The Restricted Section: Is Amazon Corrupting Our Children?

The Amazon Logo

As one of the largest online retailers within today’s market, you would expect that Amazon has a rigorous screening system to protect vulnerable users from acquiring prohibited materials. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Amazon suggest that in fact, the parent or guardian of the account holder (in instances where the account owner is under the age of eighteen) is responsible for all purchases made from the account. As such, not only can minors use Amazon’s services with little in the means of age-authentication, they are not deemed responsible for their purchases: meaning that Amazon manages to dodge legal responsibility. This poses difficult questions in terms of Amazons obligation to their users, and their responsibility to ensure safe and legal working practices. Furthermore, in today’s age of technology, questions surrounding the accessibility of so called ‘erotic literature’ and its arguably pornographic content – and whether it should legally be classified as a restricted product are ongoing.

Age restricted products such as DVD’s, CD’s, Console and Computer Games are covered under the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, Section 21. Erotica and Romance titles containing sexually explicit material are not covered. With ongoing controversy surrounding the types of content that children and young adults are exposed to within advertisements and as they browse the web, when analysing Amazon’s age restriction policy, the notion of ‘age restricted’ literature in the digital age presents some interesting challenges. Where do the boundaries between appropriate for consumption by those who are under-age and unnecessary censorship lie? In this context, Amazon’s policy is ethically questionable at best. Furthermore, the notion of minors having the ability to place orders under the presumed authorisation of their parents, indicates that there is an issue emerging: posing the question of where in fact does ultimate responsibility lie?

Figure 1: A Visual Representation of US Market Share classified by volume of eBook Sales for 2015. Showing Amazon as the market leader. Credit to 2016

With the rise of digital media, the challenges presented to online retailers such as Amazon have grown.  With the market for digital publishing blooming (over 47,879,382 eBooks were purchased in 2015), amounting to in excess of £381.5m worth of sales from ‘The Big Five’ publishers alone. In the wake of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, the market for erotic fiction has expanded significantly, with erotic fiction now selling well alongside more mainstream fiction. In November 2015, an estimated 6245 novels, novellas and other works listed under the category of Romance were sold daily. As such, is it time we considered the impact of literature classified by authors and publishers as erotica or adult literature, and the way in which age restriction is enforced?

With all types of restricted product, the duty remains with the retailer to ensure that these products do not fall into the hands of those who are underage. The appropriate age restrictions for traditional published works has been argued for some time now: with the majority of retailers stocking potentially sensitive material at height, and policing its sale. Whilst erotic novels themselves are not age restricted, other types of pornographic material (such as magazines frequently found on news agents top-shelves) are covered by the terms specified within the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 or the Obscene Publications Acts (OPA) 1959; however, general good practice determines that these erotic titles are not sold to minors. It is not in the best interests of retailers to enable young readers to purchase or interact with pornographic material. The damage to their reputations and professional standings this could have, is significant. Amazon’s policy is significantly less responsive than that of other providers: your local supermarket certainly has a more active age-restriction policy! Leaving questions as to Amazon’s ethical sense of responsibility.

With many children, teens, or young adult readers now in possession of an eReader, or with access to eReading applications (such as the Kindle App.) and Amazon now selling Kindles aimed specifically at children, that have features aimed at preventing access to ‘inappropriate content’. It is clear that Amazon are attempting to mitigate the risks posed by such a loose age restriction policy. However, whilst these advances have made significant progress towards the safeguarding of young children from the recognised dangers of the net, the limited functionality that these devices present for older children mean that the likelihood of an upgrade to a standard eReading device increases. Without the protection provided by a specially designed tablet, the likelihood of them encountering inappropriate content increases. Amazon states that:

‘Certain items available on are age restricted. By placing an order for one of these items you are declaring that you are 18 years of age or over. These items must be used responsibly and appropriately.

Delivery of age restricted items will require the signature of the recipient at the delivery address. Identification may be required in order to verify the age of the recipient. Delivery to a nominated neighbour or safe location isn’t available for these items.’

It is clear that there is a lack of clarity in terms of the practical application of the law in terms of the restriction of pornographic content in erotic fiction and other titles classified as romance. The confusion only grows, when eReaders are communal and orders are placed from a parent or guardian’s account. When creating an Amazon account, the terms and conditions also state that:

‘We do not sell products for purchase by children. We sell children’s products for purchase by adults. If you are under 18 you may use the Amazon Services only with the involvement of a parent or guardian’.

As such, in the case of erotica and romance fiction, alongside other legally age restricted products, Amazon passes responsibility for purchases made using the account onto the legal guardian of the account user.

Morally, the refusal of Amazon to even attempt to mitigate the consequences of a minor obtaining explicit content that is inappropriate is a tricky consideration. On one hand, just as high street retailers have a social responsibility not to enable the sale of sexually explicit material to a minor, Amazon should have a responsibility to its customers in the same way. However, the lack of face-to-face contact between Amazon and its customers presents a unique challenge. By directly, and explicitly passing the legal responsibility onto users, Amazon successfully avoids the potential minefield that issues such as erotic fiction present to them as a business. But at what cost? By ensuring that those who are under the age of eighteen are not deemed to be the responsible owner of the account, Amazon effectively ensures that not only are they not legally responsible for breaches in age-restriction law, even if they were to instigate a protection policy for the sale of erotic literature, it would be impossible to police.

