Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Web of Domination

Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist philosopher and socialist, once said: "The web of domination has become the web of Reason itself, and this society is fatally entangled in it."

The irony of tying this post to a socialist is not lost on me.

Back on May 13, Amazon announced a new program called AmazonEncore. Here is the description of the program from their press release:
AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon uses information such as customer reviews on Amazon websites to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors that show potential for greater sales. Amazon then partners with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store,, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.
You can read the entire press release here.

The first book to be re-released by the AmazonEncore program was Legacy, written by fourteen-year-old Cayla Kluver and self-published by her and her mother a year later. The book was released under the AmazonEncore imprint on August 18.

Yesterday, AmazonEncore issued a second press release, announcing they would be releasing three new books in February, 2010. All three books had previously been self-published by the authors using Amazon's BookSurge unit. According to the new press release, the three books are:
“Perfect on Paper: The (Mis)Adventures of Waverly Bryson” by first-time novelist Maria Murnane; “A Wish After Midnight” by Zetta Elliott, an American Library Association 2009 Notable Children’s Book author; and “They Never Die Quietly” by former book editor Daniel Annechino.
Read the press release here.

It would be easy to hail this initiative simply as an opportunity for deserving self-pubbed authors to get broader exposure. Unfortunately, I don't see it that way. Amazon has now crossed the line into publishing books under its own imprint instead of merely providing print-on-demand services to other publishers and writers.

Talk about vertical integration [See 10/20/06 post here for definition of vertical integration]. Amazon is using feedback from its customers to identify the most popular or well-received books printed by its own BookSurge unit to then make deals with authors to market their work through other Amazon units (i.e. Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store,

Back on 6/5/08, I did a post here that included this:
I have said repeatedly . . . I think Amazon poses a threat to the publishing industry. But, increasingly, I believe that threat stems from Amazon's vertical integration of the book market, not because I think the Kindle will become the dominant e-reader.
Now let's talk about the carrot-and-stick approach. Remember yesterday's post here? Amazon brought a dozen well-known agents to Seattle to "open a dialogue." There was supposition as to whether Amazon was trying "to do an end-run around publishers and make direct e-book deals with major authors." That was the carrot.

The new Amazon press release is the stick. Let me translate what Amazon was really saying during those cozy little talks with agents in Seattle:
"We are now poised to publish p-books (through BookSurge), e-books (through Kindle), and a-books (through and Brilliance Audio). We can both distribute (CreateSpace) and sell those books ( And we can even sell used books (AbeBooks, Bookfinder and Gojaba) and soft-market the books we want to push through our social networking sites (LibraryThing and Shelfari). We have a hand in every point of the chain leading to the customer:

Manufacturer => Wholesaler => Marketing => Retailer

"Bottom line: We at Amazon are the future of publishing. Get on board while you can because otherwise you'll be left in our dust."


Colleen said...

Holy crap, Maya... how do you keep track of this stuff? It makes my head explode. And it scares the heck out of me. I suspect that's the way most writers feel but it's inforamtion we have to have. Thank you.

Maybe we should just go back to oral storytelling.

Maya Reynolds said...

Colleen: Amazon scares me, but then they have for a long time.

Peter L. Winkler said...

The issue that matters to me is not that Amazon is becoming a publisher, but whether they will be any better at it than the other corporate, conglomerized behemoths. If they publish good books, then I'm all for them.

Maya Reynolds said...

Peter: Amazon IS a corporate conglomerate.

Amazon has already shown its willingness to throw its weight around to use one arm of its corporate structure to benefit another. You will recall how they pressured the small POD presses to use BookSurge in March, 2008:

Then in this March, they began bullying British publishers:

If you're so concerned about "good books," just wait. Diversity among publishers leads to diversity among ideas. A monopoly tends to eliminate diversity.

Peter L. Winkler said...

"Peter: Amazon IS a corporate conglomerate."

I already recognized that.

"The issue that matters to me is not that Amazon is becoming a publisher, but whether they will be any better at it than the other corporate, conglomerized behemoths."


1. Being the remaining one of two or more: the other ear.

Unless they can afford to acquire giants like Bertlesmann and thus gradually eliminate competing publishers, Amazon will not monopolize publishing.

Give me your scenario of how they do it.

Maya Reynolds said...

Peter: I've been writing about this for three years. Go back and read the posts.