This week’s question intrigues me because although we’re talking about the major tech companies, the question includes asking what consumer choices would need to change, not what business choices would need to change. I can’t help but focus my answer to this question on the latter, specifically from a small press perspective.
I talked a little bit about what the death of Amazon would mean to small publishers in a reply to Trenton’s comment on Andre Staltz’s article “The Web Began Dying in 2014: Here’s How,” but I’ll expand my thinking now.
Assuming the death of Amazon would result in more people buying books at their local bookstores—chain or independent—it would also likely mean the rise of small publishers. It is easy to see how the death of Amazon would result in the rise of independent bookstores, because the need for local, physical bookstores would increase if Amazon didn’t exist, but I’m going to focus on how this change could have a positive impact for small publishers.
Amazon began as an online book retailer. They were able to game the system to offer books for cheap delivered right to your door, and consumers loved it. As Amazon grew, it became more and more convenient for publishers of all sizes to sell their books on Amazon. Many small publishers that are producing good books (I’m thinking of presses such as Bundoran, Tyche, and Undertow) aren’t able to sell their books in the chain stores like Chapters because they aren’t big enough to be able to afford the discounts they demand or to go through a traditional distributor like Raincoast. These publishers have to sell their books in other avenues, such as at local independent stores and at conventions and conferences. As I’m sure you can imagine, selling books this way makes it hard to bring in enough income to survive.
When print on demand companies started rising up, small publishers took advantage of the convenient printing options and the direct to Amazon (and other online retailers) options they provided—I talk more about this in an essay for John’s class. This allowed small publishers to have an online presence more so than they could with just their own website—as we unfortunately know, the average reader / consumer does not pay attention to who the publisher is for a book and is unlikely to buy books directly from a publisher’s website. Unfortunately, this did not necessarily result in more sales as, similar to the situation in large chain stores, it was difficult for small publishers to gain visibility among the mass numbers of books available on Amazon. There are ways to trick Amazon’s algorithms into showing your books at the top of search results (you can read a few of these tricks in Alexis Roumanis’ MPub project report), but it requires constant attention and the algorithms constantly change.
Thus, it is safe to say that, for small publishers, most sales happen when they are present at events, festivals, and conferences selling their books, and at their local independent bookstores because they do not have the infrastructure to spend a lot of time tricking Amazon results or to have the finances to buy visibility in either a chain store or Amazon. Small publishers depend a lot on sales at their local independent bookstores, and these bookstores are slowly dying because of the large chain stores and, especially, Amazon.
With the death of Amazon, independent bookstores will be able to thrive and expand, which would very likely result in books from small publishers becoming more visible and available to the average reader. More visibility ultimately leads to higher sales, as long as the product is good.
In conclusion, as much as I, as a consumer, love the convenience of Amazon, I can’t help but secretly wish and wonder what a world without Amazon would be like.