The fundamentally flawed nature of Amazon’s age restriction policy, whilst at times proving to be convenient for the end-user, presents the question of whether there is a more effective way to manage the sale of restricted, or potentially sensitive material. In the case of Apple’s iBooks store, content is policed before being listed within the store. In this way, sensitive material is either prevented from reaching the consumer for purchase, or is flagged appropriately in the event explicit material is present. By maintaining control over the content of the store in this way, Apple themselves act as gatekeepers. This mechanism enables users to be more aware of the legalities surrounding the content they purchase. Whilst Apple admittedly do not face the issue of age-restriction on the same scale that Amazon do (as Amazon have a much broader stock) Apple at least demonstrate significant efforts to monitor their content. Amazon operates in a significantly different way, enabling the free publication and only subjecting content to retrospective approvals in extreme cases. Whilst it is possible for Amazon to retrospectively remove content from their listings, this remains rare – and they have come under fire over the decision to remove several of their listed eBook titles citing that Amazon may ‘at any time, refuse to list or distribute any content that it deems inappropriate’.This retrospective approval process makes it all the more alarming that the enforcement of under-age purchasing policy is virtually non-existent. Without an awareness of the content they advertise, how can Amazon be sure that they are not in fact corrupting vulnerable users?

Overall, there is a strong argument that Amazon’s flawed age restriction policy is enabling young users to come into contact with items and other content that may be inappropriate. Furthermore, the availability of erotic titles, and the fact that they are not classified as restricted items within the law supports the argument that Amazon, as the faceless supplier of these goods – who pass responsibility at the earliest opportunity – are not doing enough to protect our children. Parents face the challenge of policing what their children encounter, and it is time that Amazon started supporting them. There must be a reasonable level of protection that can be implemented once Amazon is made aware that their client is underage.


Can We Stop Book Piracy?

A pirate in 2016 is far removed from the image of Jack Sparrow behind the wheel of a ship; it can be anyone with a computer and a desire to obtain a digital product without spending any money.

It’s surprisingly simple to find illegal copies of any kind of media. Even to an amateur, pirating software, music or even books takes only a google search and a careful eye on what is being downloaded. There are often whole websites dedicated to helping people find what they’re looking for, some utilising forums that allow people to make a request and have someone else fulfil it. A google search for top pirating websites brings up results for Reddit forums listing good websites, fully vetted and tested by others for quality content. On the part of the pirate, there’s very little effort involved to deter them from the activity. What is there to stop people from illegal downloads?

Rates of media consumption across 2015-2016. Source: Intellectual Property Office.

Overview of Piracy

Consumption of media online has slowly risen over the past year, and with it the number of 12-24 year olds who are the primary offenders for online illegal infringement. 20% of those over 12 who consumed TV shows and movies online did so illegally, with 39% of all media consumption being downloaded and 52% streamed. When asked for the main motivations for choosing their method of consuming media – legal or illegal – people responded that convenience and the speed of which they could access what they wanted were the top influences on their media habits. This goes someway in explaining some of the basic reasoning for why people choose to go through illegal means to obtain pirated copies of software, music or books. If it’s easier than the legal method, people will inevitably use it.

It sets up a seemingly simple solution to the problem of piracy: make it difficult for people to do so, and they will have no choice but to go through legal means to buy eBooks or other media forms. This was the thinking behind DRM (Digital Rights Management). Unfortunately, DRM has become a controversial topic, with people doubting its effectiveness in combatting piracy, and blaming it as part of the reason why people would pirate eBooks and software in the first place.

The Issue With DRM

Put simply, DRM is meant to prevent content from being shared between devices and users without the consent of the publisher. In theory, it’s a good thing. Just like alarms in shops, DRM functions by preventing people from attaining something that they haven’t paid for. It’s hard to argue against it without seeming to be arguing for the right to steal content with ease. The issue many people have is that DRM goes beyond stopping you at the doors with a bag full of unpaid goods. DRM locks your copy of Microsoft Word, your Amazon movie or your eBook, and dictates what you can do with it even if you have paid for it legally.

This is the point where people turn against DRM. Consumers can pay for a product and not have complete control over what they do with it, or even in some cases, no say on if they get to keep it once they’ve purchased it. In terms of eBooks, DRM prevents readers from sharing the files or reading the book across platforms by locking it into one format. For example, reading your Amazon-purchased eBook on Apple’s iBooks application is rendered impossible. The lure of pirating eBooks is the ability to eliminate these issues entirely. Pirated eBooks come in every format, from PDF to EPUB to .Mobi, making it a choice of selecting your preferred format and adding it to your virtual library. Without DRM, it’s also possible to share your eBook with friends, much like with a physical book, only without the risk of not having it returned to you.

Bridging the Gap Between Digital and Physical

Source: Amazon

In an attempt to try to make the legal consumption of eBooks more closely match the experience of owning a physical book – and in turn match the benefits that DRM-free eBooks offer – Amazon have created two schemes that change how Kindle books work.


