Toward the end of last week, Clay Shirky posted “Amazon, Publishers, and Readers“, an essay on Medium. In it, he argues that the interests of readers are served when Amazon does what it does best (and, outside of its dispute with Hachette, what it does normally).
As members of the publishing community, we’ve spent the better part of the last year reading impassioned calls to take sides, choosing either traditional publishing and all that it represents, or Amazon, again with all that it embodies. I’ve tried to walk down the middle of the road, most notably in “More fights about terms“, a post I published last month. In it, I argued:
If you don’t like the terms, though, you’d best be developing alternatives. In supporting Amazon’s proprietary file formats, publishers helped create the eBook dominance they now regret.
While the jury is still out on whether that dominance can be challenged, the verdict is in on what happens to publishers, wholesalers and retailers who argue about terms to solve a business model problem. Check out this year’s collapse of single-copy sales of magazines when Time Inc. and Source Interlink reached an impasse and Source Interlink closed up shop.
In his Medium essay, Shirky describes what Amazon does best – making the largest selection of books available to the widest possible audience – and uses it to push publishers in a new direction:
The traditional industry belief — if you don’t live in a big city and have a lot of money, you deserve second-class access to books — is being challenged by a company trying to say “If you have ten bucks, there’s not a book in the world you can’t read.” If the current industry can’t keep their prices high while competing with instant distribution of a vastly expanded literature — and that seems to be their only assertion worth taking at face value — then it’s time for them to figure out how to make a business out of improved access. They can drop DRM, sell ebooks directly to readers, add or improve their subscription services, offer print-on-demand—any strategy, really, except continuing to insist that readers must accept high prices and restricted access.
Shirky’s arguments have started to garner attention within the academy, with immediate pushback contending that Shirky got his facts wrong. While I’m hard-pressed to find errors of fact in his work, I think those arguments sidestep Shirky’s core point: any strategy that forces readers to accept high prices and limited access will fail.
The roles that publishers once played as gatekeepers, as arbiters and as “repositories of culture” are diminishing by the week. That’s happening partly through Amazon, but it’s also happening outside it. For a reality check, talk to the people who write and read on Wattpad.
Shirky’s arguments are uncomfortable, sometimes personally so, and they don’t sit well inside companies that sell millions of dollars of books every year. That’s a pretty good set of reasons to take them seriously.
More than that, he’s not saying very much that you haven’t heard before, from the likes of Kirk Biglione, or Hugh McGuire, or John Maxwell, or Richard Nash or Baldur Bjarnason, to name a few members of the loyal opposition. These aren’t folks who want to destroy publishing. They started out hoping to save it, although the cold shoulder we’ve all received in the last seven years has left many of us thinking there must be a better way to earn a living.
I’ve spent several years writing about what publishers can do and how they can adapt to compete in this altered environment. It’s not clear how much of a difference my work has made. But here’s why publishers should listen to Clay Shirky: if he’s right, they aren’t going to get too many more bites at the apple.
21 thoughts on “Why Publishers Should Listen to Clay Shirky”
Shirkey’s wrong on almost every count. Read Mike Shatzkin’s blog for the ultimate dissection of his wrongness.
As I had a chance to include in the post, I found that much of what Shirky is arguing has been raised by others, in some cases for a long while. Kirk Biglione, for example, warned publishers in 2007 of the risks of platform lock-in when they agreed to a proprietary file format for Kindle eBooks. Kassia Krozser wrote a number of posts and gave an equal number of talks in 2008 and 2009 lamenting the then-common practice of eBook windowing as a way to “protect” hard-copy sales. Both Richard Nash and I have talked at length about the end of scarcity as an opportunity for publishers.I could add to the list (check out the links for the folks I’ve named in the post for some more examples), but my point is simply this: the loyal opposition, the folks who want book publishers to succeed, have been saying the things you seem to think are wrong for a long time. Just search the archives here for topics like DRM and piracy to get a sense of how far back I go with a somewhat contrarian view.Shirky is not a member of the loyal opposition, and (as I say in the post) his writing can grate. I don’t think he’s wrong about a desire to maintain scarcity and high prices. Like Shirky, I don’t believe that strategy will work, any more. I’d have hoped that publishers might have cottoned to my 2011 talk, “The opportunity in abundance”, but (as I wrote last month), they haven’t. No hard feelings, but maybe Clay Shirky’s less-than-loyal opposition will help get the message across.
