Killing the slushpile: one manuscript at a time.

Peter Cox

The Great Amazon Debate

In 1994, Jeffrey Preston Bezos left his Wall Street job to found an internet based company in his garage. The ‘bookseller’ known as Amazon sold its first book one year later.  Amazon may have marketed itself as “the world’s largest bookstore”, but its logo–an arrow leading from A to Z–was a clear indicator that its goal was to sell every product on the planet.  It is now a $50bn business.

According to the Financial Times this week, Bezos’ not so secret plan is to “colonise the entire infrastructure of consumption”. To borrow from George Orwell, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine Jeff Bezos face, and his big wide smile.”  Yikes!

Amazon is the subject of the ‘great debate’ on The Naked Book this week, with Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson, publishing consultant Sheila Bounford, Rob Nichols of independent UK publisher Constable & Robinson, and Financial Times journalist Barney Jopson throwing the rotten fruit.

Jopson has been writing about Amazon all week for the Financial Times, and he explained that it was not now just an e-commerce platform, but had evolved into “an infrastructure services company”.

Not evil, then? That wasn’t the view of Johnson who accused Bezos of devaluing “the book”, using prices points like $9.99 or $1.99 as stakes through the print-based heart of the book.  “That’s the worst thing I think it’s done to the culture.”

But for Nichols, what Amazon has done well is sell books: lots of them. “We’ve been able to unlock our backlist.” And of course there are those e-book sales, up 600% at Constable & Robinson. For Bounford, Amazon has shown how to behave in a digital world, something publishers can use and learn from.

“I don’t want them to go away,” admitted Johnson, whose own buy-buttons on Amazon have been restored after a recent contretemps, “I just wish they’d behave!”

Hosted by Philip Jones, with Sam Missingham serving the beer.

Whatever next?  Tune in in two weeks’ time to find out!  Click here to pop it in your diary!

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