“We have been kinder to Amazon in this newsletter than other potential monopolies, aware that they are – among other things – a highly efficient business. But there comes a point where we have to wonder,” or so I began the from page article in Open Markets Outlook, the free Radix newsletter about monopoly power.
“For example, this Christmas in the UK, independent bookshops trying to get hold of copies of the top 20-25 UK bestsellers, to satisfy local demand, have found that they can’t. It appears that Amazon has bought up the lot, preventing their small independent competitors from providing them when they are ordered.”
This is how I went on:
“They are able to do this because of their extraordinary market power and because, if they are not sold, they can simply be returned in the New Year. The publishers are apparently too stupid to realise what is going on and they have meekly handed over their stock. Macmillan is, we understand, the only publisher with the sense to hold anything back.”
That was the situation last Christmas. This time we will have no Open Markets Outlook to report it – becuase Matt Stoller’s newsletter Big is bound to be a deeper read – but I understand that the big publishers are now following suit.
My wife works in a wonderful bookshop here in Sussex, and yesterdayafternoon, Penguin was in – explaining that, because of the unreliable paper stocks, they have decided to prioritise the demand from Amazon and Tesco – so the shop may not get any copies of the top bestselling paperbacks in time for Christmas.
I understand this is also true of HarperCollins, which means the two of the UK’s biggest publishers are opting out of the real bookseller market in the UK this winter.
This could be good news for small publishers (like mine, the Real Press), but – overall – it is bad for local economies, which makes it bad for everyone.
In fact, I would suggest that HarperCollins and Penguin have both backed the wrong horse. They will be paid very much less for the books than they would be paid by bricks and mortar high street bookshops. Which in turn will mean that and their authors will earn less – which will ultimately reduce choice.
Worse, every small bookshop that now goes under will increase the stranglehold Amazon and the big supermarkets have over the top publishers.
It is another reason why we should buy exclusively from small bookshops and publishers in the run-up to Christmas. And if you have to buy online – from a store not from a publishing house direct – them the answer, we believe, is the advent of an online bookseller with a mission – bookshop.org – which provides 30 per cent of the sale price to local bookshops. Or hive.co.uk.