The other thing that is interesting here is that it was announced that the books will be the same retail price in the store as they are online (where merchandise is usually discounted).

Given the fact that Borders went out several years ago leaving a huge gap in the print bookstore business and that Barnes & Noble seems to be floundering, this is very good news—for consumers and  for publishers.  Hopefully, this new venture will be so successful that Amazon which, after all, began in the book business will expand their  bookstores  to other cities in the years ahead.  One can only hope.

I’d be curious, though, to know what you think of this new development.


Down They Go

It seems not so long ago that Barnes & Noble was considered the great bugaboo among booksellers. It was seen as the evil corporate giant that mowed down and swallowed every independent bookstore in its path; a retail version of The Blob from the 1950s Grade-Z science-fiction thriller. Nora Ephron even made a Barnes & Noble-type company the villian of her popular 1998 romantic comedy YOU’VE GOT MAIL.

All that was before the advent of Amazon. Who knew then that Barnes & Noble would come to be seen as our ally, the place where people could actually browse and buy hard copies? Amazon has now become the behemoth. For all those who love it for its cost-cutting and convenience, there are now plenty who try to have as little to do with it as possible.

So now we’re in the position of lamenting each Barnes & Noble store that we lose, and we are losing them fast. The latest closing news was one that really had me shocked: Washington, D.C.’s flagship store downtown will be gone by the end of this year, when it loses its lease—the victim of greedy landlords. You can read about it here:

This comes after the closing of the Barnes & Noble in DC’s Georgetown district at the end of 2011. If Barnes & Noble can’t make a go of it in our nation’s capitol, we’re in trouble.

The silver lining in all this is that Washington still has many independent booksellers, and their business is now likely to improve. I can only take an optimistic attitude and hope that the closing of more and more Barnes & Noble stores, if inevitable, will continue to result in a resurgence of independent bookstores.

But that didn’t happen with CD stores, did it?




Collapse of the Kindle?

E-readers like Amazon’s Kindle have forever changed the publishing world, but are we seeing the beginning of the end of the e-reader? Amazon has been getting its fair share of bad press lately, and now it can apparently add declining Kindle sales to its list of troubles.

I absolutely loved Jennifer Maloney’s piece in The Wall Street Journal, and in my opinion, I think she is right: the phone will drive future book sales—not the e-reader. With our increasingly mobile lifestyle, convenience and the ability to multitask are king, and our phones afford us both. I bought the iPhone 6 Plus, in part, so I could take advantage of the huge screen and read whenever I had a moment, which is exactly what I’ve done. My Kindle has been useless ever since (and to be honest, I think I lost it but don’t really care). Carrying around a phone and an e-reader seems counterproductive when just one can easily accomplish the task.

I’m very curious to see how publishers take advantage of this burgeoning trend to package books for the mobile phone. Amazon’s dominance in the book and e-book marketplace began, in part, because of the Kindle and the necessity for a complete book buying ecosystem to accompany the e-reader. Amazon’s Fire phone was a bust, so what does it mean for the retail giant as Apple, Google, and other players continue to flesh out their bookstores and build up lively reader communities for phone readers?

How do you read e-books? An e-reader? Tablet? Smartphone? Over someone else’s shoulder? Oh, and this drinkable book is amazing. Just another reason why print books are best.


Out-Amazoning Amazon

Let’s face it: Amazon is convenient. I try hard not to shop at Amazon, just as I avoid Wal*Mart and the like. I shop local and like to support independent business owners. DGLM is a small business, too, and supporting other small businesses is important to me. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go to every day. I use it for book research and to track clients’ sales; I’ll also use it to comparison shop prices on other goods. It’s impossible to avoid, even if I rarely purchase anything there.

One of Amazon’s most annoying tactics has been to try to capitalize on other retailers’ brick and mortar stores—releasing apps that allow consumers to go shop for something in the real world, scan the item with their phones, then buy the item for less money through Amazon. Amazon avoids pesky rent in expensive commercial areas, but gets the advantage of the showroom. This, understandably, drives business owners crazy. But now they have a way, of sorts, to retaliate: a Chrome plug-in that allows Amazon UK users to search on Amazon, but gives you the price of the book at your local shop—reverse showrooming, or some such! It’s completely genius! On the one hand, it almost works as a piece of criticism, making the shopper think twice before clicking the buy button. And on the other, it’s actually a great shopping tool, seeing as books are sometime cheaper at your local store than they are at Amazon. Here’s hoping someone gets this to work in the US, too.


