Home » Amazon, Big Publishing, Disruptive Innovation » Don’t Major in the Minor

Don’t Major in the Minor

7 December 2013

From Steven Pressfield Online:

“Don’t major in the minor.”

Mellody Hobson said it, but I’ve thought it these last few days, since watching Jeff Bezos on 60 Minutes this past Sunday.

. . . .

In case you haven’t heard, Bezos unveiled a prototype for package-delivering drones at the end of the interview. Without missing a beat, the character-bashing, Jeff-Bezos hating, Amazon-vilifying tribes descended, with articles and comments from one site to the next.

They majored in the minor.

. . . .

There was much more to that interview than the last few minutes of drones.

. . . .

When Charlie Rose asked Bezos about worries of small book publishers and traditional retailers, and whether Amazon is ruthless in its pursuit of market share, Bezos replied:

“The internet is disrupting every media industry, Charlie. You know, people can complain about that, but complaining is not a strategy. Amazon is not happening to bookselling. The future is happening to bookselling.” (about the 9:15 mark of the interview)

He’s right. And the future isn’t just happening to booksellers.

. . . .

It’s easier to bash Bezos and Amazon than it is to look in the mirror and ask, Why didn’t my publishing house lead the charge to sell books online? Why did we focus on the chains as the future when we saw the indy stores struggling to stay afloat? Why didn’t we recognize the potential for the future?

It’s easier to hate Bezos and Amazon than it is to ask, Why didn’t my bookstore stock backlist, long-tail titles, and books from indy publishers in addition to all those big publisher frontlist titles? Why didn’t my bookstore create a model that could be tapped by indy publishers and authors, instead of requiring top co-op dollars that only the big guys could pay for prime placement?

. . . .

Neither the chains or the publishers or the indy’s of yesterday thought about fulfillment the way Amazon has, which was one of the most fascinating portions of the interview. And when I talk publishers, I’m talking in terms of movies and newspapers and albums, too.

It’s popular to say content is king. I’d give joint reign to content and fulfillment instead.

Content doesn’t matter if you can’t get it out in today’s I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now on-demand climate. Amazon figured out how to do it.

Link to the rest at Steven Pressfield Online and thanks to Pamela for the tip.

Amazon, Big Publishing, Disruptive Innovation

25 Comments to “Don’t Major in the Minor”

  1. Great article. Absolutely right on all points.

  2. Clear headed and insightful.


  3. Fulfillment, yes! It seems astonishing now that mail order was once associated with the phrase “allow four to six weeks for delivery.”

    In November 2012 I came off a horse and suffered an L2 (vertebrae) compression fracture. The nice orthopedic doctor recommended I wear a full body brace for three months. With the brace, going anywhere and doing any shopping became a minor, and occasionally major, ordeal. After years of being Amazon customers, we signed up for Amazon Prime. It is incredibly seductive.

    Over the past year, we’ve gone from ordering mostly paper and e- books and electronics, to ordering all sorts of things I never thought I would buy online. Just last week, I finally ordered a pair of shoes off Amazon. (The free return policy finally pushed me over the edge.) I have hard to fit feet, which means shoe stores, if I am lucky, might only have two or three models in my shoe size. Amazon has dozens. I picked a manufacturer I had worn in the past, and four days later the shoes were delivered. They are wonderful.

    Until Amazon I would have sworn I would never buy bedding by mail because it is hard to color match and the feel of fabric is very important to me. I’ve now bought bedspreads from Amazon and am very pleased with them.

    With Amazon I can do my research and actually think about my purchase over the course of a couple of weeks, instead of looking at a few items on a shelf and buying the least objectionable because I have to buy something. I considered both the shoes and the quilt purchases for several weeks before making up my mind to click the buy button. There is a lot less buyer’s remorse when one doesn’t feel pushed into making the decision.

    • I know all too-well how seductive Amazon Prime is. I have a friend who delights in sending me links to items I’ve purchased or am thinking about purchasing — items that are offered on other sites, and for less money even when shipping is added. It’s screwy, but I feel better paying more at Amazon because, well, because Amazon Prime has lured me into its cult. It surprises me how often Amazon is not offering the lowest price. Surprises me more that I don’t care.

    • I never bought shoes online due to my also hard-to-fit feet before Amazon. Now it’s almost the only place I buy shoes (at least 6 out of my last 7 new pairs were bought there). Why trudge through a crowded mall and try on ten pairs of shoes in hopes that one might stay on my feet when I can click three times and get a huge selection of shoes in my size and width on my screen?

  4. amen.

  5. Steven Pressfield has always been one of my favorite authors. This bumps him up several notches.

  6. Yesterday, I was shopping for a shower curtain at Amazon (because I have prime and why not?). I bought one that suited my needs at a price I liked. The stores near me might have the best shower curtain in the world at the best price but I’d never see it.

    Fulfillment. Amazon (and other online retailers) are doing it right.

  7. I saw the Bezos interview and thought the drones were interesting, but this quote was my takeaway too:

    “Amazon is not happening to bookselling. The future is happening to bookselling.”

    When he uttered those words, I said, “THAT! Right there! That’s right!” And then the drone portion of the piece aired to show just how far ahead of the curve Amazon really is. I never understand the need to vilify them for that.

