Home » Amazon, Big Publishing » Lee Child on Amazon’s real-life bookshops – and why we should be worried

Lee Child on Amazon’s real-life bookshops – and why we should be worried

13 February 2016

From The Guardian:

In December, Amazon US released its 2015 in-house all-format all-category bestseller list, and then the newspaper USA Today came out with its own industry-wide all-sources version. What was the difference? Two words: The Martian (good movie, but the book was better). It was a huge seller, number 4 on USA Today’s list, but nowhere on Amazon’s. There were other titles in the same anomalous situation. Why?

Because, even now, for most books and most people most of the time, the biggest spur to purchase is actually seeing an actual book in a physical place. Because for most people most of the time, reading is a take-it-or-yawn-leave-it activity. Books are not quite distress purchases, but neither are they exciting enough for enthusiastic online hunting.

. . . .

Nothing sells books better than physical displays in bricks-and-mortar locations. Millions of people passed by bookshop windows or airport bookstalls, and sawThe Martian, and some vague impression clicked in and they said, “Oh yeah, that’s supposed to be cool”, and they bought a copy, and enjoyed it. Same for the other anomalous titles. That is still how books get sold. Research bears it out. Physical eyeballing is way ahead of any other prompt, be it word of mouth, spam, social media or other kinds of advertising.

Which is a problem for Amazon. Classically it uses books to hook customers and then data-mine them. But it gets only dedicated book buyers. Browsing on Amazon isn’t great as a casual experience: fatigue sets in. (How do you make something totally invisible? Put it on page 17 of an internet search.) And Kindle hasn’t taken over the world. It has settled into a solid niche, like those tiny tubes of toothpaste – essential for travel, but no one uses them at home. (Down, fanboys! Real world!) So there is no way for Amazon to replicate that happy, random encounter with a physical bookstore window. Yes, there are bots and algorithms, but those casual millions of three-books-a-year people never see them: they don’t buy books online.

. . . .

So now, rumour has it, Amazon plans to open another 299 physical bookstores (it already has one, in Seattle).

. . . .

And suppose those 300 stores were only the start? We’d quickly approach a de facto monopsony. Amazon would become the only practical route to market for 1,400 US publishers and a million US self-publishers, for either digital or paper product. The history is worrying. Amazon has already tried to use its power in a punitive fashion, as if determined to hurt publishers financially.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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73 Comments to “Lee Child on Amazon’s real-life bookshops – and why we should be worried”

  1. Amazon! It spreads like a jungle vine, choking out all competition. Soon there will be an Amazon bookstore on every street corner, which is a bad thing because… we hate selling books???

  2. If Hachette wants some bookstores, as the third largest publisher in the world, they can build them.
    Bertlesmann (parent company of Penguin) is worth over 16.7 billion dollars. If they saw the value in having bookstores, they could build them.
    Holtzbrink (parent company of Macmillan) has a couple billion bucks hanging around. Surely they could open a few Little Shops Around the Corner.

    • As an historical note, large publishers formerly did have their own bookstores – Doubleday sold 39 Doubleday Book Shops to Barnes & Noble in 1990.

      • That’s right, I forgot about that. I remember being in New York and going to the Scribner’s bookstore. They had leatherbound editions of their authors for sale on the back wall. I wish I had the scratch to buy one then.

      • The Doubleday store in DC was very nice.
        Pricey, though.
        I vaguely remember it being mostly (all?) Hardcover.

        I did most of my buying via their SFBC and at Moonstone.

  3. “Lee Child on Amazon’s real-life bookshops – and why we should be worried”

    Who should be worried? B&M stores? Maybe. Control freaks that wish to dictate what you can find to buy (I’m looking at you, qig5)? Yes. The .01% that used to be head and shoulders above the crowd but must now work to stand out? Yeah, they need to up their games.

    “Nothing sells books better than physical displays in bricks-and-mortar locations.”

    Then why is Amazon even a threat to B&M stores?

    “Amazon has already tried to use its power in a punitive fashion, as if determined to hurt publishers financially.”