Learning to read

Here’s the thing.  I’ve become deeply attached to my Kindle Fire.  I can watch Orange Is the New Black on it while I work out.  I can play the twentysome games of Words With Friends I’ve got going at any given time.  I can read The Washington Post—helpfully delivered free for a trial period by the very thoughtful Jeff Bezos, who now owns the venerable publication.  I can look at the fashion magazines I used to subscribe to physical copies of.  I can find recipes for my weekend cookfests (the chili-polenta dish I tackled last week was delicious).  I can impulse buy (that little clothes steamer is a marvel)….

However, the thing I seem to do the least on my Kindle these days is read the more than 300 books stored in it.  Part of the problem is that, while I am a fan of digital content and really appreciate how much kinder this device is to my perennially aching back—which, of course, got that way from a lifetime of lugging around hardcovers and manuscripts and hunching over thousands of pages (my eyesight is bad too)—I still prefer the heft and feel of the paper product.

As this piece in The Guardian tells us, we actually absorb less information electronically because part of the reading experience involves an array of sensory input that helps us recall the physical space the words appeared in (as well as our own physical space) while immersed in the narrative.  I used to pride myself on my idiot savant ability to find a passage in a paperback I’d read 20 years ago fairly quickly by visualizing where in the book I’d come across it.  You can’t really do that on a Kindle or other e-reader, as these devices flatten the reading experience and turn it oddly two-dimensional.  Also, my Kindle doesn’t smell like anything other than plastic and maybe nail polish remover that I spilled on it while using it as a platform to do my nails.  Real books smell like musty old shops, like winter evenings, like nostalgia, like adventure.


My point is that I need to learn to read better on my digital devices and I need to do more of it.  Because with all of the distractions (see my first paragraph above) these devices allow and foster, it feels like books are an afterthought.   And, I don’t mean to be overly dramatic but when books become an afterthought, civilization as we know it is over.

So, given that e-reading is better for my back, I’m going to make a concerted effort to get more acquainted with the book side of my Kindle.  If nothing else, it should save me money on all the duplicate copies of titles I have lying around my house and hibernating in the Cloud.  What about you guys?  Do you have these problems or is it just me?



Amazon, Hachette and Happy Friday

First, the headline news from the industry that seldom makes them is that the long and acrimonious struggle between Amazon and Hachette is at an end. I feel certain that the piped in white noise in the new Hachette open plan offices  cannot drown out the collective sigh of relief.  The standoff has been hardest of all for Hachette authors, whose book sales were collateral damage in the negotiation.  The exact terms of the agreement have not been released, so it’s difficult to judge whether one party or the other prevailed, or if this is, as the press release declared “good news for authors” in the long run, but it’s good to be firing on all cylinders as we head into the holiday book-buying season.

On another happy note, I read this story in Publishing Perspectives   and it made me laugh aloud. That business books (and plenty of other nonfiction as well) have long-winded subtitles is a convention of the genre, one that I rarely question.  The idea is to be both specific and alluring; to define, entice and occasionally make outsize claims—this book will change your life, change the world, reorder the stars, etc.  But this article gives novels subtitles, and thus we have  Atonement: How Making up Stories Can Make Amends for Past Wrongs and Be a Force for Healing by Ian McEwan and Gone Girl: Why Your Marriage is Not What It Seems – And What You Can do About it by Gillian Flynn.

Care to subtitle your favorite novel?


All you can read books

It’s been very interesting to watch the unveiling of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s new subscription-based e-book program. It’s not a new concept. In fact, entertainment and media industries have been heading this way for a long time. Netflix provides consumers with unlimited streaming of television and movies for a flat flee. Spotify provides the same for music. So why not books?

Kindle Unlimited isn’t even the first to offer the all-you-can-read buffet. Oyster and other similar companies have been around for some time; yet none have Amazon’s platform. Or its ability to stir up controversy.

Some of Kindle Unlimited’s critics have historically been Amazon’s staunchest supporters: self-published authors. They’ve claimed that they stand to be hurt the most from the program, in part because of the different royalty structure. Royalties will be allocated from a set fund divided across all borrowed units, which may mean lower royalty payments. Not only that, but self-published authors who choose to opt out of Kindle Unlimited so they can distribute to other vendors, such as Nook Press and Kobo, stand to drop in the Amazon bestseller rankings because Kindle Unlimited “sales” count towards those hourly standings. Pro Kindle Unlimited authors, on the other hand, argue that authors will benefit greatly from the discoverability that Kindle Unlimited and such rankings could provide. Unknown authors can potentially shoot up in rank, even if those “buying” their books never get around to reading them.