The Lending Library allows Amazon Prime Kindle users to access Amazon’s system of pre-approved eBooks and borrow them for free. The catch is that it only allows one book to be borrowed per month, something that a dedicated book lover won’t find much use for, especially as a £79 per year membership is required in order to use the Lending Library. A further downside is the restricted selection of eBooks on offer, which dampens the benefit of being able to borrow them for free.

Amazon’s Loan or Borrow feature focuses on the issue of not being able to lend a purchased eBook to another person. It works by the lender sending the eBook to the borrower via email, and for the duration of the borrower having it, the lender is unable to view the eBook. This approach cuts out the problem of needing to create a duplicate copy of the book in order to give it to someone else and allows people to engage in the normal behaviour of sharing books with other people. Despite initially being launched in 2010 the scheme remains US-only, and has the drawback of only allowing a book to be given to a friend for 14 days before it is returned to the person that has paid for it. Along with that, it won’t work for eBooks purchased outside of Amazon, leaving the only way of sharing non-Amazon eBooks as sending a pirated copy or physically giving your eReader to someone else.

In theory, Loan and Borrow brings the experience of owning an eBook closer to that of a physical book, but Amazon’s failure to expand the feature globally suggests that it’s just not caught on or popular among readers.

How Much of an Issue is Piracy?

The failure of programs like Loan or Borrow by Amazon, or even attempts to create a Netflix for books, implies that the problem of piracy in the book industry isn’t dire enough to justify an overhaul of how eBooks are sold and consumed.

book infringement.png
Rates of illegal activity for Books in the UK between 2015-2016. Source: Intellectual Property Office.

The UK book market is worth £0.6 billion, £46 million (8%) of that is attributed to eBooks. During March-May of 2016, only 7% of people in the UK who consumed eBooks were found to have done so illegally. It’s a 1% increase from 2015.  Not only is the pirating of books only affecting 8% of the UK book industry, its growth isn’t particularly alarming.

It’s a small percentage of people to have used illegal methods of reading eBooks when compared to the 15% of people who illegally consume movies, or 13% for music. The piracy of eBooks just isn’t as lucrative as other forms of media.

They coverage that book piracy gets is telling towards the attitude the industry has for it. When eBook piracy is discussed online, often it will be the authors who are at the frontlines, pushing for change and scouring the internet for the websites that host the pirated books in order to take them down. They are the ones starting a dialogue with their readers about why they pirate their books, as well as promoting alternative solutions, such as libraries, that avoid methods that take money away from the publishing industry. Authors such as Joanne Harris take it a step further and talk to those outside their readership with the help of platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr, addressing the impact book piracy has on authors, as well as calling out the faulty logic of those that try to defend digital piracy.

Publishers’ input on the problem is more muted. They use DRM to try to make it more difficult for pirates to share the books, and they often place a page in the eBooks warning against illegal copies and have an email address to report illegal activity, but beyond that the discussion isn’t as intense. It suggests that eBook piracy is at the stage where, for the most part, DRM does enough to hinder it. Some publishers, such as Tor, have ditched it entirely, but the majority seem content to continue using it as its main method of prevention.

Where Does that Leave Us?

There are many different paths that can be taken in the search for how to expand and enhance the security for eBooks, whether it’s finding a model similar to Netflix and Spotify that brings a wider array of availability to consumers at affordable prices, or following Tor books in removing DRM to allow access across all platforms. Whatever the solution may be, the timing clearly hasn’t been right yet for people to make the move to back it.

The Future of eBooks


When eBooks first started to appear in the mid 90s, they were ‘hailed by many as the next great technological step for books.’ Has this remained true after these many years? It’s been said that print is still the preferred way people like to read and that eBook sales are not as big as people predicted, however there are multiple reasons for why this is and what can be done about it.


While many of us have seen the growth in eBooks, sales have recently been slowing down. In 2011, Alastair Horne said only 6% of the market consisted of eBooks in the UK and 6.4% in America. Most have said this is to do with pricing because it’s hard ‘getting the public to

Amazon Kindle Logo. Credited to Amazon.

accept sensible pricing.’ It certainly doesn’t help that online retailers such as Amazon discount the prices on books, to the point that buyers might get used to that price and think all eBooks should cost that much. Amazon also creates deals, such as the first book of the series being free to increase sales at the expense of the pricing. Recently, Amazon was doing a deal for Laini Taylor’s trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, in which for a limited time only all of the eBooks would be on sale for £0.99. Many people, including myself, logged in to Amazon and got it.

In 2010, Amazon was in a war with Apple and five other publishers to dominate the eBook market. Before Apple launched its iBooks store for eBooks, Amazon Kindle was the main platform and so they had the freedom to set the prices themselves (a maximum of $9.99), however, when Apple finally opened its online store it caused a few problems. Five big publishers, such as Penguin and HarperCollins, created a contract with Apple that would only allow the publishers to set the price of the eBook and Apple would get a certain percentage of each sale. Every time another retailer would drop down their prices, i.e. Amazon, the publishers would drop Apple’s eBook prices too so as to compete with Amazon. These five publishers then got Amazon to agree to a similar deal, consequently

iBooks Store Logo. Credited to Apple

raising eBook prices to ‘needlessly high,’ (levels) as said by Amazon. But the five publishers and Apple both lost when the US Department of Justice charged them all with collusion and so eBooks prices are now back at what they started.


