What Amazon Really Sells
Some of you know I have been very transparent with my previous attempt to publish one of my books using Amazon’s Kindle Scout program. I didn’t, thankfully, and have since pulled said book from the program. But I have been thinking and considering a strange question of late that I think might be a good thing to share with others.
I was eating lunch with a friend and we began discussing the publishing world. (I’m a writer, we talk about stuff like that.) And what I proposed to my friend was that Amazon doesn’t sell books. And the big five publishers, Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster, don’t sell books either. This evoked a little surprise from my friend but when I explained it properly, I think I expressed some of my core beliefs about what publishing is and what it could be.
Amazon doesn’t care if you drink Pepsi or Coke. They don’t care that you only buy Nike shoes or that you absolutely love Brittany Spears. They really don’t care at all. Why? Because as long as you buy from them, your choices are just another method they use to keep you buying from them. They don’t care what you buy, just where you buy it. And their methodology is sound in a capitalist free market economy. So when they sell you a book, they don’t care if it’s a book on how to raise foster kids or a book on dinosaur erotica. The money in their pockets spends exactly the same. Amazon treats books as another commodity to sell you at a reasonable price. They don’t really care about what’s in the product, what shape, what color, or even what the quality is, just that it is acceptable to your needs and that you are willing to part ways with your money over it.
So now let me defend my previous argument that the big five don’t sell books either, lest you think this is some virulent attack on Amazon. The big five sell you trust. That’s it. You can spin it, you can fluff it up, you can spray it with Febreze if you like, but the big five are in the business of trust. What do I mean by trust? If I buy a book and that book came from, say, Macmillan or one of its subsidiary presses like Square Fish, I have a certain level of confidence in what I’m going to read.
I know that it’s a book that has been proofed repeatedly. It has been edited for grammar, structure, and content. It has been formatted so that it’s both easy to read and, likely, enjoyable for me to read. The cover art is probably intriguing and of a level that has added visual art to my experience. It might even be partially illustrated. The experience of that book, regardless of how much I like or dislike the content, has been forged and purified to a level that I can trust. It will be what a book should be.
Amazon is becoming, if it’s not already there, the digital Wal-Mart. The Amazon brand, particularly in the self-pub world, might as well be stamped Great Value. That name is both literally true of Wal-Mart’s store-brand merchandise and is also quite true of the many thousands of Amazon self-published books. They are, definitely, a good value. Ninety-nine cents for a novel? Yeah, that’s a good deal, regardless of what’s inside.
With regard to books, Amazon sells value and the big five sell trust. For me? For someone producing something for sale and something I want to sign my name to? I want to be trusted, as an author. I want my readers to be the ones who remember me, remember how I took them on a journey, where we went together, and what we shared along the way. I want my audience to love my work as much as I do. I don’t just want ten thousand people to buy a book because it was a dollar.