It seems to me that Mike Shatzkin sort of embodies a variety of “rightness” that is defined by the traditional industry. From within that frame of reference, Shatzkin is on the money almost every time. His take-down of Shirky is so confident, so positive, so self-evidently correct, because he is talking from within that frame. But increasingly, a world exists outside that frame, and out there, Shatzkin’s points don’t make nearly such self-evident sense—witness the comments thread that follows his recent post. Shirky is outside that frame, as are a lot of the very smart people who have been applauding Shirky in recent days. What we have here is a clash of cultures, or even paradigms, in the Thomas Kuhn sense. These are arguments that can’t be won on their own merits; only time and tide will prove which side prevails. I applaud Brian’s continued efforts to keep his eye on that difference, and to remind us all that there’s another view.
PS I guess that “keeping an eye on that difference” and trying to see both sides of it is what Brian means by the “loyal opposition”. If so, count me in.
Brian, you are one of my favorite observers of the publishing ecosystem. Your insight always makes me think… in a good way. But in the piece above, you write this:“The roles that publishers once played as gatekeepers, as arbiters and as “repositories of culture” are diminishing by the week.”Where’s the evidence of this? By most measures overall book sales are flat, and trade sales in particular are coming off back to back strong years. Books from traditional publishers still fuel not only bestseller lists, but they fuel film and television properties in a massive way. (Just look at the fuss being made over the film adaption of The Maze Runner opening soon.)Yes, digital has changed a lot and e-books have become an important format, but they are dominating a single category and the revenue from that format is still accruing to those very same publishers.I disagree with the premise that this is a fight about scarcity and high prices; it’s is a fight about the right to control the distribution of one’s own product. It’s also about the danger to the culture of grossly devaluing books and literature. (And yes, I’ll use the term books in lieu of content because it still has, IMHO, cultural, and I would say, iconic, value.)For most of the twenty years I worked at the ABA, every week there was another story about the death of indie bookstores. Indies took it on the chin in the 90s and early 00s to be sure, but they’re still here, and now they’re thriving.Now it seems that every week there’s a story about the death of publishing. Yet the major publishers don’t seem to be going anywhere.You include an august list of people I deeply respect (“the loyal opposition”)—as I deeply respect you—and I’m glad that crew is out there watching and commenting. But you also note that this group wanted to “save publishing.” Perhaps publishing doesn’t actually need saving?Just my two cents…
There isn’t a right nor wrong in this argument. What I believe, for better or for worse (and I am admitting guilt up front), is that so many people who are in this industry are also so close to the industry that they are missing the forest.Shirky’s comment “If you don’t like the terms, though, you’d best be developing alternatives” speaks to my frustration. Amazon sent its first press release on 10/4/1995. Rounding, we’ve been seeing Amazon on the boogeyman for 20 years.The DRM lock-in that came with the Kindle was embraced by publishers. People like me are pretty much tied to Amazon because there isn’t an alternative. The thought of transitioning of my massive digital library to another format gives me hives.But what, I ask, is the traditional publishing industry offering as an alternative? How are they making what I have with Amazon less attractive? I don’t particularly like being beholden to a single retailer (and I’ve found trying to spread my dollars around results in overall frustration to me as a reader), but ain’t nobody offering me a way out.The truth is the reading culture is changing. Brian’s comment about the diminishing role of publishers as arbiters of culture is both apt and possibly a reflection of our society. I don’t mean this in a good way, but I also think publishing culture in many ways is elitist; it doesn’t acknowledge how few “good” books are really sold and/or read. The books we see as influential, the ideas we see as influential, the lessons we see as influential, they’re largely bypassing what I’d call the real society.This is why I disagree with Len’s comment (and Len knows i think he’s awesome!) about our culture devaluing books. The publishing industry does this all by itself. Some books are amazing. Some books are given tender loving care. Some books even get fact-checked. Heck, they even get proofread.But are these books reaching people in a way that truly influences how they think? I can only offer my own experiences: while my publishing friends are agog over the National Book Awards nominees tonight, the people I interact with every day are chiding me because I have *just* started reading the fantasy novel, the first book of the final trilogy of trilogies, they all finished three weeks ago.
I want to adopt John Maxwell’s statement, because it captures the issue so perfectly:
“..increasingly, a world exists outside [the publishers’] frame, and out there, Shatzkin’s points don’t make nearly such self-evident sense—witness the comments thread that follows his recent post.”
omg this, as the immernet kids say.
