Sunday, April 06, 2008

Amazon from a spiritual perspective

When I visited the Books and Tales forum today that I often post on, I found an interesting reply on one of the threads regarding a partnership between Lightning Source and On Demand Books (the owners of the Espresso Printing machines that I mentioned on here some time ago). The poster of this article links to an original article posted in February on Publishers Weekly, which seems to be the American version of Publishing News.

The article, written by Judith Rosen states that the two are entering into a partnership whereby On Demand Books will have access to to all data held by Lightning Source, enabling them to print not just American books, but any book at all listed in Lightning Sources' vast and rapidly expanding catalogue. These books will be printed not in 2 hours as is currently the case with Lightning Source's own machines, but in fifteen minutes, and for a fraction of the cost of conventionally published books. Will that change things or what? !

Granted the machines are expensive, and for the moment at least there are only a handful in commercial use, in the following locations: University of Alberta Bookstore in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; the Internet Archive Office in San Francisco, California; the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont; the Bibliotheca Alexandrina at Alexandria, Egypt.

Lin Robinson, who posted this on Books and Tales, goes on to say that there will very soon be several more - at the New Orleans Public Library in New Orleans, Louisiana, The University of Michigan Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan and at DA Information Services in Mitcham, Australia.

This news is remarkable by itself, but even more so in the light of recent events regarding Amazon and their acquisition of print on demand company Booksurge, which was rapidly followed by their insistence that all those who wished their print on demand books to be listed directly on must have their books printed by Booksurge.

It would appear Amazon, in its blatant attempt at creating a monopoly and controlling the authors right to choose, is flying in the face of a revolution in publishing that will eventually leave them floundering. The Espresso and Lightning Sources' partnership will change the face of publishing forever so that books no longer have to be printed in large print runs at all, and print on demand becomes the norm. It will revolutionise the way in which we do business and turn things around, so that print on demand authors and all authors in fact have much more control over every aspect of their work, and are no longer at the mercy of these faceless corporations who think we have no rights and that they have the right to walk all over us.

Thousands of books and periodicals will be there on these machines as searchable items which the consumer can print in minutes. Maybe then Amazon's move was an effort to get as big a slice of the pie as the possible before the wall comes tumbling down, like it did in Berlin all those years ago. How exciting would that be ...

I feel that there is definitely more to this than meets the eye. There are other issues at work here than just trying to monopolise the market. One has to understand why Amazon feel driven to do this. There is a lot of fear around in the US right now with the recession, and money is tight - things are far, far worse than we in the UK have been led to believe. Amazon are trying to strengthen their position as the number one discount retailer in the only way that they know how - by flexing their muscle. Maybe it will work, maybe it will fail, who knows - that is up to the public and not me. I do feel though that perhaps the only way to really stop this is to bring it off the Internet and into the printed press - on to the pages of the New York Times and newspapers across the length and breadth of America - but also in the UK. I am heartened then to see that this is now beginning to happen. This story though needs to reach the readers and those who buy books, as they are the ones who have the real power to change things by voting with their mice.

In the UK of course things, have taken an even more sinister turn, as Amazon are now threatening that if publishers offer books at discounted prices on their own websites, then Amazon will take the discounted price as the RRP (recommended retail price) and offer them 50 percent of that rather than 50 percent of the actual RRP. This is what I mean when I say that this is fear driven, and they are trying to ensure that they maintain their position. This though is not the way to do it, and it will fail, as we have laws in place in our country to stop this kind of thing - quite apart from the fact that it is breach of contract.

I can't help feeling that there is also a higher dimension to this - and this is about bringing these things into the open and levelling the playing field. It is not of course all about money, but this is an issue - the fact that book stores etc take so much of it. The shop that I work in doesn't have a 40 percent margin on the products we sell - on some products it is a lot more than this, but it averages at around 25 percent. It should then be the same in the book world. Why should they take all the money when we wrote the books? No other business either (with the possible exception of the music industry) has the right to return stock that they haven't sold up to a year after they bought it, so why should they be able to, and more to the point, why should authors and publishers be the ones who have to subsidise and pay for their mistakes? Why as well should we settle for low advances and shoddy treatment when celebrity ghost written titles get nominated for book prizes as recently happened with Katie Price?

You could get angry and frustrated at all this, and for a long time I did, but that does not help. Complaining does nothing except make you even more angry and frustrated, leaving you with no energy to do the other things that you need to do. What we need is to look at this from a detached perspective without getting overly emotionally involved; just state the facts quietly and calmly in as many places as we can, and let the book buying and reading public, as well as the publishing industry as a whole, understand where we are coming from and that things have to change. This is the only way that things will change. It took me a long time to understand this and to realise how unhealthy it was for me continually getting angry and fighting, but when I did finally realise this it was tremendously freeing, as the emotions no longer control me. I am now in control instead.

It is interesting to see how this is not just about POD authors, as it also effects the larger publishers - since many of them also now use POD for certain celebrity titles and to maintain back lists. POD is no longer a niche thing, but is becoming mainstream - it is big business now in the UK - heck, even literary agency PFD were talking on The Bookseller the other week about how they are starting an initiative with Lightning Source to bring their authors out of print titles back into circulation, prove that there is still a market for them and then try and use these sales to get the books published again. The number of books in print has never been higher and this is largely attributed to the rise in self publishing - in particular POD - I wrote about this on here just the other week.

The consensus seems to have been, for writing bloggers both in America and the UK for a long time now, that the old ways of doing business in publishing are no longer working and that something needs to change. This is way of forcing that change.

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