Home » Amazon, Big Publishing, David Gaughran » This Is The Kind Of Competition Publishers Want

This Is The Kind Of Competition Publishers Want

31 May 2014

From David Gaughran:

Since the huge shift to online purchasing and e-books, a common meme is that there is some kind of “discoverability” problem in publishing.

The funny thing is readers don’t seem to have any problem finding books they love. Any readers I talk to have a time problem – reading lists a mile long and never enough hours in the day to read all the great books they are discovering.

The real discoverability problem in publishing is that readers are discovering (and enjoying) books that don’t come from the large publishers. What these publishers have is a competition problem not a discoverability problem.

Amazon regularly gets slated for purported anti-competitive actions, but it has done more to create the digital marketplace than any other company. It has also done more to open up that marketplace to vendors of all shapes and sizes than any other company. Small publishers and self-publishers, for the very first time, have a level playing field with large publishers.

In other words, Amazon has fostered huge levels of competition that rarely get spoken about. Because Big Publishing doesn’t want actual competition. It hates actual competition.

What Big Publishing wants is the faux-competition that existed before the digital revolution – when they had a lock on distribution, reviews, chain stores, supermarkets, and airport bookstores. (Seriously, does anyone aside from James Patterson want a return to those days?)

. . . .

Big Publishing might like to think it’s a special snowflake (to which the law doesn’t apply), but its speech and actions follow a very familiar pattern that is witnessed any time a cosy club is being disrupted. By ushering in the digital revolution, then opening the marketplace up to anyone and creating a level playing field, Amazon has poured cold water on this garter snake breeding ball.

Large publishers have proved adept in one area: getting their message out. Sometimes it feels like they spend more on corporate PR than breaking new authors, and you need a bullshit dictionary to parse their statements.

So when large publishers say that the discoverability puzzle hasn’t been solved online, they are really expressing despair at retailers recommending books not published by them.

And when large publishers say that online retailers haven’t matched the experience of buying in physical stores, they mean that they wish there was some way to relegate all that stuff from small publishers and self-publishers to the warehouse, and have tables piled high with James Patterson and Snooki.

. . . .

The fear-mongers always forget Amazon’s core philosophy: recommend the product the customer is most likely to purchase. It’s interesting to note that this is the exact opposite of traditional co-op: recommending the book that the publisher wants purchased.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Visible and thanks to David (not Gaughran) for the tip.

Amazon, Big Publishing, David Gaughran

40 Comments to “This Is The Kind Of Competition Publishers Want”

  1. Another great article by David. Thank you for sharing.

    • Freaky! I sat at BEA yesterday and wrote the same idea out. Posted it to my blog, then I see David preaching the same message (only better). Makes me feel smart when I’m thinking like Mr. Gaughran. 🙂

  2. Here here! Great article!

    I enjoy finding the weird and wonderful stuff no one ever thought to publish before. Indies are what got me into ebooks in the first place.

  3. In all fairness, Steve Zacharius of Kensington does come right out and says he wishes self-publishing would go away, or a least be segregated from his books.

    • I wonder what would happen if self-publishers said they wanted traditionally published books to go away? I bet that would make some serious headlines if say, JA Konrath said something like that (not that I think he would or that he even wants such a thing). I bet more than a few people in traditional publishing would have a meltdown in public over that. But apparently it’s okay to say that about the competition.

      • Well, the pricing Big Pub pushes for their ebooks makes self-pubbed ebooks look like a bargain — which they are! Such “competition” can only aid self-pubbed authors. 🙂

    • I give Zacharius credit for being honest. He’s afraid of losing his storefront tables and endcaps and being lost in an ocean of indie thumbnails.

  4. …breaking new authors

    Is that a Freudian slip? 🙂

  5. poured cold water on this garter snake breeding ball.

    Best metaphor ever.

    Love ya and all that you do, David!

  6. Hachette Auteur

    The coverage in Hachette’s home country of France seems a little more balanced than what we are seeing in the United States:


    Courtesy of Google Translate (which makes it read a little funny):

    Hachette CEO apologizes to the authors for Amazon: “We did our best” … not to say too much.