Mike and I are continuing the conversation on his blog, but the core of our disagreement isn’t about our differing views of when ebooks became important or how DRM works. The core of our disagreement is about the publishers’ worldview.
In Mike’s world, the Kindle’s licensing model is something that happened to the publishers, rather than something they did with their eyes open and now don’t like. In Mike’s world, their collusion to raise prices is a burden a grateful nation should be willing to bear, rather than a Federal crime.
This is what gives his writing the curiously hermetic quality—it’s frame of reference, as John notes, is *entirely within a world of assumed privilege.* The publishers don’t want someone to help them compete with Amazon. They want Amazon to stop being a competitor. And since this is what they want, that goal must be the right one. If publishers are blameless victims (an axiomatic view among the Big 5), then coordinated raising of prices can’t be a crime, by definition.
From Mike’s point of view, if he can provide people like Deborah Smith an excuse to dismiss my views, he has won. This is a low bar. People who believe that the current publishing model should not be affected by interlopers are always looking for an excuse for believing that the readers do not—and must never—have any effect on publishing other than ‘hardback now or paperback later’.
Yet it is the customers’ views that matter—here is where John Maxwell nails it—because even if 100% of the senior executives agree that Amazon is a terrible no good very bad thing, it won’t change the underlying threat they face.
Remember when the recording industry killed Napster less than 2 years after it started? Despite that victory, which was both swift and total, they lost control of the legal distribution of music to Apple and Lat.fm and Pandora and Spotify, because 100 million people had decided, at more or less the same time, that buying 14 songs at a time just to get access to 3 good ones was stupid, and no one could convince them, even with Napster in its grave, that they should keep paying $17.99 for those few songs.
So today. If you step outside the publishers’ preferred frame of reference, things look awfully different. Imagine an average reader of murder mysteries, say, reading my piece and Mike’s side by side. Do you really think such a person would be persuaded that the publishers conspiring to raise the price she pays for an ebook is hunky dory? That ebooks have to be expensive so that people with more money than she has will keep buying hardbacks?
When you read views like mine—and I am considerably more pessimistic about the ability of the current publishers to transition to digital distribution—don’t ask yourself “What do the good people of Simon and Schuster think of this?”, because the money they live off of isn’t their money. Instead, ask yourself “What do readers think of this?” To John’s point, when you drop the frame of “The publishers must remain in charge” and switch to “The readers control 100% of the revenues for trade books, and someone is trying to offer them a better deal”, arguments like Mike’s look considerably less convincing.
I tend to think we’re in the equivalent of the 2006-07 range of the newspaper industry right now. There’s still lots of revenue flowing to the established industry, still profits being made in many quarters but there’s red flags all over the place that people entrenched in that worldview simply do not want to see. And they won’t until print losses start mounting in ways that can’t be ignored. I’m certain it’s coming in the next 7 or 8 years.I’ve long been of the opinion that’s it’s not Amazon or Apple or Spotify or Pandora or Google or Wattpad or any of these tech companies that have changed consumer behavior. They are all, to one degree or another, responding to that behavior shift. When your business model depends on fighting against a shift in customers behavior and desires, you’re toast, especially when there are others who are servicing those desires. I think the most damning indictment of the old guard is this pervasive belief that books are “different”, that they’re not consumer goods and should rightfully exist outside of the normal commercial pressures of other industries. That’s a path of self delusion, to resisting the changes in what their customers want and will ultimately destroy them.
