Old news is still news. Or something along those lines. The unthinkable and unwanted, yet inevitable, happened on the 26th of October. News that booksellers, publishers and some book lovers had been dreading for the past four months: the Amazon take over of the Book Depository has been cleared by the Office of Fair Trading. Another competitor simply devoured by Amazon. If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em! Hard to stomach that is for a staunch supporter of indie bookselling and publishing, as I expect that the repercussions will be severe for the industry as a whole and consumers.
Arguably the Book Depository was the only real competition for Amazon, even if most of its sales come from overseas (free worldwide shipping) and it only holds a 2-4% share of the online market. However, combined with Amazon’s share of the online market, estimated to be around the 75-80% mark, real concerns begin to emerge for the publishing industry, concerns such as the demise of traditional bookshops, a lack of consumer choice and increased bargaining power for Amazon.
Amazon has always been able to drive a hard bargain with publishers, squeezing every last penny out of them and buying books for a fraction of their true cost (and value!). Amazon can afford to sell them cheap and take a hit because they know they will make their money back on a plasma screen or whatever else they sell. This, of course, means that bookshops don’t stand a chance because they don’t get the same rates from publishers, so they can’t sell the books as cheap, which means fewer customers and so and so forth.
Amazon’s monopoly of online bookselling is effectively destroying the high street and the government is sitting back and doing nothing (surprise, surprise!). Not only then is this damaging for the industry but consumers too will suffer as choice will be more limited. Amazon decides what to sell and people buy it – I’m afraid that’s just how it works! It’s the independent shops that champion the underdog, the unheard of quirky books that won’t sell in the millions but that make publishing the exciting and creative industry that it is (or used to be?). More worryingly, as Amazon continues to grow the publishing side of its business, soon it won’t only be deciding what gets sold, but also what gets published in the first place. Will they write the damn things next and stuff mindless consumerist titles down our throat? Probably.
Once competition has been swallowed up Amazon can increase its prices, limit its choices and singlehandedly decide which authors will be successful. This was the perfect opportunity for the government to halt the uncontested growth of the behemoth that is Amazon, to put a stop to this appetite for destruction that threatens to ruin our publishing industry and diminishes the whole experience of buying a book. Welcome to the jungle – the unrelenting, deadly and evil Amazonian jungle!
First posted on The Ran$om Note which covers everything from cutting edge music reviews to dog walking blogs, art, culture and new world musings.