Book buyers: looks like the party’s winding down. Amazon’s once-generous discounts are slowly going away, as this article in the New York Times reports.
I’ve been expecting this for years. Now that Amazon has kicked so many competitors to the ground through ruthless discounting, the laws of the market decree rising prices. This is what happens when a company gains a market share bordering on monopoly—while establishing a tech and logistics infrastructure that would be very difficult for a new competitor to match, so the likelihood of being undercut on a mass scale as they did to others is slim. Amazon has also, for many years been utterly ruthless in its dealings with other segments of the market (particularly small independent publishers, where years ago it started extracting a 55 percent discount in an industry where the normal bookstore discount had been 40 percent).
Amazon’s history is full of stuff that looks a lot like bullying. I always expected predatory pricing—coming in willing to take a short-term loss through lower prices, in order to drive competitors out of business, and then raising the prices when consumers no longer have alternatives—was part of the strategy. What made it work for them, as the Times article points out, is that…
In its 16 years as a public company, Amazon has received unique permission from Wall Street to concentrate on expanding its infrastructure, increasing revenue at the expense of profit. Stockholders have pushed Amazon shares up to a record level, even though the company makes only pocket change. Profits were always promised tomorrow.
Small publishers wonder if tomorrow is finally here, and they are the ones who will pay for it.
Publishers accepted the higher discount because:
- They had no choice
- Amazon does provide some services that used to require a wholesaler (and wholesalers traditionally buy at 55 percent off)
- AND the higher discount did translate into a reader benefit: reduced prices
Now that the third reason is being eroded, it will be interesting to see if publishers rebel. However, now it’s probably too late. Amazon is the only mass retail channel that routinely deals with tiny publishers. Barnes & Noble, the last remaining competing megachannel, prefers to buy from wholesalers (yes, I know, there are exceptions). If you say goodbye to Amazon, you’d better have some non-bookstore channels in place.