Friday, December 23, 2011

What Will Stop Amazon?

The book industry is fed by Amazon but it also is under a grave threat from it. Amazon is trying to not only increase its market share, but dominate it, and it will kill the competition and even the publishers in the process. So what can be done to contain Amazon?

1.   Don’t buy from Amazon, dear consumer. Amazon will listen to you.
2.   Create a government regulation of some kind that forces Amazon to stop its predatory practices of undercutting legitimate competition with below-cost pricing. Amazon will use a lot of loss leaders to win a sale.
3.   Companies and publishers should stop selling to Amazon. Either support other retailers, such as Barnes & Noble or form a company that services publishers and does not compete with them.
4.      Find a universal e-reader device that gets rid of the idea that one who owns a Kindle can only buy from Amazon. Everyone should be able to buy from everywhere – with one device.
5.      We need a scandal to break that forces Amazon to clean up its act. Maybe Jeff Bezos has a dirty secret that can be uncovered and used to blackmail him into better behavior?
6.      We need a government investigation into Amazon’s practices, the way Microsoft got knocked around under suggestions of being a monopoly, Amazon is taking over the world the way Mr. Potter bought out that small town in It’s A Wonderful Life.
7.      The public needs to be educated about what it means to buy from Amazon, how every sale with them threatens the existence of book stores and the local economy. The best price doesn’t mean the best deal for society.
8.      Incentivize Amazon to do the right thing, even if for the wrong reason, the way the US gives “aid” to enemy countries, in essence buying off the opposition. We need to placate the giant with something in hopes it won’t keep focusing its energy on putting others out of business.
9.      Hire a hacker to injure Amazon’s site. It has one selling location -- you harm the site, you kill the beast. Of course I’m not suggesting one break the law but desperate times make us think of desperate measures. 
10. We need an anti-Amazon, a store that highlights how it earns business on merit and not merely by cannibalizing others. Instead of seeing an economy run by Wal-Mart and Amazon, we need a solid business that wins because it has a good product, great service, and gives back to the community. We need Starbucks to enter the book business.

Perhaps the best way to influence Amazon is to get its stock to tank. Where is an 80’s style corporate raider when you need one? We need an Occupy Amazon movement.

Amazon’s stock price peaked in 2011 in mid-October at $246 a share, reflecting a 35% gain from a year ago. But its aggressive under-pricing has caused it to barely make a profit, sending the stock down to $170 (below the cost of a Kindle Fire).

Amazon represents the best and worst of capitalism. It is capturing market share, not just in books but in other sectors and remains the No.1 online retailer. It is aggressive, cutting-edge and deliberate. It leads, rather than follows. But it is also taking everyone else down.

Most people, with no skin in the game, don’t care which company makes money or how much, but few of us will soon be able to ignore this behemoth that kills industries, jobs and local economies. As consumers we just want our stuff cheap and fast. We’ll buy from street peddlers who likely stole their goods. We’ll buy from stores who import goods from China. We’ll buy sneakers made from sweatshops overseas. We’ll accept a business whose customer service is staffed in India. But can we turn a blind eye to Amazon when it impacts us at home?

I don’t think the average consumer gives thought to the repercussions of a Wal-Mart Amazon nation and not all of what these two companies do are bad. I don’t want to see either one go out of business, but I’d like to see them reform their ways – before it is too late.

Interview With Literary Agent Brandi Bowles

  1. Brandi, why do you love being a part of the book publishing industry? The publishing industry sits right at the intersection of art and commerce. It’s certainly gratifying to sit back at the end of the day and know you’re helping to produce art that will move, influence, and entertain tens of thousands; when you boil it down that’s why we all do this. But the longer you’re in the industry the savvier you become about the weird business culture around books, the intimate drinks and lunches and social gatherings where you’re soft-selling your latest or sharing your passion for different types of writing. This is business built on relationships, often with some of the most interesting, intelligent, and stimulating characters you could ever meet.  There’s never a dull moment, as they say, and at the heart of it we’re all advocating for an art form that we love.              
          2. Where do you think it is heading? My answer is probably pretty predictable – greater growth in 
          e-books, more e-reading devices, and smaller print runs. Perhaps fewer books that convert from
          hardcover into paperback, going directly into e-book format. But it’s not all bad news – as long there
          are people reading through whatever means, then publishing will survive, and the role of the editor and
          the agent, as editorial curators, will still be of great value.

  1. What is Foundry Media and what do you do for them? Foundry Literary + Media is a full service literary agency in the traditional model – we represent authors work to publishers, both domestic and abroad, negotiating for and protecting our clients’ interests and championing the book throughout publication, and beyond.  We’re heavily invested in protecting our clients’ foreign rights and making sure they’re well published all over the world, and we’re on the forefront of licensing book rights for film and TV. I have my own client list within Foundry where I specialize in nonfiction – particularly pop culture, humor, science, food, and memoir – and some fiction and YA.

  1. What advice do you have for struggling authors looking to be innovative with their content? Innovate at the project’s core – the best way to get published is to write a wonderful, well-paced, high-concept book, whether fiction or non-fiction. You can test whether your book is high-concept if you can pitch it in two sentences or less. I don’t advise authors go the self-publication route, not to protect the agent’s role but because so many authors underestimate the difficulties of promoting their work in a glutted market. With a publisher, not only will the book benefit from professional editorial, copyediting, proofreading, and design, but it’ll have folks with years of experience helping to market, distribute, and promote. The system has its flaws, but it’s still far and beyond the best shot an author has at gaining a readership.

  1. How important can a literary agent be to the entire publishing process? Beyond the writing of your book, publishing it, too, should be a very artful and carefully considered process. There are vagaries and nuances to this business that you only learn through years of having one’s ears to the ground, through working at the type of agency that shares information, and through publishing experiences both good and bad. We know which houses regularly churn out bestsellers, which phone it in, and which regularly overpay. We know how to negotiate for ancillary rights like TV and film, audio books, e-books, and graphic novels. We know the market, what is selling, what isn’t, and who is willing to take risks. We take risks, when merited. There is no better advocate to have on your side than a savvy agent who truly loves your book.  

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Planned Television Arts. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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