In parts one and two of this series, we took a long and candid look at the reality of and reasons for Amazon’s dominance in the book-o-sphere. Now it’s time to focus on how we are to keep publishing alive and thriving. Here are six things I think need to happen to ensure that Amazon and other publishers, booksellers and libraries exist in our future world.
Large and influential publishers need to stop bending to demands that have already proven to devalue books. That doesn’t mean price-gouging the consumer or bullying retailers; it means setting a fair retail price, giving a fair wholesale discount, and not accepting returns for any reason other than defective product.
Also, get rid of the attitude and idea that you have to out-do other publishers. Other publishers are not the enemy, monopoly is. There are plenty of readers to go round, and voracious readers can’t get enough. I know from personal experience. Even before I read books for a living, I devoured one-to-two books per day. Thank you to staples like Harlequin, Random House, Thomas Nelson; and thank you smaller presses like Ave Maria, Ignatius and TAN (and others large and small). Publishers of all breeds need to remain strong.
Smaller publishers need to be diligent in producing quality products that can compete in the marketplace, both in appearance and content. Readers want quality as well as quantity, and a sub-par product won’t do in any industry.
Much like larger publishers, smaller publishers need to refrain from practices that help to devalue books. (Even though it’s a riskier proposition for small pubs than it is for larger companies when we’re talking about “dictating” terms and finding outlets for our product.)
All publishers need to understand that retailers and libraries have always been the fastest gateway to readers, and the “power” has always lain with retailers. After all, if the retailer refuses to shelve a book, then how will the masses know it exists, right? But, with the increasing popularity of the Internet, comes a great way for publishers to connect with readers. Publishers of all sizes need to band together to find ways to reach readers directly and to encourage readers to support local bookstores and libraries—as well as to purchase books directly from publishers. Readers will go where the books are. Since the majority of books are at Amazon, that’s where consumers flock to now. If the majority of books was elsewhere, then…
Authors need to support publishers by not abandoning publishing partnerships for the self-publishing model. I’m not saying that self-publishing is bad or that authors should never self-publish, but there can be a balance. Authors need to realize that the extinction of publishers is as detrimental to self-publishing as it is to traditional publishing. Publishers are not the enemy, monopoly is. While I’m sure there are some rotten publishing deals, there are also great opportunities within the author-publisher relationship. Find them. Support them.
Also, authors, like publishers, need to refrain from practices that help to devalue books. These stories are your livelihood, your passion, your message—that’s worth something!
Retailers need to stop treating indie authors and small publishers like they have the plague. The landscape has changed. Readers actually like books that are published by “the little guy.” Maybe independent authors and publishers don’t have pockets deep enough to pay for shelf space and point-of-sale marketing, but since brick-and-mortar bookstores are an endangered species, and one web site has the bulk of online book sales, maybe it’s time to do something different and show the consumer that Amazon isn’t the only place to get a variety of books. I’m not saying stock chintzy product, but realize that “small” and “inferior” are not synonyms; “press run” doesn’t guarantee quality; “POD” doesn’t automatically denote junk. Take an objective look at each book, regardless of origin and printing method, and decide which books to inventory based on true salability rather than a bias that’s been promoted by industry hierarchy rather than consumers or consumerism.
Retailers also need to quit returning books. Take responsibility for your own inventory. That’s just part of running a business—or at least it is in every industry besides bookselling. The sweeping returns policy may have spurred book sales at one time in history, but now the over-ordering of inventory and then returning massive numbers of unsold books is doing nothing but aiding the demise of bookstores and publishers, alike.
Everyone needs to continue to shop at Amazon. This may seems counter-intuitive, but isn’t. We don’t want Amazon out of business. We just don’t want one company monopolizing the publishing industry. So, we have to support Amazon—shop there, especially for non-book items.
If we can accomplish these six things, the future of publishing will be a bright and fruitful ocean where publishing, buying and reading choices remain in abundance.