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Indiebound Needs a Makeover if It’s Going to Fight Amazon

10 August 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

As independent booksellers, it’s easy to get riled up about Amazon. It’s certainly disheartening to know that amid its web services, video streaming, and grocery offerings—to name just three of its major business areas—books aren’t even close to Amazon’s sole priority. So when we see authors—in many cases authors we respect or admire—linking to Amazon on social media or their websites, it’s not uncommon for independent booksellers to boil over. I know I have. But I ask: what choice are we giving them?

Yes, we have IndieBound, and I pepper authors with their IndieBound links on Twitter. But authors want to have a place where they can see what people think of their books. A select few authors are able to see what people think when their books land on a bestseller list, literary award long- or shortlist, or best-of list. But the overwhelming majority of authors only have two ways to find out what people think: Amazon and Goodreads, which has been owned by Amazon since 2013.

On Amazon and Goodreads, users can leave ratings and written reviews. Some of these end up as comedic fodder, but most are helpful to authors who want feedback, if only in the aggregate. Many authors encourage this behavior, believing that when users leave reviews and ratings, it helps their sales (and it probably does). Independent booksellers don’t have an independent platform that authors can encourage their readers to use to provide feedback.

Amazon goes one step further on its site with its bestseller rankings.

. . . .

Authors can be forgiven if they take screenshots of those [Amazon sales] rankings or badges and splash them on their social media. After all, everyone wants to be successful. As independent booksellers, we don’t have an independent platform that provides authors with this kind of public sales data.

We could, though. Our sales reports fuel the Indie Bestseller List. This data is waiting to be segmented, chopped up, and dropped onto IndieBound for all to see. Adding a section for ratings and reviews would make IndieBound more competitive with Amazon and Goodreads.

I have brought this up to the American Booksellers Association on two occasions. To date, it has not taken action on the idea—which, honestly, is understandable. Like most of us, the ABA is overwhelmed. In addition to its normal heavy workload, it’s trying to push ambitious projects—such as a health insurance plan for booksellers and a centralized billing system for all publishers, among other initiatives—across the finish line. This year is particularly challenging for the ABA: it’s simultaneously managing all of this work and navigating a leadership change, as the organization’s CEO and CFO get set to retire. But at some point, this will need to become a priority.

. . . .

The authors whose books populate our bookstores who actually love Amazon are few and far between; I certainly haven’t met any.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG doesn’t know the author of the OP, but believes he’s likely a nice guy.

However.

PG tried to count how many ways the OP was delusional/parochial/pathetic/wishful, etc., but didn’t have enough time.

PG did, however, wonder if any bookstore has promoted itself as “The place to find authors who don’t like Amazon.”

Presumably, this message might attract readers who don’t like Amazon.

Who knows? Perhaps it’s a niche market that everyone else has overlooked.

Amazon, Bookselling, Bookstores

16 Comments to “Indiebound Needs a Makeover if It’s Going to Fight Amazon”

  1. Wrong aim kiddo.

    Fighting or pretending to fight Amazon is a waste of time, all the more because claiming you’re ‘fighting’ them tells everybody else that you are but admitting that Amazon is doing what you do so much better that you feel you must fight them.

    Just what does Indiebound offer or do that’s better then how Amazon does it? If the answer is ‘nothing’ then there’s your problem. And going all ADS doesn’t fix that problem.

    “I have brought this up to the American Booksellers Association on two occasions.”

    Funny, I didn’t think ABA liked indies enough to care one way or another about them (other than indies stealing eyes/hours from the books ABA wants to seen sold/read …)

    • Funny, I didn’t think ABA liked indies enough to care one way or another about them (other than indies stealing eyes/hours from the books ABA wants to seen sold/read …)

      Based on context, I think the OP is referring to indie booksellers rather than indie authors. (And indeed despite the similarity in names, there appears to be very little harmony between the two).

  2. The authors whose books populate our bookstores who actually love Amazon are few and far between; I certainly haven’t met any.

    Admittedly, I wouldn’t claim to speak for every author in the world, particularly not trad published authors. However, this comment just has the vibe of, “No one I know voted for Nixon.”