I’ve been thinking about Len’s observations, and I wanted to add a couple of thoughts. Book publishing’s share of the conversation – the extent to which it continues to function as a “repository of culture” – has both a numerator and a denominator. It’s true that the numerator has been roughly flat for some time, with gains and losses in various types of books. What I see is a shifting denominator, one that isn’t fully captured by the way that the book business looks at the book business. I’d offer two observations: The projection of the size of the book business maintained by traditional publishing is an estimate obtained by extrapolating the traditional model. It doesn’t exclude self-published works, explicitly, but the model has no way to reliably capture growth outside the core. There is (endless) debate about whether the dark matter of new channels is significant or a rounding error, but that debate is informed by numbers that are little better than back-of-the envelope calculations. Beyond that, we have yet to capture the value of new platforms (Wattpad was used above) that exist wholly outside the traditional model. Other commenters have made the point about missing the forest, and I think that captures the lack of appreciation for what these new options represent. Taken together, these observations lead me to claim that the influence once held by traditional publishing is diminishing. As for “saving” publishing, I am guilty (again) of rhetoric. I’ll dial it back and be more specific. Here’s an example of what I meant: In last week’s post, Clay Shirky rightly points out that agreeing to the .azw format gave Amazon both a club and the license to beat publishers over the head with it. When Amazon’s use of proprietary formats was announced, Kirk Biglione warned publishers in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 that they were making a bad mistake whose precedents in other industries clearly showed that the decision to use a platform-specific form of DRM would shift power from the provider to the distributor. Influenced by Kirk, I took up a similar call in 2009 through 2012. The theme came up in every major talk I gave, as well as in my other writings and in conversations with clients and potential clients. Agreeing to the .azw format was a mistake of immense proportions, and it is perhaps the single biggest reason that Amazon now controls the overwhelming share of the digital book market. Eventually Kirk stopped talking about it, and for the most part, I have too. I could come up with more examples, but I think this one tells the story plainly enough. As Shirky points out, today the publishing business would like relief from Amazon. Seven years ago, there were people offering a blueprint to do just that. Publishers were so worried about an imagined threat of piracy that they agreed to give Amazon an exclusive. The knock against Clay Shirky is that he doesn’t understand the book business, but the people running these houses in 2007 made decisions that suggest that they didn’t understand it either.
I’ve found the publishing industry supremely inhospitable to even debating important issues. The debate in publishing circles surrounding Clay Shirky’s piece depresses me. It echoes and rhymes with every debate I’ve been in personally and it demonstrates just how little has changed over the past ten years in the publishing industry. But, once I came to the same conclusion that John Maxwell did—that this is a paradigm shift in the Kuhnian sense—that lead me to the following conviction: debating this is pointless. You don’t change people’s world-views with dialogue. If you want change you have two options: 1. You wait until the believers in the old paradigm die, experience an apostasy, or become irrelevant. 2. You try and build things that don’t rely on them (i.e. work solely in the new paradigm) in ways that minimises the harm they can do to your work. It’d be wonderful if the field could debate itself into some sort of sensible middle ground—in fact, that’s what the publishing world view people think they are trying—but world views and paradigm shifts don’t have a middle ground. The publishing industry is stuck in the mythology that was invented when mass production took over publishing. Challenging that mythology is like challenging a religious fanatic: their response is to repeat themselves, just more loudly. @Dan Meadows: I think the most damning indictment of the old guard is this pervasive belief that books are “different”, that they’re not consumer goods and should rightfully exist outside of the normal commercial pressures of other industries. That’s a path of self delusion, to resisting the changes in what their customers want and will ultimately destroy them. Absolutely. And if you dare to broach the idea that, for some genres and niches, the web and apps are coming up with *superior*—more useful and more productive—forms of reading and writing than books/ebooks then you better be comfortable with blank, uncomprehending stares. You’ll be getting a lot of them. Also, if people think books should be protected from the normal commercial pressures of a media industry, then the logical path to take is to de-commercialise the industry entirely. Fund authorship with grants and make all books free digitally to readers. Which isn’t far off from what Norway, for example, is doing. If books are a special snowflake with a unique cultural importance, the last thing you should do is give exploitative multinational corporations legal protection from competition. Protecting literature that way is like trying to protect hamsters by wrapping them in bacon and tossing them into a pit of alligators.
