I read this slightly disturbing article by Lynn Michell, owner of Linen Press, in the Guardian today. Having worked in bookselling for many years, I knew perfectly well how large was the discount demanded and received from publishers by Waterstone’s, but for some reason I had never really thought about how this applied to Amazon. As the article makes clear, it certainly isn’t to the small publisher’s benefit.
Amazon is now the largest book retailer in the world, and is effectively without a rival. In fact, so massive is its reach, and so large the scale on which it operates, that it seems archaic even to refer to it as a book retailer – games, DVDs, clothes, kitchenware, electronics … everything’s for sale. The range of books Amazon offers, either through its own retail arm or as a portal for independent second-hand booksellers (Amazon Marketplace), means that the book you were after would have to be extravagantly obscure not to be obtainable through its website. I buy probably two thirds of my books through Amazon; the remaining third comes through Waterstone’s or from second-hand and charity bookshops. Amazon provides an extraordinary service, and I would certainly never stop using them on principle. But, as Lynn Michell implies in her article, anyone who cares about the health of the publishing industry should be aware of the effect such a behemoth can have on smaller, independent companies.
In a crusading frame of mind then, from now on, if I want to buy a book published by a small or independent company, I am going to buy it from the publishers directly. Rarely would a small publishers not offer a mail-order service on their website (even rarer would be for a small publisher to neglect to set up a website in the first place). The costs might be slightly higher than ordering through Amazon (or Play.com, or Tesco, or whoever), but I can’t believe that those costs would be so substantial as to leave your average reader considerably out of pocket. Here then, for the literally tens of people who read this blog on a regular basis, is a campaign to get behind! If you want to comment below about which publishers offer the best service, please do so. Together, we can change (etc etc)