  3. I had an indie book-seller boil over at me in person at a convention because I was Amazon-linking back in the early days of the Zon. I told them it was only because Amazon paid me affiliate bucks.

    I offered to code the indie bookstore their own on-line book store with their own affiliate scheme – then I could, you know, link to *them* too.

    They meandered off without taking me up on the offer. They went bust a few years later. Horse. Water. Drink.

  4. Authors don’t point readers towards Amazon because they like reviews, they do it because a sale on Amazon has sale-babies.

  5. The us vs. them mentality of IndieBound and indie booksellers doesn’t harm Amazon one whit. It harms authors, though. It harms authors a lot. I tried to talk with an IndieBound rep about updating paperback covers of books catalogued on that website. When I told her the books were published through KDP rather than IngramSpark, she dropped the conversation.

    Then there’s the process of getting paperbacks into bookstores. It’s a tedious, time-consuming process that seems to’ve been intetionally designed to lock out indie authors, and authors publishing through smaller presses as well.

    Yet indie booksellers complain when we publish on Amazon, which makes it pretty darn simple to publish. Oh, yeah, and we can easily advertise our books there, too. We don’t have to jump through a lot of hoops, we don’t have to hand-sell our books to a literal handful of customers at a time. On Amazon, we can reach millions of potential readers with the push of a button.

    How are indie booksellers making it easier for indie authors to get into their stores?

    The answer is usually that they’re not.

    Furthermore, many indie booksellers are still of the opinion and mindset that writing is “art,” rather than a business, and that authors should sacrifice financial gain “for the greater good.” Whereas indie authors, like most sensible business people, really like being able to eat and pay their mortgages.

    So please, spare me the complaints. The publishing world has changed and continues to change every day. Indie booksellers need to change with it and work with the growing number of non-traditional authors, or risk losing their businesses to stagnation.

    • Yet indie booksellers complain when we publish on Amazon, which makes it pretty darn simple to publish.

      They look to an idealized literary world where independent authors don’t exist. Neither does Amazon. The last thing they want is a zillion independent authors running around selling stuff.

      They see an world of proper authors, agents, publishers, and quaint bookstores attracting people who record their views on Proust in leather bound journals.

      Some guy who writes a book on an old laptop and hits the upload button has no place in that world.

    • “Furthermore, many indie booksellers are still of the opinion and mindset that writing is “art,” rather than a business, and that authors should sacrifice financial gain “for the greater good.” Whereas indie authors, like most sensible business people, really like being able to eat and pay their mortgages.”

      Funny that they don’t think “they” should sacrifice financial gain for the greater good for the sake of getting that “Art” out there. Hmm, I think I see a double standard in there.

      What upsets them is that since trad-pub and trad and indie bookstores care not a wit for indie/self publishers, indie/self publishers have turned to Amazon where they can be seen and bought without the backstabbing contracts and lackluster options offered the ‘trad’ way. Too bad for them the readers agree.

  6. Considering the number of indie booksellers who refuse to carry anything that doesn’t come from the big publishing houses it’s a bit unbelievable that they don’t understand why authors point toward where the sales happen.

    Plus, speaking as a small business owner as well as an author, you don’t try to fight the goliaths like Amazon and Walmart – you find your own niche within the areas they underserve and make your money there. Trying to directly compete with a mega-corp is how so many mom-and-pop businesses went under when Walmart etc showed up in their towns.

    • The best way to fight Amazon is to snap to attention and shout, “Sir, Yes, Sir. How high sir?”

    • “Considering the number of indie booksellers who refuse to carry anything that doesn’t come from the big publishing houses it’s a bit unbelievable that they don’t understand why authors point toward where the sales happen.”

      Oh, they understand all right, they just don’t like the competition of those writers finding another way to get to the readers that makes the bookstore no money. 😉

  7. The guy doesn’t even begin to understand IndieBound’s problems.

    It’s pretty simple.

    The site claims to be for indie bookstores but in fact it only serves ABA members. For example, its store finder page misses most of the bookstores in my area, but it does include an online bookseller, Hudson Mews, and museum gift shops – none of which are indie bookstores, and all of which are ABA members.

    Until the ABA does something about that, the site isn’t even worth bothring to complain about.

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