I am ashamed to say, particularly during this pandemic, that when searching for reading material, be it specific or otherwise, my fingers wander to my laptop and type the word ‘Amazon’. But what would we do if Amazon suddenly disappeared? The end of Amazon might seem unimaginable but are we nearing the end of Amazon and more importantly are authors prepared for it?
As inconceivable as it seems, the ‘man’, Jeff Bezos himself, has predicted the demise of Amazon. “Amazon is not too big to fail … In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail,”
“Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years,” he said.
As Amazon hurtles towards the 30-year mark, this inevitability may be drawing closer (and may be the reason for Bezos offloading all but an 11.1% stake in the Company). https://www.forbes.com/profile/jeff-bezos/ .
Just as the face of book publishing has been irrevocably changed by Amazon, it will just as surely experience further evolution should Amazon collapse- how could that look?
As will all things, to look at likelihood of the future, we need to look at the past.
When Bezos started the company in 1995, his aim was to create the biggest on-line bookstore in the world, and this reality has provided self-publishers with a platform through which to promote and sell their work (The Atlantic, ‘The Amazon Publishing Juggernaut’ Aug 2019, www.theatlantic.com ).
However, Amazon’s algorithm is strongly linked to book sales and reviews; in other words, you need to sell more to sell more, and you need all the reviews you can get to stand a chance of your book being seen without a specific search-both problematic strategies, and not necessarily linked to the quality of the literature (Link to reviews blog) (let’s not go into ‘Amazon First Reads’ where most offering are, you guessed it- Amazon Publishing titles, thus keeping consumers within the ‘Amazon family’). This all sounds like exceptionally hard work, regardless of whether your book is ‘worthy’ or not! Nevertheless, both self-publishing and ‘vanity press’ precede Amazon by quite some decades.
The term ‘Vanity Press’ gained popularity form the 1930’s and was a fairly derogatory term used for authors who financed their own books (though in reality, this has been done on a minimal basis since the 18th Century). Previously to this, the publishing of books was the prerogative of an entitled few, whether this be by wealth or education (JEP Vol 16 (1) www.quod.lib.umich.edu ).
Self-publishing describes much the same thing, although now widely accepted as a choice, offering larger outlay but greater proportionate return (should your books sell, of course). Although there is some residual stigma, due to the fact that a self-published book does not go through an ‘acceptance’ process, both forms of publishing are viewed acceptable in modern times (www.selfpublishingadvice.org/history ).
So back to back to our original question. Are we really looking at the end of Amazon and are authors prepared for it. Given that Amazon have captured the vast number of self-published books, with most authors accepting that it is a ‘necessary evil’ of getting your books out there, how will book sales evolve if Amazon disappears? How will authors sell? And will we all be chucking our Kindles in the dustbin? Taking account of the human tendency to resist change, what will authors (and consumers) do?
Whilst there is undoubtedly a place for technology and virtual accessibility in our modern world, my heart strings sing for the bygone era. Not that of the chosen few, the elite, or the stinking rich, but that of connectivity. Of the human experience. Of sharing. Whether this eventually takes us back to the bookstore, with its addictive smell of all those wonderfully printed pages, it’s low buzz, as it demands you slow down and savour its treasures; or evolves into something altogether different, I, for one, welcome the change. Perhaps, somehow, we could evolve to the point where their offerings are indiscriminate towards all authors, and so much the better. Who knows, maybe we will embrace the change, and in the process, unearth many golden pages hidden at the bottom of the Amazon stockpile.