May 23, 2012

Is selling direct the best way to fight Amazon?


In a Publishers Weekly opinion essay, indie publisher John Oakes of OR Books argues that publishers can best fight Amazon by cutting them out of the equation entirely and selling books direct to their customers. Oakes thinks battling with Amazon over terms of sale, as they are doing now, “is a match that publishers are likely to lose—consumers like getting books for less money.”

Instead, Oaks recommends other publishers take up the model he has developed with Colin Robinson at OR, that is, to start selling online to a small group of interested customers and then, once there is buzz about a book, get it into the stores that are most likely to sell it. The model hasn’t prevented the company from making inroads into traditional stores, according to Oakes:

By creating a buzz around a book online and fostering online communities of readers around each book, we create a small but reliable in-store demand as well. And we’ve found that increasingly stores are open to buying on a prepaid, nonreturnable basis; we give them a flat 50% discount, not dithering over a percentage point here or there. Stores order a smaller amount than they would under the old “order now, pay later” system, but they sell what they take in stock, and reorder…. The result is a good one for this publisher, for consumers, and for participating stores as well: they no longer sacrifice valuable shelf space to inventory that doesn’t sell. This model seems workable, and we look to see more publishers, consumers, and stores joining us. Amazon is not the last word in bookselling.


Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.