Fear that Amazon will come to dominate the bookselling market is nothing new in the publishing industry. But last week, as booksellers continued to decry the company’s price check app (which could be used to access prices on booksellers’ sideline items, like toys and DVDs) and as information about Amazon’s aggressive demands to publishers regarding co-op and retail discounts surfaced (PW Daily, “Is Amazon Pushing Publishers to Brink on Terms, Co-op?” Dec. 15), some insiders began suggesting that the time had come to actively explore ways to lessen publishers’ dependence on the e-tailer. With this in mind, PW asked a number of people in the industry what the best course of action would be. The consensus was that developing and supporting initiatives that would create a more level playing field would be the best approach to ensure a diverse marketplace.
Publishers readily acknowledge that, after the collapse of Borders, independent booksellers have become more important, and while the indie segment has shown signs of revival this fall, booksellers will still need to work closer with publishers to develop more profitable relationships. The changes that need to be made can’t be around the edges, but need to address the fundamental selling model between publishers and bookstores, something ABA CEO Oren Teicher called for in an address at BookExpo America this spring. Some experiments are already taking place, including extended dating. This would allow booksellers to keep titles on shelves longer and give them a chance to build an audience while helping them improve their always tight cash flow.
Selling books on consignment is another method that some independent publishers are trying, but consignment sales haven’t caught on yet with the larger publishers.
Windowing—offering print books for a period of time before e-books go on sale—while enticing is seen as impractical since it is unlikely that publishers will return to a practice they have already given up. Moreover, there is some thinking that publishers could start charging a premium to customers for e-books before the print book is released, something a sizable portion of consumers said they would like.
While extended dating and consignment sales are being tried to some degree, other options have not. With Amazon’s co-op push in the news, one bookseller suggested that publishers become more creative about offering co-op for indie stores, such as giving rebates for certain displays. Another suggestion took the opposite approach—end co-op to indies altogether in favor of providing deeper discounts.
The most controversial, and some booksellers say the most effective action would be to institute minimum retail pricing and/or extend the agency model to print books. While the deep discounts Amazon and some other retailers offer consumers on titles may be good for readers in the short-term, over the long-term Amazon’s willingness to use books as loss leaders will hurt consumers if the e-tailer/publisher becomes the only place to buy books. “Amazon’s willingness to sell books at or below cost in order to capture customers for everything else they sell is perhaps the issue,” one bookseller observed. But with the Justice Department and the European Commission both investigating possible price fixing in regard to e-books and the agency model, it is unlikely publishers will look to extend any form of minimum pricing soon.
Of course, adding more sales channels is another way to diffuse Amazon’s market power, and that is the idea behind Bookish and why it is being watched by all parts of the industry. Publishers “should do whatever they can to help support Bookish as a viable place to buy books online,” one agent commented.