And what about on the consumer side? On the face of it, $9.99/month for an unlimited number of books seems like a great deal. But how many people subscribing to Kindle Unlimited actually read enough books every month to make it worth it? It’s one thing to binge-watch shows and movies on Netflix or binge-listen to music for hours on end on Spotify. But binge-reading is a whole different ballgame.

I’d like to hear what our readers think of Kindle Unlimited. Will you subscribe? If you’re an author, do you enroll?


Live Amazon-free or die

Perhaps it’s leftover patriotism from the World Cup, or that the calendar makes for a real three-day weekend this year, but it feels like the 4th is generating an extra dose of excitement and patriotic good will this year. Or maybe it’s just MY excitement for getting out of the sweltering city for a few days. Either way, I can’t wait for a weekend of beaches, BBQs, and family time—maybe we’ll even sing patriotic songs in the car…

So, in the spirit of freedom and rejection of tyranny that the 4th celebrates, I thought I’d quickly share this article from the Times  about Edan Lepucki’s California,  which I’m sure you’ve been hearing about. But the article is a nice summary of what’s been going on, especially for those of us who can’t stay up for the Colbert Report anymore. And maybe I’m stretching, but perhaps there’s a timely holiday parallel here, in how the current revolt against Amazon, through grassroots support, hard work, luck, and media savvy, created a bestseller. Heck, all we need is the French to jump on board, and we’ll have a good old fashioned American revolution!

Anyway, have a very happy 4th of July everyone. And if you do any book shopping this weekend, keep it local…


Mad, bad and dangerous to know

It took me a while to read George Packer’s endless New Yorker piece about the evil empire.  No, not the Yankees, Amazon!  Most of what he writes about may be news for people outside our business, but all of us much maligned gatekeepers have long known that anyone who doesn’t spout Amazonian corporate-speak like it’s English will feel dazed and confused when dealing with Bezos’ army, and that the company’s strong-man tactics and culture of silence vis a vis the rest of the publishing world seem positively Orwellian.

But what’s interesting about the article is the fact that despite the behemoth’s disdain for publishing as an industry and book readers as a class, Amazon has managed to make books more accessible to a greater number of readers than any entity before it.  It has also, although publishers might deny it vehemently, injected a competitive edge (okay, desperation and rage)  into the book making process that has lifted traditional publishing out of its complacent, vaguely condescending status quo, and challenged it to think about itself and its role in the marketplace in a new way.

Progress?  Who knows?  But, the piece is a must-read for all of us who buy books, often with one click.   After doing so, I hope you’ll share your thoughts about the role Amazon plays for you as a consumer and as an author.


Amazon bucket list

Okay, it’s not exactly Amazon’s bucket list– that would probably involve gathering every shred of your personal info while putting every indie bookstore out to pasture… But seriously, folks, Amazon just put out a list of 100 books to read in a lifetime, or as they put it, “a bucket list of books to create a well-read life.” I know we see lists like this all the time, but given that this one comes from a retailer, and the dominant one at that, I thought it was worth taking a closer look.

Right off the bat, it’s really striking how contemporary the majority of the titles are–like, now contemporary, not just the last 50 years. Usually, lists like this are super-heavy on the classics and completely ignore current non-fiction, of which there are commendably a healthy number of entries here. On the other hand, a “well-read life” used to mean a whole lot of philosophy, particularly the Greeks. I know Plato isn’t as fun as Me Talk Pretty One Day, but I’d like to think the Republic is a bit more instructive…

Similarly,  as much as I enjoyed them, are Henrietta Lacks and Unbroken essential for a well-read life? Or, to be cynical, is the Amazon algorithm at work, in that contemporary titles sell more than classics? In that vein, I’d love to give them kudos for presenting a good number of picture books, MG and YA on equal footing with the grown-up books… but again, is that a statement of purpose or a sales ploy?

 Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think of Amazon’s list–is it a legitimate syllabus or a clever gimmick? Maybe both? Which omissions particularly get your goat? Discuss, discuss…