Is Amazon Crushing the Opposition?

According to a former Downing Street adviser, Amazon is crushing small publishers. Rohan Silva, who previously advised David Cameron and the Chancellor, George Osborne will launch a bookshop called Libreria (see pic) in London this week. He told The Daily Telegraph the Government should refer the situation to competition watchdogs.

Last month, Scott Turow, a US author who has sold hundreds of thousands of books through Amazon, said Amazon’s power was a threat to free speech ‘They are, as I have called them, the Darth Vader of the literary world,’ he said. Turow is a former US federal prosecutor and president of the US Author’s Guild.

Amazon has refused to comment, but why would they? If the competition rules in the UK allow such behaviour, they have no incentive to stop or apologise for what they are doing. It is certainly true that Amazon’s influence in the book market (and in many other industries) has been massive, but would its effect have been so profound if it not for the development of ebooks?

If this is true, then publishers and booksellers have little to crow about. They have been slow to adopt the technology and even now, some publishers do not issue an ebook version of their main titles. Amazon could claim, with some justification, that they have spawned a new branch of the publishing industry, digital publishing. This is a small but growing collection of ebook-savvy publishers without ties to big bookshops, and they are making the most of Amazon’s discount deals and using on-line marketing skills to promote their authors.

Many publishers, including the largest, behave as if ebooks are nothing but another marketing tool, used in the goal of selling more paperbacks. Instead, ebook readers at their core, are a distinct group with voracious reading habits, a habit which precludes the purchase of expensive ebooks, especially when they can pick up a perfectly good one for £2 and often for free. If publishers were to treat this group as a separate market, the savings they currently make on printing, transport and storage costs are sufficient to create a proper marketing plan, a better pricing model and a strategy for the long-term. This will hopefully stop the current trend of penalising authors who are losing sales every time ebooks are treated like paperbacks.

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