For many years, after self-publishing was first introduced, it developed a stigma and it effected self-published authors greatly. This was because without the help of publishers most of the books were badly edited, badly written and had bad cover design, and readers didn’t like this. For example, Adrienne Woods’ book series, Dragonian, is full of foreshadowing, which an editor would have noticed and advised to change, and which many people have complained about, but it seems this stigma has, for the most part, disappeared.

Though this stigma seems to have vanished, not many self-published authors actually do well. It’s been said that only about 40 indie authors are successful, though impressively some of them, like Amanda Hocking, have been in the top 10 in the Kindle Million Club and some have even been picked up for real publishing contracts.

Some self-published books are very good, but it still seems that it’s the bad ones people keep buying. For example, the book Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James started simply from a fanfiction about Twilight but then the author self-published it where it got massively popular, until finally a publisher picked it up. I believe this might have been because James already had a dedicated fandom who would continue to buy the book(s). Bad books becoming really popular might be the reason behind the stigma of self-publishing and it could be helped by the good self-published eBooks out there.

Self-published eBooks have gone up in price, whereas before they were £0.99 some have

February 2014 – January 2016 Ebook Unit Sales. Credited to AuthorEarnings, 2016.

gone up to £2.99 and Adrienne Woods’ books are nearly £4.This is most likely because of the increase of self-publishing over the years. Between February 2014 and February 2016, self-published eBooks have increased approximately by 16% and the sales for the big five

publishers have decreased by 12%. On Amazon’s overall Top 100 Best Selling eBooks more than half, 56 to be exact, were self-published. This data clearly suggests that more and more people are buying self-published books, perhaps because they are cheaper.

E-book Piracy

Although eBooks prices are becoming cheaper, many people still believe eBooks should be free and some believe it so much that they turn to piracy. In every eBook, there is a copyright page, most of them at the back, that clearly states one cannot copy and/or distribute the eBook though many people claim to not know this law. But is it harming the industry? It’s been reported that only 1% of 12-year-olds and older were reading e-books illegally in the UK in March to May 2015. Therefore, many people believe that piracy of eBooks won’t ever become a big thing because readers will always prefer ‘legal services over illegal ones.’

Subscriptions Programmes

So, what can we do to prevent eBook piracy and increase eBook sales? There are ways of still reading very cheap eBooks without it being illegal. Project Gutenberg is a free online library with more than 53,000 books to choose from and download, with the option for a not needed, but appreciated, small donation to keep them going. It is a great example of a project which is free and is still going, though some have not been so lucky. Oyster books was an online streaming service for eBooks and was named the ‘netflix for eBooks.’ Its users would pay roughly £10 a month to read as many books as they’d like. Sadly, only two years after it started it shut down. Many have said this is because it was ‘deeply flawed’ because of its lack of bestsellers in the library and because it only managed to grab 5 big publishers, which caused problems when people wanted to get a book from another publisher. Others which seem to have worked are Kindle Unlimited and Bookmate, all very similar but none have done particularly well. So, does ‘netflix for eBooks’ really work? For now, it seems not, however publishers should learn from the ones who haven’t worked and try and make it better.

What can publishers do?

There are many ways of increasing eBook sales and there are already some projects for this that are sort of working. For example, Amazon has two different options to buy their kindles, the ‘with special offers’ which is cheaper and the ‘without special offers,’ which is about £10 more expensive. What many people don’t realise is the only reason the ‘with

Screenshot from Kindle’s Buying Options in the Amazon Website.

special offers’ option is cheaper is because the buyer is agreeing to be bombarded with adverts during their reading. Despite this, the satisfaction rate of these kindles is still great with four stars.

Another thing publishers could do is to create bundles and deals that have both print and eBooks and charge it a little bit more. I believe this would work because many people like to have both versions, myself included, and because like Katherine Hayles said,

‘digital and physical copies rely on one another.’

Amazon already does this by what they call Kindle Matchbook in which if someone has bought a physical book then the consumer can buy the e-book version for $2.99 or less, though sadly it has not been applied to the Amazon UK yet.

What is the Future of eBooks?

The future of eBooks seems to clearly point that they won’t ever be free because there are still people willing to pay for them, and there are many different, creative ways to increase the sales, like kindle unlimited and such. I predict that though the way we consume eBooks won’t change, I believe publishers will join together and come up with a platform that works well for them all and that maybe this will be a really good version of ‘netflix for eBooks.’


Digital Publishing: Authors utopia or nightmare?

 Today, an average of 41.8 million people use the internet on a daily basis creating a new world of publishing. Digital publishing has undeniably, democratised the industry, creating opportunity for new, previously rejected, authors. However, is it truly a utopia for authors? Or has it, in fact, made the industry more challenging than ever?

Total Control

Digital publishing has opened up the ability for authors to self-publish. Technological advances have ‘levelled the playing field to an unprecedented degree’ for authors. Self-publishing has allowed authors to take total control over their work, something that was simply not possible with traditional publishing.

Editing platforms such as CreateSpace and Ingram Spark have enabled authors complete authority, allowing them to freely edit without restriction. For example, CreateSpace has effectively eliminated the need for publishing houses as ‘CreateSpace authors and publishers will earn industry-leading royalties on each sale while continuing to own the rights and have creative control over their work.’ Authors can now have control over what happens to their work, how it is published, and where.