There are many issues that divide here, but one that I can contribute to is the rate of decay of a media business once it has been digitized. Some suggest that there will be no decay: publishing is doing just fine, thank you. While others suggest that publishing is already hollow (how many shades, again?) and there are yet others who say publishing’s collapse will soon be upon us.The fact is that the business is doing quite well in the sense that it is not shrinking a la the music industry or even the film production business.But the industry hasn’t arrived at the distribution cliff yet. The cliff is that point along the way when distribution collapses. It happened to music, it happened to newspapers and magazines, and we’ve only begun to see it in book publishing. At some point, Barnes & Noble can no longer go it alone as a massive subsidiary of the existing publishers and it drops out. It doesn’t just shave itself down, it actually drops out. See Circuit City, Tower Records, and, of course, Borders. When it does, the indies actually pick up business, but not at sufficient scale to replace the economic role of a massive guarantor of distribution.The hard part has not been predicting if this will happen in books, it will. Instead, the challenge is knowing when it will occur and at what rate. If you’re looking for hope, the TV industry offers itself as an example of a stable media businesses largely because it has a massive distribution infrastructure that is very unlikely to collapse (namely the combination of broadcasters and cable companies, who are mutually committed to each other’s survival). As long as distribution holds, advertiser subsidies will be maintained, audiences will continue to watch.But as ESPN and HBO know, when TV distribution finally does sidestep these distributors in favor of new digital ones (including our old friend Amazon), they will have arrived at the cliff where old allegiances will no longer matter.How similar is the book business to TV? Not similar at all on the distribution side, making it ultimately more vulnerable, more akin to the music business. However, the content is also cheaper to produce than TV or even music, making the book business more flexible in how it approaches this upcoming transition.My personal belief is that publishers will survive, they just won’t look much like they did ten years ago—that’s easy, though, because it’s already true. But one thing they will never be able to do is claim victory over Amazon even if they manage to do some damage in the short run. Because Amazon has something nobody else does: massive distribution. To Shirky’s original point, Amazon’s control of distribution is not an intractable problem for publishers if they choose to tackle it starting today. Supporting alternative distribution methods, tools, and even models would be the one sure way to gain more control over distribution while still acknowledging the role Amazon will always have. It may not provide the moral victory so many of the publishers would like, but it will preserve the role of publishers, evolved though it will be.
The landscape for distribution is a primary concern included in “The opportunity in abundance”, a talk I gave in 2011. There, I described the impact on magazine publishers when Anderson News decided to shut down its single-copy business rather than continue under terms that publishers insisted on maintaining.In the post I wrote last month (excerpted in part here), I went back to those lessons and added what had happened to the magazine business when Source Interlink left the single-copy business earlier this year. These significant shifts cost publishers money in the near term, retail space in the near and mid-term and distribution flexibility in the long term.This is another component of what I mean when I talk about “saving” publishing. The supply chain as drawn for book publishing will not stay the same. Already, more than half of all retail sales take place online. No one knows the tipping point at which a significant share of bricks-and-mortar stores collapse, but it is likely to happen, as you point out. At that point, one can reasonably ask, “what value does a trade publisher provide?”I’m not of the mind that publishers provide no value. I’m hoping that they’ll ask themselves, “What if James McQuivey (or Clay Shirky) is right? What would it prompt us to do now, to be ready?”
Comparisons are made frequently between the music business and the publishing business. Worldwide music industry revenues dropped nearly in half from the late ‘90s, from $27b to $15b, bottoming out in 2011. In 2013 the US music industry was stable at $7 billion for the fourth consecutive year. Physical music sales comprised 35% of the total.I just checked the top 10 songs on the Billboard chart and noted the record labels behind them:Epic Records, a division of Sony Music EntertainmentBig Machine Records, distributed by Universal Music GroupUniversal Music GroupDef Jam, owned by Universal Music GroupLava Records, owned by Universal Music GroupCapitol Records, a wholly owned division of Universal Music GroupRepublic Records, a division of Universal Music GroupInterscope Records, a division of Universal Music GroupSony Music EntertainmentAtlantic Records, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Warner Music GroupThen I checked this week’s New York Times EBOOK-only bestseller list. All 10 titles are published by the big 5 New York publishers.I agree strongly with Clay Shirky’s arguments and their amplification here in the comments.It’s just that the power of large multinational corporations is not easily or quickly disrupted.
It’s a very good point. Though the list of music labels behind the top tracks obscures one very important fact: Nowhere on the list will you find EMI, Polygram, or BMG, all of which were part of what was called the “Big Six” back when the industry was at its peak in the late 90s. Now the three you list are called the “Big Three.” Even if the book publishers are still driving the majority of eBooks a decade from now, don’t be surprised if we refer to what’s left of them as the “Big Three,” especially given that we’re already down one in the wake of Penguin + Random House.
It seems to me that these discussions increasingly go nowhere. It would be more interesting to have a forum where those that have the ‘outsiders’ view could gather and build on ideas. Each time I see this conversation brought to the ‘insiders’ it just turns into a pointing and frothing match. It stops creative discussion. I’m kinda tired of it.
