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Amazon: friend or foe?

When I ask writers, authors, or publishers about Amazon, I get a variety of responses:

  • I love Amazon. I just ordered laundry detergent from them, and it was really cheap.

  • I try not to order from them but shop locally.

  • Amazon always knows what I will be interested in when I am browsing for something to read.

  • They make ordering so easy, and delivery is so quick!

  • They get me mad because they have the wrong cover for my book, and they won't change it.

  • When I search for my book, they list the old edition first and I can't get them to flip it to the new edition. Ugh!

  • They've made self-publishing so easy. It is a dream.

Quite the spectrum. When people think of Amazon, they think of books first, which puts them in a Kleenex or Xerox situation from a branding point-of-view. But as you might know, Amazon is way past books and publishing. Amazon Web Services (they sell or rent cloud computing), represents 12% of Amazon's revenues in 2020, but it accounted for 60% of the company's operating profits.

Amazon is as interested in selling a copy of A Catcher in the Rye as they are in selling a box of pens or a hammer or a box of diapers or a... Amazon sells $4,722 per second, or $283,000 per minute or $17 million per hour. And the vast majority of it is not books. Amazon, regarding book publishing, is not the 800-pound gorilla, they might be the 8,000-pound gorilla, or the only gorilla, unfortunately.

So, where does that leave us lowly authors and publishers? Here are (from my small vantage point) the pros and cons or Amazon from a book-point-of-view:


  • They have made shopping online incredibly easy. One click and that new bestseller will likely be on your doorstep tomorrow.

  • They amassed (nearly) the de facto record of all books or book-related items in one place in a massive, fully searchable database.

  • They have created an affordable, state-of-the-art self-publishing system that has democratized self-publishing.

  • Small to medium-sized publishers can now create a product and distribute it (courtesy of Amazon) that nearly rivals the largest companies like Penguin Random House. They can reach almost any interested customer.

  • They have made it possible for backlist books to stay in print and have a longer tail than anyone would have ever expected.

  • They pioneered niche topics for anyone anywhere. You live in Medicine Hat in Alberta Canada? You are interested in red tail hawks? They have a book for you, including an out-of-print one and can get it to you next week!


  • Since they are as interested in detergent as much as books, they are not publishing focused anymore. In fact, I would say they are either blasé about or anti publishers.

  • They have very poor lines of communication with publishers. Being customer-focused is great, but there are important times when small and medium-sized publishers need to communicate with Amazon, and they make it nearly impossible to do that except through an automated system.

  • As an author, if the self-serve system Amazon has created for self-publishing is right for you, great. If you feel like you are lost in a dark room and have questions, then you may be extremely frustrated.

  • As the 8,000-pound gorilla, they can act like a bully sometimes. They seem to take the perspective: "What are your options? Not to be on Amazon? Good luck."

  • They have revolutionized used books sales, many titles for $1.00 or even $.01. Good news for consumers, bad news for authors.

  • As you may know, Amazon entered the publishing side of the business and continues to expand. This directly threatens other publishers, and also authors (from a royalty point-of-view).

  • If you publish with Amazon, you will not be in bookstores and will not be on other bestseller lists.

No matter my list, Amazon will continue to be (nearly) the only game in town.

Authors (and some publishers) enjoy many benefits that Amazon has created. But beware of any monopoly or near monopoly. If you have concerns, then I would suggest small efforts to level the playing field. I admire the efforts of which is trying to present a fresh alternative to Amazon. I use them and encourage you to do the same as well.

When you link to your book in marketing, do so to your publisher’s website never to Amazon. Next time you order books (or detergent), choose another option.

To be clear, I am anti-Amazon, but (sigh) I use them in certain ways. They are difficult to avoid. At the end of the day, go into any dealings with Amazon (as an author or publisher) with your eyes open and fully knowledgeable of the pros and cons.

Republished from the TAA Blog


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