These self-publishing platforms, coupled with print-on-demand technology, allow authors to upload their work and then publish it straight to online storefronts like Amazon. It has enabled ‘indie authors–as well as the smallest boutique publishers and micropresses–[to] sell their books through the same online retail storefronts that today account for roughly 50% of total US print sales.’ Works from Faber&Faber are sold alongside self-published works giving authors an equal opportunity and access to a larger audience. This technology has opened the door to independent authors who traditionally would not have been able to afford upfront printing costs.

At what cost?

However, although this technology has allowed more authors the opportunity to have their work seen, it is difficult for self-published authors to make a significant amount of money. Amazon offer 70% royalties to their authors, which appears a good rate but getting your eBook to sell in large quantities is very difficult. EBooks are sold for a fraction of the cost of print books and so need a higher turnover to break even. A survey of 1,007 authors found that ‘less than 10% of self-publishing authors earning about 75% of the reported revenue and half of writers earning less than $500.’


The few authors that do make a reasonable outcome tend to have large outgoings, many of the books that have succeeded in the market have been edited and designed by professionals. Book cover designs can cost anywhere between £100-£1000 and copy editors usual charge around £26.50 per hour. Even the platforms designed for self-publishing can be costly with ‘Lulu [charging] about $500, Createspace about $700.’ Self-publishing is usually marketed as free but many authors end up paying out to ensure their work is of good quality, so either way self-publishing can be costly for many authors.


Although it can be costlier, digital publishing has allowed opportunity for content that may have previously been refused. Self-publishing has allowed experimental genres, such as Fan Fiction, to be explored and it is these genres that are proving the most popular ‘56 of Amazon’s overall Top 100 Best Selling ebooks… were self-published indie titles.’ According to AuthorEarning ‘self-published indie Science Fiction books, indie Thrillers, indie Suspense novels, indie Urban Fiction, and even Cozy Mysteries by indies’ are amongst the top selling eBooks, showing the ever growing market and scope for new authors to be successful in.

AuthorEarnings February 2016 report showing the popularity of indie published books.

Amanda Hocking is a great example of seizing this new market, at the beginning of 2010 she was an unknown, paranormal fiction writer with seventeen unpublished novels. Yet, by the end of 2010 she would have four recognisable novels and have sold 1.5m books, making $2.5m. Uploading her novels onto Amazon and Smashwords has made her a household name and even secured her a press deal with St Martin’s for over $2.1 million. This is a clear indication that self-publishing has allowed authors the freedom to publish work that publishers would not accept and authors are making millions from this previously restricted content.

New Kids on the Block

Alongside new content the digital world has also created a new type of author. Commissioning editors are starting to steer away from traditional authors and are now offering book deals to young, social media stars thanks to their extreme popularity and a celebrity-like status.

Surely this is good for authors? Young stars are being given writing opportunities they may never have been offered, creating new content, and a new type of author. Books by Youtubers have flooded the market, 5 out of the 10 books in BookScan’s Autobiography: The Arts category are by YouTubers and GoodReads even has a top 100 Books by Youtubers section.

However, this is creating a new problem for authors hoping to become noticed. Financial pressure from the market is causing publishers to pick content guaranteed to sell and ‘if the publishers’ budgets are being sunk into luring already-prominent names, there will inevitably be a horde of brilliant unknowns, tapping away at their keyboards, forever unheard.’

Youtubers are being picked by commissioning editors thanks to their huge online presence which transcends across social media and the internet giving the most popular, like Zoella, an avid following of about 5.8 million. Controversies such as Zoe Sugg’s ghost writer scandal, demonstrates the pressure publishers are feeling. As Sugg’s ghost-writer points out ‘whether you like it or not, this is the financial reality of today’s publishing industry.’

Publishers are picking content based on popularity, and it is selling well, which leaves authors with a market that’s even more difficult to be noticed in.


The good news for these “horde of brilliant unknowns” is that there is no reason why new authors cannot create their own audience just as Youtubers have. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all free marketing tools that can generate great interest and hype for authors and their work. Hashtagging and interacting with fans builds a following behind these authors and creates an often small but loyal market for their novels.

Mark Dawson is a prime example of using marketing to its full potential as he admitted ‘in order to be successful at this, you need to take off your artist hat and put on your marketing hat.’ Dawson has used social media to its full advantage, using it to build a rapport with his audience. He has created, much like the Youtubers, a loyal and secure audience and it has worked with Amazon paying him in excess of $450,000 a year. If authors can embrace the digital world and take full advantage of it, as a marketing platform, they can become successful and most importantly noticed.


Lost at Sea

Unfortunately, success stories such as Dawson’s are not in the majority. Amazon’s Kindle claims to have 105,688 new releases in the last 30 days and 1,412,329 books now available Kindle unlimited. This huge volume of work means it can be all too easy for authors work to be lost in the market. In 2016, only ‘40 independent authors have sold more than a million copies of their e-books on Amazon,’ a worryingly low number for a market so large. Even if authors are using social media to create a brand there is still a high chance they will become lost in the market and make little income.

