A book revolution started twenty-three years ago today, as this is posted. Yes, I’m talking about the 1994 founding of Amazon. Whether you love Amazon, despise it, or are indifferent to it, it’s hard to deny the profound changes the company made to the world of buying, selling, and reading books.
Like all major changes, the ones brought by Amazon have had both positive and negative consequences. And, of course, whether you consider a consequence to be positive or negative depends partly on your particular situation and opinions. Either way, it’s a whole new publishing world because of Amazon.
For authors, Amazon allows all sorts of options that hadn’t easily been available before. I can only speak for myself, but here are a few examples. I can publish, under my own imprint, whenever I’m ready to do so. And I can reach audiences all over the world, in three different formats (paper, digital and audio). If I notice an error, I can quickly edit anything I’ve published, and the corrected version is available to readers almost right away (especially readers who prefer digital books). Amazon has a host of promotion options, too. I won’t bore you by listing each one; suffice it to say that they’re there.
I can reach readers very easily through Amazon, too, because so many people use that source. One of the questions I get about my writing is ‘are you on Amazon?’ And I’ve made sales because my answer is, ‘I sure am.’ Readers can reach me, too. They can leave reviews, check out my Amazon Author page, follow my blog, find out about the books I’ve written, and so on, all directly through Amazon. And I can keep track of sales and other information, too. Oh, and I don’t have to pay for any of this.
But wait. Before you begin thinking that Amazon is a perfect author platform, it’s not. For one thing, Amazon’s distribution comes with several restrictions. It is, if nothing else, a savvy company that doesn’t want to create or encourage a lot of competition. So, working through Amazon means I don’t get to have my work available on some other sites that might be excellent ways to reach readers. And there are markets that it’s harder for me to reach.
There’s also the matter of author support for things such as editing, translation, and so on. Amazon does provide (for a price) cover design, formatting, and some other services. But they don’t provide all of the support that authors need to ensure their books are as well-written as possible. And authors don’t have a contact person at Amazon, as they do at many publishers. So, it’s much more difficult to get assistance, and that’s especially an issue for authors who are new to the publishing world. And authors can’t have events at an Amazon store (such as readings and signings) that they can at, say, a bookshop.
Amazon is a very crowded market, too. So, even though just about anyone can publish there, there’s no guarantee that readers will notice a particular author. This means that authors have to do quite a lot of promotion work themselves. It doesn’t all have to cost a lot, but it’s certainly not free.
Of course, Amazon has dramatically changed the reading landscape, too. Before the company came on the scene, people bought books at independent bookshops, or at large chains such as Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, Whitcoulls, Dymocks or Chapters/Indigo. And the paper format was the only option. Now, of course, it’s possible to buy books (and I’ve done it) from virtually all over the world. Amazon allows one to buy a book new or used, in any one of several different formats. The site allows readers to leave reviews, too, and share their experiences with other readers. In other words, Amazon has made the reading experience far more flexible and interactive than it was. And that’s not to mention the myriad authors readers now can ‘meet’ – authors whose work might not be available in a local (or even chain) bookshop.
Because Amazon is an online retailer, readers don’t even have to travel to get the books that they want. It’s sometimes dangerously easy to ‘click here’ and purchase. That means that readers have unparalleled access to books, even from authors who are not exactly household words. And that’s not even to mention how easy it is now to choose and send a book as a gift.
But wait. The Amazon reading experience isn’t by any means perfect. There are many authors, who are signed by small, independent publishers, who are not represented on Amazon. They’re the sort of books you might find at smaller bookshops, but not at Amazon.
And those smaller bookshops are having an increasingly difficult time of it with the advent of Amazon. I’m sure each us could tell stories of bookshops we’ve loved that have had to close. Even some of the very large chains have closed or gone completely online. That means the delightful experience of browsing through a bookshop, reading the work of a new author, and so on, has changed. And there may not be as many opportunities (such as attending a reading or signing) as there were to meet authors. Some people argue that this means books are less readily available, since there aren’t as many local bookshops to haunt. There are other consequences, too, some of them negative, for book buyers.
As you can see (but you no doubt already knew this), the rise of Amazon has not resulted in a perfect world for authors or for readers. But it’s had a lot of positive outcomes, too. Love it or hate it, though, Amazon has undoubtedly changed the way we think about purchasing, reading, writing, and selling books. What are your thoughts on this book revolution? Where do you think it might go next?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Bob Marley.