How Amazon Destroyed American Book Publishing

Most SurvivalBlog readers are aware that I’ve been an outspoken critic of Amazon.com’s business practices, their leftist agenda, and their blatant censorship. I even went so far as to very publicly resign from the Amazon Associates program. I did so on principle, knowing that it would cost me nearly $30,000 per year in sales commissions. But I didn’t hesitate, because I knew that it was the right thing to do.

In this article, I will lay out some of the ways that Amazon has destroyed American book publishing, in their quest for monopolistic dominance.

THE FLOOD OF SCHLOCK BOOKS

To begin, I must describe how the publishing industry has changed profoundly in the past five years. Let me say bluntly: Amazon has ruined everything. By providing a cut-rate publishing platform for the masses, they’ve flooded the market with poorly-edited self-published schlock books. There are now literally five times more books available “in print” than there were in 2014. This means that many books with real merit from talented authors get lost in the shuffle. The book market is drowning in a sea of mediocrity. For book buyers, the dizzying array of books leaves them asking: What should I buy, and which books are even worth buying? With so many manipulated book reviews, it is hard to tell. There are even fake books that are sold as scams, and several YouTubers coach people on how to make money selling blank books as “a side hustle.”  Even more strangely, some Amazon books filled with random gobbledygook are sold for thousands of dollars, in money laundering schemes. — or for discreetly funding graft. (You know, the same way that Hunter Biden sells his  “art.”) Amazon publishing has become very strange, indeed.

With the now enormously larger “pie” of the book market, 99% of new writers never get noticed. There are hundreds of thousands of books still listed on Amazon that have sold less than 100 copies. These are available both as e-books and as “print on demand” paperback books, adding to the confusion for book buyers. The end result of this profusion of schlock books is that the major New York publishers now only sign contracts with well-established “big name” authors. My own agent (who is also my partner on e-books) can no longer land me any fiction book contracts from the major publishers, even though I’ve had three New York Times fictionbestsellers. That is how much the publishing market has changed. And much of that change can be attributed solely to Amazon. I’ve been told by market insiders that at least two of the major New York publishers are bleeding red ink and probably will no longer be in business by 2025. The traditional publishing industry is now in a desperate “adapt or die” mode.

AMAZON BOOKS, BY THE NUMBERS

Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader was launched in 2007. In 2014, there were 2 million books in Amazon’s Kindle e-book store. By 2018, that figure had jumped to 7 million. Fast forward to 2021, and there are now more than 10 million Kindle titles. It has been estimated that Amazon now controls 70.5% of domestic e-book sales.

But e-books are just part of the picture. There are now 48.5 million book titles (print and e-books, combined) listed at Amazon. They cleverly enlisted third-party sellers, allowing them to catalog and sell their books through Amazon, so that they could control the online market for out-of-print books. But internal documents show that Amazon considers these third-party sellers “competitors.” They only allow them to share some profits with Amazon for the sake of Amazon’s quest for total market dominance.

Amazon.com is the world’s largest retailer. At the corporate level, Amazon’s gross sales and gross profits have been huge. Their market capitalization is now more than $1 Trillion (that is trillion, with a T.)  Amazon’s  gross profit for a recent 12-month period was $167.677 Billion. And on that profit, in many years, they’ve structured their accounting to pay as little as 1.2% in taxes, in recent years.

AN INTENSE MONOPOLISTIC DRIVE

Amazon’s destruction of the publishing industry goes far beyond just flooding the market with schlock and grabbing market share. They’ve also adopted some downright monopolistic business practices. They have also data-mined their customers, mostly without their knowledge.

In an August, 2020 joint letter, the publishing industry warned the Chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee (in part):“Together, our organizations—the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the American Booksellers Association—represent thousands of authors, publishers, and booksellers in the United States who serve the democratic exchange of ideas by creating, publishing, and selling books. Our members rely upon a level playing field in the marketplace of ideas to reach, inform, and transact with customers for the delivery of books, whether in physical or digital form. Regrettably, as the Subcommittee’s hearings have laid bare, the competitive framework of the publishing industry has been fundamentally altered in recent years—and remains at serious risk of further diminishment—because of the concentrated power and influence of one company in particular: Amazon.
Amazon’s scale of operation and share of the market for book distribution has reached the point that no publisher can afford to be absent from its online store. A year ago, the New York Timesreported that Amazon controlled 50% of all book distribution, but for some industry suppliers, the actual figure may be much higher, with Amazon accounting for more than 70 or 80 percent of sales. Whether it is the negative impact on booksellers of Amazon forcing publishers to predominantly use its platform, the hostile environment for booksellers on Amazon who see no choice but to sell there, or Amazon’s predatory pricing, the point is that Amazon’sconcomitant market dominance allows it to engage in systematic below–cost pricing of books to squash competition in the book selling industry as a whole. Remarkably, what this means is that even booksellers that avoid selling on Amazon cannot avoid suffering the consequences of Amazon’s market dominance. The ongoing COVID–19 crisis is exacerbating the problem: it continues to threaten the financial well–being of authors, publishers, and booksellers, some of whom will not survive the year. Amazon, by contrast, with its ever–extensive operation and data network has grown only more dominant, enjoying its largest–ever quarterly profits during April, May and June.
As many antitrust experts have articulated, Amazon has aggressively exercised its market power against both suppliers and customers, and it possesses an unhealthy degree of control over the fate of other companies. To be clear, this market power stems not only from Amazon’s share of the market for book distribution, but also from the astonishing level of data that it collects across its entire platform. Amazon tracks and uses data that provides it with an incredible amount of information about individuals and how to target them, such as: what their interests are; what products or books they have bought or pre–ordered; from whom; at what price point; what they have perused or considered purchasing; what video–games they are playing; and what television shows or movies they are watching. The result is that Amazon no longer competes on a level playing field when it comes to book distribution, but, rather, owns and manipulates the playing field, leveraging practices from across its platform that appear to be well outside of fair and transparent competition.”

I don’t fault any business for making a profit. Profit is a good thing. But it is clear that Amazon is throwing its weight around, and they are doing their best to destroy their competitors. So they deserve to be slapped. Please do not give Amazon your patronage. If you do, then you will just feed the beast. Nay, we need to starve that beast. Please patronize your local bookstore — preferably one that is not owned by a major chain, And if you choose to buy online, then buy your books and music through smaller companies like Books-A-Million (BAM) or Powell’s.  Note: For sake of full disclosure, I am a BAM affiliate.

Working in concert, Americans can starve the Amazon Beast. Let’s show some backbone, and do so! – JWR

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