The AMZN-Hachette dispute crystallized for me the problem publishers really face: since Amazon owns a growing % of the relationships with readers (ebooks, but more importantly print), the only way publishing can avoid the inevitable crushing squeeze faced by a supplier with one dominant channel is to completely change their business. That’s really hard, especially when the money continues to flow.Amazon already controls the ebook business, with no real competitors (books are too small a business for Apple to care much; Google is hopeless, Kobo remains the “other” ebook company, even in Canada; somehow B&N/Nook manages to see revenues drop off a cliff in a growing market). Amazon is brilliant at making it easy for customers, and DRM means they’ve got lockin.The bigger problem for publishers isn’t ebooks, but print, where Amazon continues to gobble up share of the market … until, as James McQ points out above, B&N falls over, and then in the US market there is one player of consequence, and a bunch of little indies that in the end don’t matter in terms of volume.No one is even near Amazon in terms of reach to the buyers of books; that “problem” is just going to get worse …so publishers who want to keep doing business as they always have, will be forced through the Amazon “value extraction choke point,” with decreasing leverage.There are two solutions to this problem as I can see it:a) support other channels (Oyster, Scribd etc) & hope that they really start to matterorb) start building businesses whose prime objective is to capture the relationship with the reader directlyFor a) we’ve seen grudging signs of movement; and for b) nothing.As Baldur says, for the loyal opposition, the only option seems to be: “You try and build things that don’t rely on (publishers)” …
Focusing on file formats and DRM as the source of Amazon’s customer lock-in is a mistake. Amazon’s strength is their ability to offer an unparalleled Reader Experience (RX, just like User Experience is UX). If you love to read, Amazon provides an end-to-end experience that was almost unimaginable 30 years ago. The distance between the reader and almost any story is measured in seconds for ebooks and hours for print. Amazon has the best tools to help you find stories, even when you don’t know what you want. The more stories you read, the more valuable Amazon’s services are.
Thank you for your post, Brian, to you and Clay for all your work, and hear, hear to the work and views of all those mentioned above who comprise the “Loyal Opposition”.Although Amazon seized the opportunities in a way publishers did not, and understood that access, speed and price were what mattered most to their customers (including readers), the Amazon publishing model is arguably still an earlier business model just transitioned to the web. (A bit like the ‘transition’ of print books to ebooks: same model, different format.)A business model created in the era of the printing press which served particular economic imperatives of the time surely cannot be the ideal solution for a networked, digital, global world where content itself (unlike other goods) can be networked.The internet is THE thing; not a side issue or place to do only marketing and selling. It is where writing and reading are enabled in real time on a global scale, and a model that harnesses this connection both between people and between content must surely be at least one part of any “solution b”. (This is what makes online fanfiction communities so interesting and worthwhile to explore for publishing.) I hope that people who love publishing are/will be the ones driving plan/s B, but it is probably true that it is unlikely that they’ll be from the ‘Academy’.
I come to these issues from the perspective of the self-published author with 6 novels since 2005. I have, of course, seen massive, fundamental changes in the publishing landscape in that time period.It will be fascinating to watch how the new landscape will reveal its new shape.However, in the meantime we all must muddle along in order to find it. For the author, writing the novel and publishing it is the easy part. The most difficult aspect is learning how to get any attention at all.The old gate-keepers [the traditional publishers and agents] may not have the same clout as before, but for the writer, there is a new and perhaps more difficult gate-keeper. It is extremely hard for a new author to find an audience beyond friends and family. To find that market requires a great deal of time, effort and money or incredible luck.It is the massive market place itself which is the new gate-keeper. With thousands upon thousands of authors now publishing they themselves now stand in their own way of sales.http://maryemartintrilogies.com
Interesting article Brian. Going to print off and read this evening!
“Any strategy that forces readers to accept high prices and limited access will fail.”If by “fail” you mean fail as a business model, I would put your point another way: “Any strategy that mimicks in any way Amazon’s ‘value proposition’ for readers will fail. The question is whether there is sufficient value in other “non-Amazon strengths”—primarily price, ease of ordering, delivery, and reader experience.We all may have our own conjectural opinions about this question. What I find disheartening is how often people in our industry fail to see the reader/consumer value is already provided by non-Amazon book retailers. Examples abound. Take a look at Christianbook.com (2.5MM unique visitors to their website per month); Powells.com; or any of the major niche publishers’ websites who sell direct to consumer—none of these compete with Amazon in terms of value proposition for consumers.Put another way, what is suprizing is not that Amazon owns 50% of the U.S. book market, it’s why the other half of the transactions happen elsewhere. The answers to that question—whatever they are—are the basis of several existing and potential business models.