    The situation will not improve immediately, between Amazon and Hachette Book Group, but the publisher is trying to preserve its relationship with authors, has-been learned. In a letter written by Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette Book Group, to the authors, the latter an official apology for what looks like a naughty, naughty dream.


    For some, it would relate this information with the financial results for the first quarter – which could even be affected by this situation, if Amazon has the financial power ascribed to him. ” The United States also show an increase (+0.7%), with among others the success of The Goldfinch, D. Tartt, I Am Malala, Mr Yousafzai, and David and Goliath, Mr. Gladwell “asserted the Lagardère group, with a quarter in April 2013 whose activity was up sharply from 6.7% on a comparable basis.

    But for the first quarter of 2014, the situation is very different: with a turnover of € 393 million, Lagardère Publishing -6.2% unadjusted and – 5.2% on a comparable basis.

  7. and you need a bullshit dictionary to parse their statements

    Love this. David’s full of them in this post. This sums up all those poor-legacy-publishing-versus-big-bad-Amazon articles.

  8. This. Exactly this. And whether James Patterson realizes this is the problem, or he just assumes that because he just assumes that because his sales are down, that fewer people are reading, I don’t know, but this is the real issue publisher are having.

  9. Exactly. As a reader, I have over 1000 books in my library (real and Kindle) that I have yet to read. I buy the way Konrath describes: I hoard books. I buy cheap or I buy on impulse or I buy to read later or I buy when a bargain happens for something I wanted. TBR bigtime.

    I don’t have any problem finding good reads.

    The discoverability problem is on the author’s side: finding THEIR audience/readership. Finding those folks who’d be interested in their work and connecting. Being found.

    • Totally agree. I’ve always been a voracious reader, but since I got my Kindle in 2012, I’ve gone absolutely nuts when it comes to ebooks.

      My TBR pile is longer than it ever was. 🙂

  10. “and have tables piled high with James Patterson and Snooki.” At first this statement seems odd, pairing a literate with an illiterate, or old with young, but then neither one has an inkling what they’re saying.

    • God bless Patterson for fining a highly lucrative publishing model that capitalizes on his brand name. Seriously, that’s what American capitalism is about.

      But his model is probably a greater threat to important literature than anything, if anything even is. Every 2.5 to 3 weeks more million dollar checks get cut for his ad and promo campaigns to sell his latest offering. Each one represents a whole lot of “important” works that will never get a chance from his publisher who’re too busy rabidly chasing Patterson Inc. profits.

      Cool. God job, guys. Get some.

      So, for the love of god, STFU about “important literature” already. Please find another ridiculous anti-Zon argument. Illiterate, whino’s in the gutter who’ve never read so much as a Penthouse Letter care more about literature than these clowns do.

  11. Oh, nonsense. There has always been plenty of competition in publishing. It has always been an easy business to get into, requiring just some good ideas and a little capital. Getting distribution has not been difficult in fifty years, ever since national wholesalers formed and nationwide booksellers appeared. Small publishers have been part of the business forever, self-publishing was how the business started and it is ever present. The only special thing about publishing is that it is creating goods that are both cultural and commercial.

    • Getting distribution has not been difficult in fifty years, ever since national wholesalers formed and nationwide booksellers appeared.

      National wholesalers have been around a lot longer than that. As for distribution – until not that many years ago, the MMPB was the dominant format, and mass-market distribution was a matter of a few large companies using blatant strong-arm tactics to hold on to their allocation of monthly rack slots and freeze everyone else out. For most of those fifty years, there was no such thing as a new company breaking into mass-market books in the U.S.

  12. Worth it, just for “garter snake breeding ball”. Though they probably think of themselves as rattlers.

  13. Amazon’s recommendations has sucked for the last few years. If I buy a Kim Harrison urban fantasy book, I get recommendations for every paranormal romance book out there. If I go on a Star Trek binge, I get nothing but Star Trek recommendations. So on and so forth. Rather than look at the 800+ books that I bought over the last 20 years, the recommendations are always for the last book I bought. I used to go to Amazon to find new stuff to read but not more.

