November 3, 2011

Amazon struggles to succeed in print publishing


Publishers are concerned about Amazon’s latest foray into book publishing, but Laura Hazard Owen, in this enlightening article at PaidContent.Org, shows that so far Amazon has struggled to crack the print book market, and has had few print successes out of the 149 titles it has published so far. Owen found Nielsen BookScan numbers for 111 Amazon titles, and discovered that 89 had sold fewer than 1,000 print copies (BookScan records roughly 75% of sales). The two notable exceptions were (1) The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch, whose paperback rights were bought by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and featured prominently at Costco, and (2) Poke the Box by Seth Godin, part of Godin’s Domino Project imprint. The success of Godin’s book is primarily a result of the Domino Project’s own efforts, which he describes as “99.7 percent independent” of Amazon.  ”Most of what people think of as marketing has been done by us,” Godin says. He cites the Domino Project blog and the independent marketing company BzzAgent as primary reasons for the book’s success.

Amazon appears to be having trouble getting their titles into bookstores, with Barnes and Noble explicitly refusing to take Amazon imprint titles since they are not available for the Nook. A lack of representation for the Amazon titles also appear to be a problem. Otto Penzler, owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, reports that no Amazon reps have sought to contact him about their mystery books. Though, he adds he would be ”reluctant to support them by carrying their books [because] they want me out of business, the same as every other traditional bookshop.”

None of this takes into account the Kindle sales of the titles, which may be considerable as Kindle sales figures are not reported. Using the rough yardstick of Amazon’s own Kindle bestselling list, Owen notes that 20% of the Amazon eBooks do land on the list, though these sales are driven in part by the extreme discounting of the books, which sell at an average of $2.77.

In short, while Amazon can successfully sell Kindle eBooks at discounted prices via their website, they appear to be having difficulty selling print books in most outlets, including their own website. And as Owen points out “print still makes up at least 80 percent of trade book sales” and that the single most common way for readers to learn about mid-list titles and authors is by browsing at physical bookstores.

Whether Amazon’s new publishing efforts will resolve these issues remains to be seen.