September 17, 2019

African American online bookstore cuts ties with Amazon


As we’ve discussed here and here, tensions between publishers and Amazon have recently come to a head over the issue of Amazon’s new “captions” feature for audio books (which one might think of as not so much a “caption to an audiobook” but rather simply as a “book,” in a manner of speaking—or at least that’s what lawyers for Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Random House contend).

The latest in push-backs against the massive online retailer is the African American Literature Book Club severing ties as an affiliate—meaning it will no longer offer an “Amazon” button for buyers who find books on their website, unless the book is being exclusively published in Amazon’s Kindle e-book format.

The AALBC, which describes itself as the “oldest, largest, and most popular online bookstore dedicated to African American literature and Black Literature from around the world,” has had an affiliate relationship with Amazon for 18 years.

Publisher’s Weekly caught up with AALBC founder, Troy Johnson, to discuss this decision, which was also covered in a blog post on the AALBC’s site.

Johnson cited concerns that everyone felt “compelled” to exclusively use the Amazon option to buy books (they also offer options to buy with B&N and other big retail platforms), but the straw that broke the camel’s back was the decline in Amazon’s affiliate referral commission.

Whereas websites once got an 8% commission for referring a buyer to Amazon in 2009, Amazon now lists its standard commission rate for physical books as 4.5% on its website.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon is responsible for somewhere around 42% of all physical book sales in the US. Meanwhile, books account for around 7% of Amazon’s annual revenue according to Forbes.

So, um, you do the math there… Publishers and book-sellers have a lot running on Amazon, and Amazon has not 10 or 9 or 8, but 7% running on book sales.

A tremendous amount of solidarity would be necessary to start easing the “monopolistic control” Amazon holds over the publishing industry, as Johnson succinctly put it in his blog post. But if there is somewhere to start, this would probably be it.

Is Amazon hurting because one online book club/store/community has withdrawn its affiliation? No. Does that mean that we shouldn’t fight with what we’ve got? Absolutely not.



Athena Bryan is an editor at Melville House.