    Some poor misguided sole hasn’t noticed that Amazon cares not a wit about the suppliers, they care about the customer. And Amazon allows big and little suppliers to compete on a level field. If that level field means the qig publisher can’t game the system then maybe they should fix their ways of doing things.

  4. Well, you do have to admit it sounds a bit nefarious. Think about it – hypothetically – first online sales and ebooks drive all brick and mortar bookstores out of existence. Then Amazon opens it’s own brick and mortar bookstores all over the nation– in airports, train stations, shopping malls…

    I mean, when you put it that way, it does seem calculated. A lot like my favorite cartoon: https://youtu.be/mYvAYwpUDv8

    • Except online hasn’t driven anybody out of business.
      Borders and B&N did most of the “damage” and the BPHs did the rest with their volume-based discount policies.

      Also, there are thousands of outlets selling books out there; even if B&N vanished overnight, there would still be thousands of places to buy books. The number would actually go up most likely, as entire regions opened up to smaller stores and new investors with new ideas.

      • Tongue in cheek, Felix. Wait… You don’t like Pinky and The Brain???

        • Narf.
          I kinda feel for Brain, a fellow traveller. 😉

          Way too many Pinkys on this planet.
          (Really liked it. More than the Animaniacs l, though I liked Elmira’s BPH-style nurturing.)

  5. What Lee is describing is the Blockbuster model. It’s been a bonanza for publishers and for a select number of authors since the 90s. Unfortunately, it’s not sustainable and it’s in the midst of collapse.

    The reason is simple: Physical retail shelf space is very expensive. Books are expensive to ship–and reship. Books take up a lot of room — space that can be used for items that move more quickly. I can look around my town, where there used to be 17 bookstores, and now there are only two, and where Walmarts and Kmarts and grocery stores stocked aisles’ worth of books and magazines, but now are reduced to a few end caps with a limited selection of “bestsellers”. Why waste shelf-space on a hardcover that may or may not sell, when it’s cheaper and more efficient to use that space for baby bottles or Oreos that will definitely sell? Or in B&N’s case, toys and pillows.

    Amazon doesn’t hold with the “blockbuster” model. The blockbuster model is hell on retailers and unfriendly to consumers, the opposite of what Amazon stands for. I suspect Amazon’s core principals will carry over into any physical bookstores they may or may not open. If Amazon does open a nation-wide chain, I doubt it will look or act anything like bookstores have looked or acted before. I think Amazon will make good use of its data and warehouses (infinitely cheaper than retail space) and distribution network that enables it to move quickly and efficiently to keep those stores stocked with what consumers actually want.

    B&N and the other big chains that remain are collapsing under their own weight. They’re going to fail whether or not Amazon opens another physical bookstore. It’s their business model at fault, not Amazon’s aggressiveness. If Amazon does move in a major way into the physical retail environment we’ll see something very different. I guarantee the big publishers and the blockbuster authors are not going to like it one little bit. But I bet readers will love it.

    • If Amazon does open a nation-wide chain, I doubt it will look or act anything like bookstores have looked or acted before.

      Indeed! I love Hugh Howey’s ideas for what the brick-and-mortar Amazon bookstores could become.

      http://www.hughhowey.com/i-want-amazon-bookstores/

    • @ Jaye

      “If Amazon does open a nation-wide chain, I doubt it will look or act anything like bookstores have looked or acted before.”

      Yeah. This. Was in a B&N the other day and wondered if they had any MIchael Lewis books (Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, etc.) Went to one of the inquiry terminals. Nothing in stock. I was irked.

      What if an Amazon bookstore had a bunch of monitors — or even dedicated tablets you could use only in the store and take to a comfy chair — to sample a book to decide if you wanted to purchase it.

      Oh, and having an Espresso Book Machine there, too.

      Lots of ways an Amazon bookstore could differentiate itself from other B&M bookstores.

      Or what about partnering with an establilshed indie bookstore like Powell’s in Portland or The Last Bookstore in LA?

      Wouldn’t surprise me if Bezos and his evil minions are kicking a LOT of creative ideas around here.