Likewise, authors who choose to self-publish often find themselves isolated from the industry and there is often elitism among publishers against self-publishing. Andrew Franklin, the managing director of Profile Books famously said at the Writing in the Digital Age conference that ‘the overwhelming majority [of self-published books] are terrible – unutterable rubbish.’

 Bestselling authors who are talented and hard working – like Thor and Grafton – are inclined to believe that publishing is a meritocracy where the best work by the most diligent writers gets represented, acquired, published and sold.  But this is demonstrably untrue. –David Vinjamuri 

Many publishers in the industry share this view, making it difficult for authors to have their work recognised. Online success is often ignored in reality as ‘self-published books are not eligible for major prizes like the Baileys, the Costa and the Man Booker,’ which excludes a huge number of authors and their work from getting the recognition they deserve. Author Talli Rolland explains ‘I found it difficult to get my printed novel into bookstores, despite solid e-book sales figures.’ This highlights the difficulty many authors face when trying to get noticed in the industry and it’s a constant struggle to get self-publishing acknowledge as a viable medium.

So which is it? Utopia or dystopia? 

It is undeniable that the world of digital publishing has created new opportunities for authors. The internet has allowed authors control over every process of their work from the editing all the way up to marketing and there are success stories. It has created a more democratic system, one which has room for all authors and every type of content.

However, success in digital publishing comes at a price, the industry is more competitive than ever and equal opportunity for all means the market is continuously growing, making it increasingly difficult to become noticed. Is it a utopia? Certainly not. But, if authors are willing to work hard and embrace the new, interactive, fast paced world of digital publishing there is, at least, the chance for them to become the next Fifty Shades of Grey.


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Amazon’s Iron Grip on the Book Industry

In July 1995, a year after being founded as Cadabara,–an online bookseller–went public on the world wide web. The launch of marked a huge turning point in bookselling. Today, Amazon is no longer just a bookseller, but a creator of eBook tablets, phones and most recently a hands-free speaker named, Echo. It is also the world’s largest Internet-based retailer, selling everything from Shoes to Dog Food. Despite the revival of Print sales and Independent bookshops increasingly becoming a choice for purchase for readers alike, Amazon still has an Iron Grip on the Book Industry. No matter how hard the Book Industry tries to remove themselves from the Iron Grip that Amazon has on their industry, they can’t, simply because they can’t afford to do so.

Amazon’s Market Share

In 2014, Amazon’s market share for eBooks stood at 67%, with just 33% market share coming from other eBook sellers. Their market share for all books sales–online and physical stores, print and digital–is only 41% in comparison to all other booksellers who have 59% market share. However, in just Online Sales of all books (print and digital), Amazon has a 65% market share and other online booksellers only have 35%. Although their market share doesn’t dominate all book sales, these figures aren’t positive. Amazon has no such competition online or in eBook sales. Something that isn’t positive when shopping online is a quick and easy way to buy a book with little effort involved.

Amazon vs. Hachette

In 2014, Hachette–one of the Big Five publishers­–contract with Amazon expired. Amazon wanted to extend the contract, but with new conditions. The main condition being that Hachette lower most of their eBooks to prices $9.99. Hachette did not respond, clearly unhappy with this term. 3 months after Amazon contacted Hachette about extending their contract–still without a reply–Amazon extended their contract anyway with the old terms. Except there was a catch. Amazon ceased all preorders on Hachette books, one title effected was Robert Galbraith’s (AKA J. Rowling), The Silkworm. Books that usually were delivered within a week or less, took 2 to 5 weeks to be dispatched and some Hachette titles weren’t surfacing when searched for. As a consequence of this, Hachette and their authors had fewer sales on their books. Associated Press reported that Hachette said that 5,000 titles were affected as a result of Amazon withdrawing preorders and listings of Hachette’s books. Amazon fought very dirty, ‘“First, Hachette was willing to break the law to get higher e-book prices, and now they’re determined to keep their own authors in the line of fire in order to achieve that same end. Amazon has made three separate proposals to take authors out of the middle, all of which Hachette has quickly dismissed.”’ The dispute between these companies came 2 years after the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and Big Publishers (Hachette included), for illegally colluding to get Apple to raise eBook prices, in hope of forcing Amazon to do the same. Apple and all Publishing Houses involved lost the case.

John Green, best known for his bestselling Young Adult novel, The Fault in Our Stars, criticised Amazon in book dispute in an Associated Press’s, The Big Story article saying, ‘What’s ultimately at stake is whether Amazon is going to be able to freely and permanently bully publishers into eventual nonexistence.’ Amazon came under fire for the way it tried to negotiate with Hachette. Before the long-running battle began between the $10billion dollar Publisher and the $122billion dollar retailer, Amazon was famous for being in the media very little. This battle threw them into the limelight and they didn’t particularly come out well because of it. They also didn’t win their fight, with Amazon caving in and allowing Hachette to have more responsibility over their eBook prices.

The Aftermath:

Books Bite Back

6 years ago, when the evolution of technology was growing at a rapid speed, it was predicted by some that physical books were going to die out in the next five years. They were wrong. In the past year–5 years after that prediction­–print book sales made a 2% increase. Print books are still going strong. Nielsen commented that one of the titles to thank for the increase in printed book sales was the late Harper Lee’s, long-anticipated, To Kill a Mockingbird squeal, Go Set a Watchman. Adult Colouring Books and Celebrity book releases also played a substantial part in the sale figures of printed books rising.