  8. So apropos that this post followed the Slate one on how people don’t actually like creativity. The reactions to the Bezos interview & ADS in general are an ongoing demonstration of how people really don’t like things to be different.

    • I suspect there is a set of people who think they are very smart, and they resent someone else demonstrating how smart he is by actually accomplishing something. Even worse is doing it while ignoring all those smart folks. To cap it off, the guy ignores them when they tell him how he should then run his business.

      It’s almost like they don’t matter. They don’t.

  9. Complaining about Amazon because you feel like you need to blame someone isn’t helpful, but those questions posed in italics aren’t helpful either. Asking “Why didn’t we…” is just dwelling, not finding solutions. Publishers and booksellers should be asking, “What will we do now?”

    This blog champions self-publishing, of course, but do we really want publishers and bookstores to go under? No. We just want them to open their eyes and stop clinging to the elitist attitudes of the 20th century. Publishers need to be asking themselves, “How can we take advantage of new technologies? How can we work with Amazon to improve our sales and visibility? What added value can we offer authors that the likes of KDP can’t?”

    Traditional publishers’ knee-jerk reaction to the “crisis” of the Internet has been to tighten their belts–outsource editing, skimp on marketing, make contract terms more Machiavellian. They coupled it with a bit of mud-slinging, taking to the digital streets to trash talk writers and establish themselves as guardians of culture and quality. It’s an understandable panic response, but it’s only making things worse.

    • I’m very much interested in exactly WHAT you would advise bookstores to DO that could ever even begin to compete with Amazon? We haven’t had a physical bookstore presence since 1984, so it’s pure curiosity that motivates me to ask. I see them falling by the wayside, big and small, just like many long-time online booksellers have done, and everyone just says, “Oh Lord Amazon isn’t hurting anyone. Everyone should do what Amazon has done, only better.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAA *whew*

      • I don’t know if there is much bookstores can do, and still be bookstores. I just came back from my local Chapters, which is Canada’s major bookstore chain. They are attempting to survive by diversifying into other products. Half the floor space is now housewares (pillows, blanket, knicknacks) or kid’s toys. Only about half of the floor space is actually books.

        That means fewer books and fewer writers, so that will just drive book lovers online, for the huge improvement in variety that Amazon or Kobo offer. That will result in reduced demand for books, which will cause the management to reserve even less space for books, and so on.

        It’s a death spiral. I can’t see a solution.

      • The closest precedent is probably in the music industry. They should probably study the remaining record shops and see what worked for them.

    • Who cares if publishers and bookstores go under? Someone else will rise up to deliver books to consumers. Books will get to consumers in better ways than they did before. Consumers are choosing their own welfare over the welfare of existing publishers and bookstores. They vote with their wallets.

      • Who cares? Everyone who owned or had a paying job in either a publishing house or a bookstore, that’s who. Consumers vote for a lot of cheap and shoddy merchandise, too; but that’s an ill of the entire society and the crummy economy.

  10. Here, here!

    Great article.

    Taking one point – the dumbest thing happening right now, imho, is the Publisher’s focus on Amazon to the exclusion of anything else.

    It’s just too silly. It’s not a battle they can win.

    You know what battle they COULD win, though? One that would make Amazon irrelevant as a competitor?

    The Author Battle.

    Sew up the authors, and you have nothing to fear. Treat the authors like royalty, make them yearn to work with you, give them support, community, perks and benies, and you can relax. You will have gained their loyalty and a portion of their income for perpetuity.

    THIS is the answer for Publishers. It’s staring them in the face, but I just don’t think they will be able to overcome their culture – ingrained disdain of the author – enough to do it and save themselves.

    • I just don’t think they will be able to overcome their culture – ingrained disdain of the author – enough to do it and save themselves.


    • There are way too many authors for publishers to sew up. Consumers don’t want all those books at prices that are sufficient to pay those authors.

      Sew up one bunch, and another one pops up. Sew it up, and another pops up. Its like Whack-A-Mole.

      Publishers limited supply with their gatekeeping. Keeping supply restricted allowed them to maintain prices. The problem doesn’t start with publishers. It starts with a demand from consumers that is insufficient to support all the folks who want to write books.

    • You nailed it, Mira.

  11. Here’s what our own Sen. Ed Markey had to say about the Amazon drones:

    “My drone privacy legislation requires transparency on the domestic use of drones and adds privacy protections that ensure this technology cannot and will not be used to spy on Americans. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues on this bipartisan issue to ensure that strong personal privacy protections and public transparency measures are put in place now.”


    WHat a buffoon. This is the man who said this in reply to his opponent’s reference to the math of the deficit: “It’s not math, it’s arithmetic.”

    • Politicians are idiots.
      Many need to take off their shoes to count to 20.

      But in this instance the quip was accurate: arithmetic is the subset of math that deals with addition and subtraction, multiplication and division. Primary school stuff. Mathematics includes that *and* a whole lot of esoterica that may or not have practical use yet.

      His quip reads as saying there is no need to complicate matters and they should stick to basics. A reasonable statement, really.

      Applicable to publishing, too. And retailing.
      Amazon does the basics well before trying the ambitious stuff.
      They do logistics well and they do customer service well. Fail at those and everything else is moot. Succeed and you have a platform to build on.

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