Ask The Editor

January 30, 2009

Amazon sales are up — good news for writers?

Amazon is doing well at a time when just about every other business is tanking.

Some highlights from its announcement:

  • North America segment sales, representing the Company’s U.S. and Canadian sites, were $3.63 billion, up 18% from fourth quarter 2007.
  • International segment sales, representing the Company’s U.K., German, Japanese, French and Chinese sites, were $3.07 billion, up 19% from fourth quarter 2007. Excluding the unfavorable impact from year-over-year changes in foreign exchange rates throughout the quarter, International sales grew 31%.
  • Worldwide Media sales grew 9% to $3.64 billion, compared with $3.33 billion in fourth quarter 2007.
  • One has to wonder how much of its success is due to business practices that have the potential to harm publishers, writers, and others in the business. For example, it recently strong-armed publishers into either using Amazon’s print-on-demand services or forfeit “buy now” selling opportunities with the online retailer. (Without the “buy now” button, publishers have to compete with sellers of used copies and don’t qualify for the free shipping that makes Amazon so attractive to buyers). That move prompted a class action lawsuit.

    Amazon also demands higher than customary discounts from publishers, which cut into the profits of both publishing company and author. Protest and Amazon, again, cuts off the “buy now” opportunity to buy a publisher’s books. It also drops such publishers from its promotions.

    Now, Amazon, distributor of the Kindle e-book reader, has decided not to carry any e-books except those that use the Kindle proprietary format. It’s a move, like the others, designed to cut off competition.

    So, is Amazon’s success good news for writers? Not if Amazon continues to strangle competition and force publishers and others to accept its terms or take a hike. It would be far better for the industry if there were several online booksellers thriving — and giving book buyers a multitude of choices.

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