    • While I share your irritation, you can go into your order history and tell it to ignore anything you purchased you don’t want factored into your recommendations.

      • I do this all the time because frequently I have to look things up for members of my family and they are not exactly things that interest me. The last thing I want to do is look at fifty riding scooters before it’s my time. 🙂

  14. if Zacharius actually said this re indie pub’s books: ‘or a least be segregated from his books.” He gets no pass. How freakin’ insulting. Just what we need, another caste system.

  15. The epiphany I got reading David’s article which had not occurred to me before is that there is a Double Purpose in the proliferation of the Author Solutions scam throughout BPH or COD. AS and the subsidiaries are meant not only to strip-mine wannabes of their money but also to ensure that those books, (whatever they may be, however well written or poorly written) do not effectively enter the competition online or in bookstores for the head space of the reader.
    AS published books don’t sell – I’ve seen some of them. No one would pay a cent for the covers hence it is an effective way of harvesting authors and preventing them from being read all at once.

    • And discrediting Self-publishing too ! “See these authots, how Self-publishing allows them to NOT sell anything ? See the bad covers (and content) Self-Publishing produces ? Only WE can save Litterature from that Tsunami of Crap !”

    • They feel the same way about their backlist. That’s why rights are getting harder and harder to retrieve. Can’t have that book we published five years ago competing with a frontlist title and keep it off a bestseller list. So let’s price the e-book at $14.99 and hope that thing dies.

      Unless you become a blockbuster, your publisher is going to despise you within six months of publication.

      • Their business model absolutely depends on having an annual crop of books. The business cycle is determined by the person who never makes it past the front table at B&N and comes into a bookstore 2 or 3 times a year, max. Those folks have to be funneled to a specific set of books. The advance you get and the rights you give up in a legacy publishing contract gives publishers the ability to manage the availability of books. The advance includes a “we’ll pull your book off the shelf” fee. That’s a big part of the reason they hate Amazon and ebooks.

      • Terrence OBrien

        In any case, those rights are valuable assets. A profit maximizer who wanted the highest probability of future profits would hold onto every right he can.

        We don’t know how the future will develop, or how book distribution and retailing will evolve. Working it as a simple finance problem, a portfolio of rights can offer substantial opportunity to the holder.

        Today, he might use the rights to funnel sales to new books. Tomorrow, he might not even be in the new fiction business, and might be running a small and efficient backlist eBook business.

        Anyone know how marketable book rights are? Can they be sold? Could Random House sell rights to Harpers? Could they sell them to a new investment company set up to do nothing but accumulate and exploit backlist rights?

    • As Deep Throat said: “Follow the money.”

  16. Yes. Big publishers do spend more time and more money on corporate PR than on finding and curating great authors and producing great books. And there you have it.

    I am an Amazon lover, not a sufferer of ADS. Not by a long shot. But neither do I hate publishing. I love publishing because I love books.

    If pubs, big and small, would actually take the time to read submissions by authors, offer reasonable contracts, and produce great books I’d be a happy camper. And many wonderful stories would see the light of day.
    Competition is not evil. I’m all for competition.

    But big pub is schizophrenic. They bitch bitch bitch, doing as little actual discovering and curating as possible while trying to co-opt indie success stories so they have a guaranteed audience. Big bucks, minimal effort.

    Have you noticed the crappy editing coming out of big pub? I have. It’s like they’ve hired middle schoolers as editors. And people complain about the dross of self-pubbed books?

    It is to laugh.

    • Editing for big pub books is likely to get worse as they struggle to shrink and cut costs. Pretty soon they won’t have much standing to criticize indie authors.

  17. It’s understandable why the big publishers will say or do anything to attempt to delay the inevitable. But it’s over. The past is in the past. “It’s not a revolution, it’s a renaissance.” We’re right in the middle of a renaissance at the beginning of a new century. It’s a great time to be writer for everybody around the world.
    It’s useless to fight inevitable change. It’s over.

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