      It will be interesting to see how all this plays out. 🙂

  6. Color me confused, but if some books are selling like gangbusters elsewhere from Amazon, doesn’t that refute the monopsony/monopoly talk right there?

    With all due respect to Mr. Child, the examples he brings up always seem to be related to the mega-best sellers. Understandable, since he’s in that category and knows it well, but you can count those types of books each year easily on your fingers. Real world? That’s not the real world for the vast majority of us.

    I seriously doubt any of my books will ever become popular with the one-to-three-book-a-year crowd — the ones that impulse buy from those airport stands that Lee is so fond of. Barnes & Noble won’t stock my paperbacks in their stores because they have print-on-demand cooties. So why should I, a below average author, care whether Amazon gains a strangle hold on the book selling industry? Because they might, maybe, someday take advantage of that position and reduce my percentage when they sell one of my books? No. Sorry. Big publishing has done far more to harm authors than Amazon.

    I’ll take my chances with Beelzebezos.

  7. There’s a lot of weird thinking in this.

    “But then, for 20 years Amazon has proved willing to eat losses, and investors have allowed it to.”

    Amazon wasn’t eating losses that entire time. It was taking profits from things like their book divisions and sinking them into new ventures like Amazon Web Services. I’m surprised to see Lee Child repeating the meme that Amazon was losing money on books and other stuff.

    “Pay to play”…Seriously? Ask any major bookstore chain(or grocery) how much they rake in in fees to put books like his spine out or on display at the front of the bookstore. B&N shut down S&S’s books in part because of a dispute over promo’s.

    If Amazon is able to grow a chain of bookstores it might be worrying that they hold too much power. But publishers who screwed indie bookstores with secret deals to B&N in the past aren’t the ones to balance anything.

    There are ways to compete with Amazon other than whining. If Child, Patterson, King and others in AU did eBook deals with only Apple would be one tiny step. A few of Amazon’s competitors(which aren’t publishers btw) stepping up their game would help a lot too.

    • “Amazon wasn’t eating losses that entire time. It was taking profits from things like their book divisions and sinking them into new ventures like Amazon Web Services. I’m surprised to see Lee Child repeating the meme that Amazon was losing money on books and other stuff.”


      A couple of year’s ago in its annual report, Amazon reported making $2B in profits from the sale of… ebooks.

      • Who are you going to believe Lee Child (with years of industry experience) or audited financials filed with the SEC?

  8. There is no easier rebutal to the “Amazon sells below cost” zombies than to look at overall pbook pricing at Amazon.com:
    It is a matter of public record that Amazon gets publisher discounts in the 45-55% range.

    So, how many of the 4 million books listed at Amazon sell at 50% off as their day-in, day-out regular pricing?

    Yeah, they run sales on a lot of books.
    All temporary, all featuring different titles.
    It’s called 20th century retailing and it’s old news to most everybody on the planet who shops for their own groceries instead of sending out the help.

    • Amazon can sell below cost on select titles because compared to retail space, warehouse space is cheap. A bookstore that doesn’t move a title loses money because that non-mover took up space that might have been filled by something that would have sold. Even though publishers eat the cost of shipping cartons of books, it still costs the bookstore to move that stock in and out. An Amazon warehouse is a marvel of efficiency and I bet publisher returns are very low. Why shouldn’t they be? Amazon can stock a thousand copies of a title and inexpensively keep them on hand until they sell, which, given its massive customer base, they will eventually. A bookstore has to rely on a limited customer base. Books get a month or six weeks before they MUST be returned in order to make room for new titles. That’s far too expensive to allow for deep discounting.

      • It’s also a fact that the return policy on books allows stores to be extremely wasteful. I remember one statistic was that if 200,000 books are printed they expected to sell 100,000 of them. The majority of the rest would be destroyed, or shipped to discount stores.

        So why aren’t they using the issue of Amazon to help push bookstores to be more efficient and competitive? The publishers claim they like B&N more but what have they actually done to help?