In the same year, Waterstones stopped selling Kindles and eBooks outside the UK, which added shelf space for more books and as a result saw a 5% rise in sales.

©Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

EBooks took a hit

Whilst printed books made an increase in sales, eBooks did not. EBooks sales from the ‘Big Five Publishers’ declined by 2.4%. This decrease came after just over a year since the Amazon vs. Hachette dispute was settled. In which Hachette wore Amazon down, and got it wanted: the freedom to have control over some eBook prices. This new-found power the Publisher gained has meant an increase in the pricing of their eBooks, in a move they called, ‘critical to its survival’. This step is said to be a contributing factor for the decline in eBook sales.

Amazon won’t go down without a fight

Amazon is determined to hold on to books forever. Book sales only account for 7% of what Amazon sell as a whole. Amazon sells an incredible amount books, yet this figure seems rather insignificant. Is it insignificant when you consider the sheer size of Amazon and the fact that it sells almost everything?

As well-known and previously mentioned, Amazon started out as a bookseller. Is this why Amazon are so determined to grip on to the Book Industry? No matter the cost it has on their reputation? Books overall make up just $5.25billion out of Amazon’s $75billion annual revenue (7%). Amazon’s determination to continue having a share in the book market has now resulted in them branching out into Brick and Mortar bookshops. A move Amazon have made to become a leader in increasing print sales. The first store opened in Seattle in 2015, with three more having opened since then. Rumours are now floating around suggesting that Amazon is planning to open a considerable amount more, three to four hundred as reported.

©University Village

Amazon and Indie Author’s

Amazon has a finger in every pie; in book-selling, book-buying, and due to their Kindle Direct Publishing program, in book-publishing as well. ‘Self-publishing has its success stories, but has also caused concern among many in the industry. The fear is that Amazon could end up doing to independent authors the same thing it has done to publishers — make them reliant on a system and then use its leverage to negotiate relentlessly.’ Self-published writers, more commonly known as Indie Authors, release books that don’t have
Bowker-issued International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) attached them. As a result of this, according to the website, when sale figures are monitored, and market share percentages are released by Nielsen and Bowker, they fail to include the portion of Indie Author’s books that make up the sales in the eBook market. Furthermore, as discussed in Author Earnings, October 2015 report, when non-ISBN sales are included in eBook market statistics, the US eBook market is 50% larger than statics that only include the Bowker-issued ISBN sales. Despite not being included in conventional eBook sales statistics, Indie Authors clearly sell a lot of books, and if they are publishing or selling them through Amazon then they are making Amazon an incredible amount of money as well. 44% of all Kindle eBooks being purchased on Amazon in January 2016 were released by Indie authors.


Can anyone break Amazon’s Iron Grip?

Amazon has played a big part in bookselling for 20 years and they are worth billions and billions of dollars, so the likelihood of anyone being able to break Amazon’s Iron Grip on the Book Industry may seem unlikely.

However, there are some factors that can have an impact Amazon and their Iron Grip: eBook prices are too expensive for what they are. I personally switch between a Kindle and Printed books. If I see a book as a Kindle edition and it costs over £4 I won’t buy it. It isn’t a physical copy so therefore paying for something that will get pushed back on my Kindle as I buy more books and then become potentially forgotten isn’t something that appeals to me. However, I would pay that and more if it were a physical book. Kindle versions of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm were pulled unexpectedly in 2009 because of a copyright issue. All of those who owned those books lost their notes and highlights, and never got them back. Proving that the value of eBooks just doesn’t match up to the value of printed books. Independent books stores are becoming increasingly popular because they provide an experience that you can’t get online. Thirdly, can e-readers progress any further? New versions of Kindle’s don’t progress very much from older versions. Products that can’t keep up with technological advances die out eventually, BlackBerry for example who have now stopped designing phones because they couldn’t keep up. And lastly, Amazon suffered a setback in their public image because of the way they handled their very public battle with Hachette.

In hindsight, Amazon will probably have an Iron Grip on the Publishing industry for a long time, but there are some things that Amazon simply can’t recreate when it comes to buying and reading books. And as print makes a “comeback”, perhaps people will stop reading their e-reader, go into a bookstore and relive the excitement and experience that comes with trawling through a beautiful bookstore and finding that perfect read.

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Fanfiction: as a Community and a Commodity


Fanfiction is not a new phenomenon, although it is one which is rapidly growing in popularity as shown by the fact that “Google has over 1.2 million results for a search of the phrase ‘fanfiction’.” However, the fanfiction community long predates the internet, with records of Star Trek fanfiction going back to the 1960s. Pre-internet fanfiction took the form of “self-published and distributed fanzines”. This method, however, was slow and expensive for the fanfiction authors as the zines would be distributed free of charge. Fanfiction did not become easily accessible until the 1990s, when it began it’s to move to the internet. This initially took the form of mail lists and forums, until the 15 October 1998 when was launched.

