LJNDawson.com, Consulting to the Book Publishing Industry
Book Publishing Industry Consultant

Amazon.com - The Elephant That's Not in the Room Anymore

A little squib about Amazon.com in MobyLives this morning (2nd story) got me thinking. Moby's headline was Why notice this particular problem over so many others? Indeed. (See the CNN article that spawned Moby's coverage.)

When Amazon.com came on the scene, they went to a great deal of trouble to assure the book world that they were for real, they cared, books mattered to them. The book industry is notoriously mistrusting of newcomers - witness Microsoft's lessons in the e-book realm when they tried to get rid of the ISBN because it "didn't make sense"; Dick Brass got told, in no uncertain terms, that Microsoft could stand to learn a thing or two before coming in and dictating to an industry that had been around a heck of a lot longer than some newfangled software.

At any rate...in the late 90s, Amazon.com had a huge booth at BEA, sponsored banners, advertised in book trade publications, sent reps to industry meetings (like BISG and AAP), and in general bent over backwards ingratiating itself to the industry. Cindy Cunningham, now at Corbis, was a key Amazon.com player in the creation of ONIX - and later she was the cover girl for Library Journal.

Ten years after Amazon.com debuted, they appear not to give two hoots about the book biz anymore. When Barnes & Noble wants to prove to publishers that they've sent around bad data, they go to Amazon.com, clip a screen shot, and send it to the publishers in question - Amazon.com does not correct, massage, or otherwise touch book data, but runs it in as received; whereas Barnes & Noble employs some 20 data editors to take care of online content issues.

There are no Amazon.com reps at any industry gatherings anymore. They haven't had a booth at BEA in quite some time. If someone has a question about how Barnes & Noble does things, there are some 6 or 7 people who are readily available to answer it; at Amazon.com, whom would you call? Ingram's doing their distribution and drop-shipping; they're running in raw data feeds from publishers - there is no liaison between Amazon.com and the rest of the world.

They seem to have ceded the book playing field entirely. Even Wal-Mart (in the guise of Anderson Merch) shows up at some BISG task force meetings. Amazon.com appears not to be concerned with the very technology it introduced to the industry itself.

The book industry probably ought to stop treating Amazon.com issues as news to the book business. Amazon.com's not in the book business. And they seem to be saying that with silence towards the industry that's as loud as any shout.
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