        • They have.
          Returns these dsys run closer to 25% of a print run.
          Still…

          That is one reason Amazon can squeeze better deals from the publishers.

          • Historically, sell-through was expected to be in the neighbourhood of 70% on trade editions, 50% on mass-market. A lot of the apparent improvement is due to the sharp decline in mass-market paperback printing and sales; some of what’s left is due to Amazon themselves, who don’t buy large quantities of a title unless they know they can sell it. (A luxury physical bookshops don’t have, since the chains have hundreds of stores each requiring its own stock.)

  9. The world has evolved, yet many any to deny that any change has ever happened and that which has happened is somehow bad.

    Bad for big publishing and elite authors, yes.
    Bad or readers and 99% of authors, no.

    You only see articles like this out of fear of having to play on a more level playing field.

  10. This caught my eye:

    Millions of people passed by bookshop windows or airport bookstalls, and saw The Martian, and some vague impression clicked in and they said, “Oh yeah, that’s supposed to be cool”, and they bought a copy,

    Really? Let’s look up Publisher’s Weekly year-end report and see where The Martian ended up.

    5. The Martian (trade paper)
    by Andy Weir (Broadway)
    Unit Sales: 673,041

    The top seller BTW, was Harper Lee’s book at 1.5 million.

    I didn’t know airport bookstores wielded so much influence over bookbuyers. No wonder B&N’s in trouble.

  11. If you will pardon my English, what utter bollocks. The Martian was made into a blockbuster movie AFTER being a mega bestseller on Amazon. I remember, because I *bought* that book when it was indie and topping the charts due to sheer word-of-mouth delight(oh, and by the way–a mere 99 cents!) Of course people who frequent Amazon had already bought their copy at the reasonable price, why buy it again at a legacy publisher extortionate one? I would say the relative bestseller lists instead show that the Big 5 can’t sell ice cream in a heat wave because they want to sell one glacier at a million dollars rather than a million scoops at one dollar.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own *reality*. Seriously, this is like the goldfish suddenly discovering the castle in its fishbowl every three minutes. Do they ever *think*?? The discrepancy in the lists should make them very worried but instead they are trumpeting it to the heavens!

    • It’s like he picked the worst example he could find.

      The Martian, really? The book that got picked up by trad publishing AFTER it sold a ton of copies as a self-published book? The book that sold a ton more copies AFTER it was made into a movie?

      You could use the same book to argue that only Amazon can make blockbuster books anymore. Or that only a Hollywood deal can make a blockbuster book anymore.

      • Worst of all, it’s actually on Amazon’s list.

        #16 in print, #4 in ebook.

        • It’s not on the combined list Amazon sent out to news sites, which only listed the top 20.

          Ok. I did some checking. There’s a note on the Amazon 2015 Customer Favorites that says, “List counts only first editions published in 2015 and includes paid units in print and Kindle.” The Martian was published Feb 11, 2014 according to the listing on Amazon. It was EXCLUDED FROM THE LIST!

          Let me repeat that: The Martian WAS NOT COUNTED AT ALL FOR THIS LIST!

          Of course Child didn’t bother to check the print or ebook listings on Amazon itself.

          • LOL, the “reasonable price” where the author makes $0.35 per sale? For a full-length novel? Ah, okay.

            • When the author explicitly didn’t want to make any money off of the book, and only put it on Amazon after getting tired of explaining to fans who emailed him that there was no interest in a paid copy.

              He put it on sale for $0.99 because that’s the least amount of money KDP allows.

              And since a $9.99 paperback with a 10% royalty would probably get an author $0.20 per sale on Amazon, yes… I think a 175% royalty increase to the author is a very reasonable price for a book you don’t get to hold in your hand.

            • The Martian has a bit different publishing history than most, it’s worth reading about if you aren’t part of those communities.

  12. I worry about many things every day, but an Amazon bookstore is most definitely not one of them.

    If Amazon does open these stores and they become successful, in a few years tradpub will defend them as fervently as they defend B&N now.

