Posted by: Jeanie F | December 1, 2010

Books After Amazon from The Boston Review

Are you one of those readers who posts terrible “reviews” of books on to protest a book price higher than the originally-promised $9.99? A month or so ago I posted a blog about those protests titled “Kindle Readers Skew Book Ratings,” suggesting that these protests were unfair to authors, who have no control over the price that Amazon charges. I reported that, as a result of a lawsuit, publishers have more leverage in setting the price for e-books, and that disgruntled e-book readers should protest to the publisher.

My bad.

The new Boston Review has published a detailed article by Onnesha Roychoudhuri explaining the chokehold that now has over the publishing industry. This article presents a clear and complete picture of how – as well as big-box booksellers – have impacted the publishing industry. While lengthy, the article is well worth the time to read it.

However, if you are short on time, here are the main points:

  • With approximately 75% of all e-book purchases in the US made on, the online seller is in a unique position “to control the e-book market and thereby the future of the publishing industry.”
  • uses a variety of strong-arm tactics against publishers that won’t play ball with its pricing demands, including (but not limited to): refusing to sell their books at a discount, turning off search options to publisher’s books, and removing “buy” buttons.
  • The books that readers see as “Recommended for You” on are paid promotions, which inhibit the exposure that publishers – and authors – get for “small” books. Roychoudhuri explains that “this is frustrating for publishers who want their books to be sold on their merits.”
  • set the original $9.99 rate without consulting publishers. Roychoudhuri explains the cost of publishing a new title:
  • “The sale of a twenty-dollar hardcover nets a large publisher about ten dollars. Royalties run the publisher about three dollars, and the costs of printing, binding, and paper are a further two dollars (more for low-volume titles). Take $1.20 for distribution, two dollars for marketing, and that leaves a publisher with roughly $1.80 to cover rent, editing, and any other costs. A smaller publisher might keep closer to a dollar per book.”

The bottom line is that, unless publishers push back, eventually this is going to deeply impact who and what gets published and sold. I make no secret of the fact that I love my Kindle as ONE of my reading options, and I believe that price is an important consideration for all readers. More affordable books means more people can buy and read them. Nevertheless, the people involved in writing and publishing those books need to make a fair living. If no one but the huge publishers and most popular authors are able to compete, we will find our reading choices severely curtailed.

Do we really want a retailer such as to be making our literary decisions for us?


  1. Just a quick correction. You left out an important word in the estimate of Amazon’s dominance of the book market. According to the Boston Review article Amzon accounts for 75% of online book sales and you left out the word “online”. Still that is a very big share of overall sales and a dominance of e-book sales so I think you point is still well-taken.


    • Thanks for pointing this out. I’ll make the change in my post…that is a significant point!

  2. Thanks for this interesting post! I will not buy a Kindle because it’s restricting me to Amazon. Also, did I read correctly (somewhere else) that you can’t view ePubs on Kindle?

    I’m glad there are some online retailers that can form some competition against Amazon, like Book Depository. For book bloggers (especially when it comes to giveaways) Book Depository is a winner. Now, I don’t know if they use the same dirty tricks as Amazon, but until I know any better, they are my preferred online book retailer.

    • Amazon has a corner on the market because, so far, no one can compete with the number of titles available electronically – and as far as I’m concerned, none of the other e-readers are as good as Kindle. Still, it IS disturbing to hear about their shenanigans!

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