Thinking Out Loud

August 20, 2019

In the Future, Amazon Will Control Much of What Christian Publishers Release

This article appeared today on one of our sister blogs, Christian Book Shop Talk, written for Christian bookstore owners, managers and sales associates.

An article released Friday by Canada’s Tim Challies on the influence that Amazon now has on the Christian publishing market has been making the rounds, and I wanted to wait a few days before responding. You can find The Power Over Christian Publishing We’ve Given To Amazon by clicking this link.

He begins dramatically,

A few days from now, or maybe a few months, or even a year, Amazon will pull a book from its site. One day it will be there available for purchase with all the rest, and the next it will be gone. One day people will be able to order it and have it shipped to their homes, and the next day it will have ceased to exist, at least as far as Amazon is concerned. This will inevitably be a book that Christians have embraced as orthodox but that the culture has rejected as heretical…

We’ve seen some of this happen already (especially with respect to Amazon pulling titles) so it isn’t prophetic. He then sets the stage defining the challenge for the future:

…[W]e inadvertently handed Amazon a near-monopoly over the sale of Christian books. We did this with the good-faith assumption that they would continue to sell whatever we published. But times have changed and are changing and it seems increasingly unlikely that Amazon will continue to sell it all. It seems increasingly likely that they will cede to cultural pressure—pressure that exists both within and outside of the company—and begin to cull their offerings. And then what? It’s not like these books cannot be sold by the Christian retailers that remain. But will publishers even be willing or able to publish them if they cannot be sold at the world’s biggest marketplace? Will you and I even be able to find out about them if Amazon isn’t recommending them to us? And will we be willing to pay a premium to have them shipped to us from smaller retailers with higher prices and no ability to offer free shipping?…

In a way, this is nothing new. Spin the search engine wheel and you’ll find many articles from the past accusing Christian publishers of only selling things that will do well at Family Christian Stores or LifeWay, and being extra cautious with progressive writers. But now FCS is gone, and LifeWay is phasing out its physical presence in America’s cities and towns.

Why should a publisher print something which retail won’t carry? Historically, that’s been a challenge, but now that in many parts of North America there is no retail (in the traditional sense) indie-published books compete with those from the larger, established publishing houses. The online behemoth is in many respects now calling the shots. Brick and mortar retail stores don’t matter as they once did; we’ve lost our influence.

What is new is the people to whom that power has been ceded. While dealing with a different aspect of this, Tim Challies correctly notes that,

Amazon is hardly a company founded by Christians or run according to Christian principles. To the contrary, it is a company founded by worldly people and run according to worldly principles.

And beyond the social issues Tim mentions, it bothers me that Amazon has no filters. A Jehovah’s Witness title, New Age title or an LDS title is just as likely to turn up in the search results as something from Baker, Zondervan or David C. Cook. Already, I’ve heard stories of people who unwittingly bought inappropriate books based on search engine results. This in and of itself highlights the value of Christian bookstore buyers and proprietors.

So what if those Christian publishers said to Amazon, “Since you now advertise as ‘the world’s largest bookstore,’ it would be nice if you would carry our titles exhaustively instead of selectively” or even dared to suggest that, “If you won’t carry everything, we won’t sell you anything at all.” If A-zon called their bluff on that, it would be devastating both to authors and consumers, since if a book’s A-zon listing doesn’t appear in search results, the book, for all intents and purposes, ceases to exist.

Again, to read the article at challies.com, click this link.

 

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3 Comments »

  1. Is self-publishing a better option then? Or can we rely solely on Christian bookstores and publishers? Thanks for sharing. I want to publish a book in the future and I think it would be very great be strategic at the approach by that time. :)

    Comment by gilian — August 20, 2019 @ 3:53 pm

    • One of the best options available right now is Word Alive Publishing out of Winnipeg, Canada. They offer the best of both worlds. I would be cautious about trying to do it on your own.

      For some good background, check out the archives at Steve Laube’s blog. He’s a Christian literary agent. Also a blog called Marketing Christian Books. Both are linked at Christian Book Shop Talk.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — August 20, 2019 @ 5:54 pm

      • Thanks for the tips. I’d really like to have a guide especially for first time publishing. Thank you for the sites/people you’ve mentioned. I’ll check them out.

        Comment by gilian — August 20, 2019 @ 5:58 pm


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