  13. No one in Legacy World ever had a problem with B&N and Borders slaughtering thousands of indie book shops and gobbling up dozens of smaller regional chains during their scorched-literary-earth campaigns to dominate book selling. There were more giant windows for huge book posters and much bigger lobbies with more tabletop real estate to stack up their latest hardbacks. For the chosen few, anyway.

    But when Zon aspires to BRING BACK chain book stores, literally from the brink of extinction, not just for the BPH top 1% but for bestselling indies as well (because NYC and London won’t control what is promoted and how) then it can ONLY be an evil insidious, plot that should be suspect if not feared outright.

    I love Lee but this reeks of establishment hypocrisy. Sorry. Not buying.

  14. Jesus Harold Christmas. Only Lee Child could use one of Amazon’s biggest self publishing success stories against Amazon.

    • Well, he can ‘try’ to anyway.

      The problem for him is looking like that chicken little crying that the sky is falling. Too many of these posts, and people will stop listening to him because of all the proof he’s offering that he’s out of touch with how things really work …

  15. What a strange article, it’s all over the place.

    Childs criticizes Amazon for not capturing the “three book a year” buyer. I doubt those customers set foot in the existing B&M bookstores either, so Amazon opening bookstores shouldn’t make any difference to that market.

    Childs makes the strange claim that “browsing on Amazon isn’t a casual experience.” I’d love to see his sourced data for that statement, since not only is Amazon selling books successfully online but everything else you can think of; and “browsing on Amazon” is a heck of a lot easier than actually getting into a car and driving to the mall. Especially at 2am.

    When I go the Amazon.com to look for anything – clothing, gifts, barbecue sauce to send to my son abroad – Amazon suggests books to me. If I’m not logged in, it’s got the best sellers right there, lined up, just like any airport newsstand and just as available for impulse purchase as any grocery store checkout line.

    Then there’s the nonsense about Kindle. Childs is confusing Kindle, the dedicated device, will all devices used to read ebooks. Kindle may not have taken over the world, but tablet computers and smartphones certainly have; nearly all of which have a Kindle app — and access to the large library of ISBN-free ebooks invisible to Childs & friends.

    Childs criticizes Amazon for using its power in a punative fashion. Well, what about all the B&M bookstores who refuse to stock print-on-demand and Apub books? Does it get much more punitive than that, punishing authors and readers because of their business association with the Zon? How is that fair? Could the real fear the Tradpub industry and existing B&M bookstore base have is that Amazon stores will outcompete them by selling the books they won’t carry in addition to Amazon’s other efficiencies?

    • doh, what they are really afraid of is that Amazon bookstores will compete on pricing. They have dynamic pricing. Any books they can carry without agency pricing contracts will put pressure on those publishers.

  16. Lee Child is a novelist, not a journalist, but someone at The Guardian should have vetted his opinion for a modicum of veracity. He offers NO reference nor source for any of the following assertions in just the section excerpted here. (Not going to read the whole silly piece.)

    “…for most books and most people most of the time, the biggest spur to purchase is actually seeing an actual book in a physical place.” Source?

    “…for most people most of the time, reading is a take-it-or-yawn-leave-it activity.” Source?

    “Nothing sells books better than physical displays in bricks-and-mortar locations…. That is still how books get sold. Research bears it out.” What research?

    “Kindle hasn’t taken over the world. It has settled into a solid niche, like those tiny tubes of toothpaste – essential for travel, but no one uses them at home…” Source?

    “Amazon has already tried to use its power in a punitive fashion, as if determined to hurt publishers financially.” Unsupported opinion/evidence not presented.

    So, are readers supposed to accept his statements as unassailable fact because…blind trust or something? Um, no. I’ll examine your arguments. Mr. Child, when you acknowledge my intelligence.

    • Lol, I’m reading this on my kindle now, in bed, like I do nightly. I will soon use it to read a book.

      I have so much respect and admiration for Child as a fiction writer, but he should steer clear of commenting about business, economics, etc. until he understands more about it.

