Amazon Books: Infiltrating the Heart of the Industry

A little over a year ago, Jess talked with you guys about Amazon moving into their own space—the beginning of the online empire’s physical reign over the bookselling industry. Initially opening in Seattle, Amazon Books was (supposedly) intended to give book-buyers a more traditional experience, compared to books showing up in boxes on your doorstep after two-day shipping. (Don’t get me wrong: I love getting books as much as the next person, but buying them at a bookstore is much more satisfying than opening a package.)


Even so, Jess had some initial speculation about the whole ordeal. The store was a mix of books and tech, fairly flashy, and the books on the shelves featured a convenient five-star review—without a price. The place was designed to redirect customers to the Amazon app, all while showing off their other products alongside the books. A year ago, it was too early to tell whether the empire was trying to do something good and keep bookstores alive or trying to knock-out independent owners and enhance their own business.


Fast forward to May 2017, and Amazon has opened a new brick-and-mortar store in the heart of the publishing industry: New York City. The location sits “just a few blocks from Penguin Random House, and walking distance from Simon & Schuster and Hachette’s Midtown headquarters”—the seventh location to open since the initial Amazon Books opened in March 2016, with no intention of slowing down. Amazon plans to open another location on 34th street later this summer, with hopes to open another six by the end of 2017. The domination, while frustrating, isn’t unusual when we consider the footprints Amazon has left in the publishing and bookselling industries.


With the release of the Kindle in 2007, Amazon was at the center of the e-book and self-publishing boom. They bought Audible and Goodreads and even opened their own publishing company (which apparently now has nine imprints). Recently, Amazon released Amazon Charts, their own attempt at creating a bestseller list that includes e-books and books that are streamed on Audible. And while the supposed intent is to give notice to books that wouldn’t appear on other typical bestseller lists, it all seems a little fishy. According to SFGate, “the inaugural Amazon Charts list for most-sold fiction features five books from Amazon Publishing, out of 20 on the list.”


Five isn’t too bad, I guess. It’s one-quarter of what’s on the list, and it’s right at the line of “these books are probably good” and “Amazon is just touting their own company’s books for sales.” Shortly before the opening of the NYC location, Publisher’s Weekly dove into the details of Amazon Charts and Amazon Publishing, comparing them to other bestseller lists and bringing things to light that add on to all this fishy-business.


“Because Amazon Charts tracks sales of all book formats sold via the retailer’s various platforms, titles from Amazon Publishing rank higher than elsewhere … No title from an Amazon imprint was among the top 20 bestsellers on PW’s adult bestseller list for the same week. The PW list, which is powered by NPD BookScan, does not include sales of digital editions of books since BookScan doesn’t collect e-book figures,” wrote Jim Millot with Publisher’s Weekly. “The New York Times recently launched a combined print & e-book bestseller list, but the latest iteration of this [list] (for the week ended May 21, which will appear in the June 4 edition of the paper) also had no Amazon titles among the top 15 fiction bestsellers for the week.”


Millot goes on to note that Amazon has “long expressed frustration that more of the titles it publishes through its imprints do not appear on national bestseller lists” and that four of the titles that appeared on Amazon’s fiction list for the aforementioned week fared poorly on BookScan—and they all came from Amazon’s publishing company. Amazon Chart’s #4 bestseller title sold 1,169 copies; the #9 title sold 245 copies; the #13 title sold only 102 copies; and the #14 title sold only 49 copies (according to BookScan).


Now, this may just be my opinion, but 49 copies doesn’t seem like a bestseller to me, regardless of what publishing company the book came from. It does seem, however, that Amazon Charts is really just Amazon’s way of touting the books that come from their own publishing imprints, and I doubt they expected Publisher’s Weekly to actually look into the statistics of their books. While I do understand that Amazon wants more visibility for their titles, it would have been more respectable if they’d created an “Amazon bestseller list,” featuring only products from their imprints. If they had created a list like that, instead of a supposedly unedited one that includes some of their imprints’ books that really aren’t faring too well, they would have gotten a different reaction.


Amazon is large enough that a list showing off only their books would do well among consumers—and it would allow buyers to see what’s selling well from Amazon’s company. That being said, with Amazon’s direction of expansion, I’m hesitant to buy any books from them. I love the independent bookstores in Burlington (shoutout to Phoenix and Crow) and the only chain I tend to go to is Barnes & Noble. I’d rather give my business to a bookstore that deserves it, rather than one that seems to only be interested in showing off their own books and electronics.


That being said, I’m interested to see whether the other six locations open by the end of the year or whether this all comes crashing down because the company is moving a bit too fast. It’s Amazon, though, and it isn’t likely that they’ll slow down any time soon.