The impact of Amazon on the book business is a longstanding, ongoing debate. But is Amazon good for readers? That’s the topic of this afternoon’s discussion at this year’s International Digital Publishing Forum conference, moderated by Olive Software’s Joe Wikert. “Our industry has tended to slant the [Amazon discussion] toward whether Amazon is good for the industry in general,” says Wikert, adding that the panelists will be asked to leave their “corporate hat” at the door and focus on Amazon’s consumer experience.
The genesis for the panel discussion, Wikert says, comes from his own ambivalence, and “prior bias” as a former book publisher against Amazon. “I’ve been a Prime subscriber for quite some time now, and I’m both thrilled and mortified when I see my Amex bill show up every month with all those Amazon charges,” he says. “As a consumer I enjoy plenty of benefits that I simply can’t get elsewhere. But I also try to look down the road a bit and think about what happens when Wall Street isn’t as forgiving, and will expect Amazon to actually make a tidy profit each quarter. In all likelihood, prices have to go up to make that a reality. And when they do, will I still be as happy with Amazon as a consumer?”
In addition to this reporter, the panel will also feature New York Magazine contributor and author Boris Kachka, literary agent Kristin Nelson, and Publishing Perspectives editor-in-chief Edward Nawotka.
The discussion certainly comes at an interesting time: The first round of post-DoJ e-book contract negotiations are wrapping up. Publishers are experimenting with new models, such as direct-to-consumer and subscription access. Library e-book lending remains a thorny issue. Self-publishing is maturing. And e-book sales have flattened and have even showed declines for some publishers in recent quarters.
But remembering the adage that the consumer is always right, Wikert hopes to explore what Amazon’s customer service is delivering to readers, where the pressure points might lie, and what the future holds for both Amazon and the book business.
“If all you’re interested in is getting your next book at the best price with the best customer service, well, it’s hard to find fault with Amazon,” Wikert says. But how much should readers be concerned with some of Amazon’s practices—whether platform lock-ins or problems not yet evident—such as “the ultimate price increase” to come as competition dies off, and Wall Street demands Amazon actually earn a steady profit?
The panel, for IDPF ticket holders, is in the Special Events Hall, 3:35–4:20 p.m.
This article appeared in the May 27, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.