      • “I have so much respect and admiration for Child as a fiction writer”

        Then you should love that he’s ‘advanced’ to writing fiction for places like ‘The Guardian’. 😉

  17. The fan-boy thing is somewhat of a gratuitous insult – so if you criticize the article, you become a fan-boy and your comments therefore are immediately devalued. I thought Mr. Childs was better than that. Unless it is a tongue in cheek humor thing, which is repeated too often to be recognizable as such.

    There’s misunderstandings – especially failing to recognize Amazon’s use of profits to fund growth and investment across a wide rage of business activities and therefore dismissing the bottom line as the result of some kind of negative business decision.

    There’s failure to recognize the weaknesses of traditional publishing and the opportunities provided to writers by self-publishing on Kindle [OK, I’m a fan-boy]. I’ve written books and self- published on Amazon and Kobo, etc.

    There’s failure to recognize a lot of readers are not traveling past a W. H. Smith’s in Heathrow [are they one of the companies who con purchasers out of VAT?] but live two hours or more from the nearest bookshop and who have discovered the usefulness of online purchasing.

    Data mining book purchases? Oh, come on. This is a negative? A book seller should not recognize his/her clients and introduce new books to them? While 50 years ago that was a thing, nowadays the booksellers generally don’t seem to give a damn about customer service.

    The article’s a whole lot of ADS. Actually, in this instance, it’s more than just a syndrome, it’s the real thing.

  18. No one’s mentioned this, so I’ll toss it out there.

    1. There is a POD book-making machine out there called Espresso. Been out there for years. Brave new future predicted for it, but a) it’s expensive for indie bookstores ($80,000 for a machine), b) the store has to train someone to maintain it, and c) few companies and no big publishers make their books available to it.

    2. So what if, and I’m blue-skying here, Amazon develops a version of the machine, cuts costs by manufacturing, say, 300-400 of them, and puts them in their bookstores and makes the entire CreateSpace and Amazon Publishing line available to it.

    Boom, in a store a fifth of the size of the B&N, they have 1.2 million books available if you’re willing to wait five minutes.

  19. “Amazon would become the only practical route to market for 1,400 US publishers and a million US self-publishers, for either digital or paper product.”

    So brick and mortar book stores are currently a practical route for a million US self-publishers? Really?

  20. Lee’s article has come up so much in various blogs I am annoyed I was forced to read the whole thing. As others have said, he’s simply wrong about Amazon and monopoly issues. So let me focus on another weird aspect of what he is saying.

    Lee’s analysis of the book market is like judging the film industry by lunch box sales. “If one looks at lunch box sales, you see that all the really popular movies sell a lot of lunch boxes, so really, the only movies worth making are the ones that look good on lunch boxes, and it’s critical to make sure that there are lunch boxes available for people to purchase anytime a movie is released. The danger is that smart companies will buy up lunch box distribution so they can control the movie industry… etc.” All the time ignoring the fact that there are some movies that do perfectly fine without lunch box sales and most of the money made in film is not in lunch box merchandising.

    In terms of mass retailing, yes, if you can get lots of copies of your item for sale as close to a busy sales register as possible, you can make a lot more sales than if you don’t. That applies to candy bars, magazines, condoms, peanuts and yes, books. But you also have to prove to the retailer that you can sell more of that book than other books, and more than peanuts or condoms. Or, you have to pay for that privilege, which cuts into your profits.

    The problem with that business model is that it is inherently limited to marketing a few books at a time. So only a chosen few (perhaps Lee’s own books) can benefit. The other problem is that there is no guarantee that people will buy them, even if they are prominent and close to the register. Lee’s books don’t sell just because they happen to be in racks in airports. They sell because they are also in libraries, bookshops, online and advertised and reviewed all over the place. They have word of mouth coming from readers who read lots of books, not three a year. That huge book infrastructure increases the chances that someone spotting his name in an airport will go “Oh, yeah, I heard that’s a good read.” And buy it. Without that entire infrastructure, supported by the huge variety of books and “fanboy” readers, Lee’s books likely wouldn’t sell as well.

