Shatzkin Keeps His Eye on Amazon

Every day there’s another story about how Amazon is changing the marketplace, and not just for books. Because I think we ignore Amazon (and others) at our peril, I turn to “The Shatzkin Files” to stay informed.

Mike Shatzkin’s twice-monthly column is recommended reading for anyone in the publishing field. With a long career in the industry, he specializes in change, particularly as it relates to digital strategy and the publishing supply chain.

Here’s a quick rundown of three recent columns. If it isn’t immediately clear how the first one relates to Amazon, read on.

Authors need help with their digital presence that they’re not getting

April 12, 2017

Shatzkin examines how authors today must market themselves and their books. Most publishers won’t do it; they have a “book-by-book” relationship with the author, not a long-term investment in an author’s platform. Consultants can coach authors through the marketing and social media hoops, for a fee. Literary agents are in a position to help, but many aren’t able, or they don’t have time. Authors seek out other authors to trade branding tips and social media strategies, with mixed results.

Shatzkin makes the point that publishers are missing a valuable opportunity to support their authors.

“Setting up a blog an author could then use themselves could take somebody young and cheap with the right skills an hour or two, or less,” Shatzkin says. “Even creating a pretty full-functioned website would take much less than a day.”

Is anyone doing it right? Of course, yes: Amazon, who a decade ago “built their publishing operations with an extremely author-friendly strategy,” Shatzkin says. As a former Amazon employee told him, “Amazon saw the author relationship as a ‘white space’—a meaningful opportunity to provide something missing from the current ecosystem. . . . They saw an area where they could gain competitive advantage.”

Read the full column here.

Amazon could become our leading physical retailer before very long

March 21, 2017

The retail scene in midtown Manhattan is changing, says Shatzkin, who’s lived there for forty-five years. “The number of empty storefronts in my neighborhood is staggering; there are one or two or more on just about every block.” What’s also staggering is the number of packages piling up on people’s doorsteps, most of which carry that ubiquitous Amazon logo.

But Amazon isn’t content to sell you the goods online. They want you to shop at their brick-and-mortar bookstores and at temporary pop-up stores, now springing up in malls to sell you Amazon-branded hardware. They’re also experimenting with Amazon Go, a fully-automated grocery store.

“Amazon brings an unprecedented set of capabilities to build out store-level retail at exactly the time that their brick-and-mortar competitors are all challenged,” Shatzkin says. “What could they do next, or try to do next? Just about anything you can imagine.”

Read the full column here.

Agency pricing didn’t restrain Amazon; it strengthened them

February 1, 2017

Shatzkin discusses “Data Guy’s” keynote presentation at the Digital Book World 2017 conference, which gave a comprehensive look at book sales from 2015 to 2016 across all formats. The not-too surprising result: Amazon came out on top.

Maybe it’s not surprising for the general observer, who sees Amazon taking over the world, but more so for industry insiders who read the weekly trade news. “There seems to be a strong consensus that the ebook share is leveling off or diminishing as opposed to print,” Shatzkin says. “And there is an enthusiasm about what is characterized as a vibrant and growing independent sector.”

However, there’s more to the story, and Data Guy has done independent research into the numbers beyond BookScan and PubTrack, the book sales tracking services owned by Nielsen. Data Guy came to a sobering conclusion: the strategy of forcing Amazon to stop deeply discounting their ebooks and accept agency pricing isn’t working. “In fact,” Shatzkin says, “it is making it more difficult for them.”

Read the full column here, and consider adding The Shatzkin Files to your inbox.

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