    In the case of The Martian, it’s even more obvious that the entire infrastructure was critical to it’s ultimate mass market success. It’s popularity as a free online story, thanks to the internet, and then popularity as a .99 cent Amazon book, led to it being produced as a film and then distributed by a big publisher and then pushed into shops and recognized by a larger audience. But for self-publishing and Amazon, it never would have gotten into those stores to be seen. Let alone bought and sent to best seller lists.

    There’s nothing wrong with selling books in airports (or Walmarts or drugstores, etc.), but it doesn’t have much to do with the vast majority of the book industry, either from the standpoint of most readers or most writers. Which makes one wonder why Lee seems to be talking about this as an either or proposition. Either you’re for books selling in large numbers in airports, either you accept it as the best way to sell books, or you’re out of touch with reality. Which makes one wonder if all the cheerleading Lee is doing for mass marketing of books is coming from some insecurity he is feeling. Are his sales going down? Is that system getting hurt by online sales? Is it fading and he needs to talk it up? Or is he worried books originally self-published are going to start taking those very rare slots?

    One interesting thing about all this is that, if the real money is in mass distribution, and that model survives online distribution, self-publishers are posed to move into it too. Not many will be able to pull it off, but you can be assured that some crafty self-publisher will figure out how to cut out the middlemen, get their books into airports and make a fortune.

    But they will do it because they are able to build an audience first and foremost online, and then with a proven sales record and huge online profits, they will be able to push their stuff close to the registers.

    • That applies to candy bars, magazines, condoms, peanuts

      Whatever you have planned, count me out, lol.

    • Which makes one wonder why Lee seems to be talking about this as an either or proposition. Either you’re for books selling in large numbers in airports, either you accept it as the best way to sell books, or you’re out of touch with reality.

      It kind of is an either/or proposition for him. Amazon’s way of selling books (and other goods) is completely contrary to the blockbuster model. To understand why, you have to understand the type of consumers who create blockbusters. They are risk aversive. If a reader, for whatever reason, only buys/reads two or three books a year, or if they buy books as gifts for others, they want/need some guarantee that they are getting the best. That assurance can come from having read an author before, or from a best seller list, or from a table piled to the ceiling with a stack of hardcovers near the front door, or from the limited display in an airport store. That assurance can come from a celebrity endorsement (the Oprah effect). Or it can come from what I call the Pet Rock effect, in which everybody runs out and buys a particular book because everyone else is, but no one can adequately explain why the heck they are doing so. Or it can come from a movie endorsement.

      These risk aversive readers are the foundation of the Blockbuster model and the reason why mega-bestselling authors remain in the 1% year after year. A whole lot of authors can make a nice living by developing a fan base out of heavy readers. Only very few can consistently reach the one-to-three books a year crowd because those readers already know what it is they are going to buy and it’s not going to be anything risky.

      To build up enough momentum to tip a single title into the blockbuster category, it takes lots and lots and lots of visual clues for those risk aversive readers. A bookstore that doesn’t cater to the RA readers, but instead is focused on a locale’s heavy readers is death to the blockbuster model.

  21. You have to admit, this article is doing an admirable job, harvesting email addresses for the Guardian. If Lee had written a more evenhanded piece, which I would have expected from such an obviously intelligent person, few people would bother setting up an account to voice their objection.
    Bemoaning ‘pay to play’ when I just saw one of his titles on a co-op table this morning was almost enough to make me sign up at the Guardian, but I resisted.

  22. Again, for most people most of the time, which I’ll stop repeating now, but only if the e-fanboys agree to discuss the real world, not their pretend version. Deal?

    Any Traddy with even limited experience will know that most people, most of the time don’t buy books. So, who cares what most of the people do most of the time?

    A Traddy should also know that most of the people, most of the time don’t give a hoot what happens to T-Publishers or T-Authors.

    The Traddy should also know that there is no such thing as a de facto monopsony. It is or it isn’t.

    This is the real world that most Traddies, most of the time, pretend doesn’t exist.

    So, worry? No way. Let the games begin. We can then see what most people will choose most of the time.

  23. I’ll just say this. When Lee is primarily interested in evidence and reason, he’s really thoughtful and interesting. But when he’s motivated more by self-pleasure–as evidenced by gratuitous asides to “e fanboys” and the like–he doesn’t do as well.

    Here, he offers repeated variations of “Nothing sells books better than physical displays in bricks-and-mortar locations.” He offers no citations for this argument–no links to any studies, no supporting data. I wish he had, because in fact two years ago, online book sales surpassed those of brick-and-mortar stores. Please don’t just take my word for this, as Lee wants you to take his; have a look for yourself via the following link.

    http://www.dailydot.com/business/ebook-sales-2013-revenue/

    Obviously, if books are selling better online than through brick-and-mortar outlets, something by definition *is* selling books better than physical displays in bricks-and-mortar locations. It’s hard to know for sure what Lee is really trying to argue here, but what he’s saying is contradicted by reality.

    Rather than engage with the fact that more books sell online than through brick-and-mortar stores, Lee offers a single example in support of his argument that “for most books and most people most of the time, the biggest spur to purchase is actually seeing an actual book in a physical place.” This is The Martian, originally a self-published book and a recent blockbuster movie starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott. But if the example of The Martian supports anything at all about the point Lee’s trying to make, it’s only that books for which a Hollywood studio is doing a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign for a movie tie-in do better in brick-and-mortar stores. I don’t see what this has to do with the other 99.99999 percent of books out there, and while I imagine Lee might see things otherwise, the fact remains that overall more books sell online than in brick-and-mortar stores.

    Ordinarily Lee has interesting things to say, and maybe I’m misunderstanding him. But it sure looks like the foundation to his whole argument has no basis in fact. Which is odd, given his repeated insistence that people who disagree with him are somehow not in touch with what he calls the “real world.”

    • Increasingly, it seems Lee’s measure of success that of his own career. If you’re not on par with him, you’re not a real success and can’t fathom the industry.

      I suppose that makes it easier to win the argument.

  24. But then, for 20 years Amazon has proved willing to eat losses, and investors have allowed it to.

    Most Traddies, most of the time, are pretty ignorant of finance and economics.

    But most investors, most of the time, know Amazon’s economic profit is represented by the various businesses they have built with their substantial cash flow. And even after that, they have a healthy free cash flow.

    This value is represented in the stock price which has been appreciating for years and providing investors with a healthy return.

    Reporters and Traddies ask when Amazon will book a financial profit. Most investors, most of the time, gleefully take their stock gains.

  25. Does this mean Amazon will feature their bestselling books from online, in their physical stores too? Like, in the front window, or on the first shelf at airports? Cool, that gives all authors more exposure, both self and trad pubbed. Thanks for pointing this out, Mr Child.

  26. “(Down, fanboys! Real world!)” … aww, gee Lee, you’ve gone and hurt my (fanlesbian) feelings. Guess I’m gonna have to go buy an ebook on Amazon.

  27. It’s just plain sad when you see people you’ve always respected trying to turn their own blatant self-interest into a sanctimonious moral argument. It’s even sadder when they make themselves look so silly doing it…

  28. A published author (who I like) bad mouthing Amazon in print media…yeah Kindle’s just a niche, and Amazon only wants you to buy books so they can sell your data. You keep smoking that crack until your pub goes out of business and you have to get a job.

  29. The man is delusional. There’s nothing else that explains this sort of nonsense. Even self-preservation (career-wise) should tell him that more places to sell books is good.

    I guess he’ll be around at some point to explain to us how this all works, since we just indies and what do we know?

  30. What exactly is Lee trying to say in this article?

    I’m really asking. Someone help me understand.

  31. So, guess what? Lee Child’s article got changed to account for his mistake:

    This article was amended on 15 February 2016. An earlier version failed to make clear that the Amazon list on which this article’s argument was based was for books published in 2015 only. The Martian was published in 2014 and was therefore on a different list that measured Amazon’s bestsellers in 2015, regardless of publication year. This has now been included and the text amended to take The Martian’s Amazon sales into account.

    That’s good. It is unfortunate that this new information didn’t change anything about the author’s viewpoint.

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