Legalities and Copyright

“It upsets me terribly to even think about fanfiction with my character”

Despite its growing popularity, however, the legalities of fanfiction have always been rather ambiguous. Some works are considered ‘safe’ as the original content is old enough to no longer fall under copyright – for example, Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a retelling of Austen’s classic, published in 2009. The majority of fanfiction though, focuses on recent works and therefore runs the risk of being found in breach of copyright.

The decision on whether or not fanfiction is tolerated tends to be at the discretion of the author. Anne Rice, in particular, has gained a reputation for being firmly opposed to fanfiction, and willing to incite legal action in cases where she feels her copyright has been infringed. She stated on her website: “I do not allow fanfiction. The characters are
copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fanfiction with my character.” In accordance with her wishes, it is now a stipulation on the guidelines that they will not host works by Anne Rice or other authors who have released similar statements.


Even J. K. Rowling who is known to be rather tolerant of fanfiction has sued certain sites, for example or The Harry Potter Lexicon, to “protect the integrity of the Harry Potter properties”. This specifically focuses on sexually explicit works of fanfiction, which Rowling objects to, as the original book series was aimed at children.

The cases determining whether or not a fanfiction breaches copyright are not always so clear cut. “Courts have been more willing to protect “transformative” unauthorised uses against copyright owners’ allegations of infringement”.

An example of this would be Alice Randall’s book The Wind Done Gone, fanfiction of Margaret Mitchell’s, Gone With The Wind. The courts decided that Randall’s adaptation was acceptable because it retold the story from the perspective of a new character and criticised the racism of the original work.

Despite these particularly antagonistic cases, most works of fanfiction do not gain that notoriety and many authors even endorse it. Orson Scott Card, for example, said; “every piece of fanfiction is an ad for my book. What kind of an idiot would I be to want that to disappear?” In general therefore the attitude towards fanfiction was one of ambivalence, “the unspoken rule when it came to fan art, fanfiction and other creations was that, if you weren’t making money from it, rights holders would typically tolerate it.”

The commodification of fanfiction


While this may have been the case of unofficial, none-profit fanfiction the concept of fanfiction as a commodity is swiftly growing. This is largely due to E. L. James’ published fanfiction, Fifty Shades of Grey, which originated on as Master of the Universe, under the penname Snowqueen’s icedragon  . James was not the first author, whose successful writing career originated in fanfiction, but she was the first to gain such popularity, selling “125 million copies of her books worldwide” and making £75 million. In 2007, Cassandra Clare published the first of her Mortal Instruments series which was heavily based on her Harry Potter fanfiction first commercial publishing platform that will enable any writer to create fanfiction based on a range of original stories and characters and earn royalties for doing so.”and has since been adapted into a movie and a Netflix Original Series.  Another notable author who began her career as a fanfiction writer is Teen author Meg Cabot who originally wrote official Star Trek fanfiction.

With such blatant evidence that fanfiction is a profitable venture, it is little wonder that Amazon has decided to get involved and announced the launch of Kindle Worlds – “a publishing platform that lets anyone publish content set in licenced worlds.”  The platform works on the basis that Amazon has bought the rights to several books and T.V shows. While the extent of the properties that Amazon owns has not been announced they have mentioned Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars in relation to the Kindle. Kindle Worlds is therefore the “first commercial publishing platform that will enable any writer to create fanfiction based on a range of original stories and characters and earn royalties for doing so.” The platform is run with the permission of the copyright holders, removing the legal issues of or fanfiction authors attempting to publish their work without the original authors’ permission. Unlike, the works must fit certain requirements before they can be sold on the platform thus alleviating the issue of unedited and poor quality fanfiction.

“the first commercial publishing platform that will enable any writer to create fanfiction based on a range of original stories and characters and earn royalties for doing so.”

In addition to this, Amazon will also be launching a different programme specifically for the shorter fanfiction. The works published on this programme will be between 5,000 and 10,000 words as opposed to Kindle World which will only accept publications of over 10,000 words.
This does however bring up some of the issues that Kindle World poses for fanfiction authors. Firstly: “the story you write must be over 10,000 words to be considered for compensation.” Meaning that, much like on you will be publishing your story for free. The only difference will be that, unlike on, Amazon will still be making money off your publication.


The more pressing concern though, is the fact that once published on Kindle World, Amazon will gain a significant amount of control over the work. The author will gain 35% of their stories net revenue, however, they will not be allowed to promote themselves as being a writer for Kindle World and they will be unable to share more than 20% of the story online.  As well as this, Amazon will be able to “promote it and use it in any way it likes, including any original characters or places you have created within their story.” So, while the idea of Amazon’s Kindle World may appeal to some fanfiction authors, especially as it is a way of getting compensation for their fanfiction without the copyright risks of publishing it as an independent novel, it does mean that the author will lose a lot of control over their work.

The Future of Fanfiction

So what are these changes doing to the Fanfiction Community? Well for one thing, to quote Henry Jenkins: fanfiction has never been “commercial commodities sold to customers; they are artifacts shared with friends and potential friends”. This commercialisation of fanfiction may be perceived as good for the individual but damaging for the fanfiction community. Authors are more likely to take umbrage to fanfiction if there is a higher likelihood of it being published or commercialised as is can be seen as “creating a form of competition or trading on the original’s reputation, thus adversely affecting the original”.

“authors such as James and Clare can be considered to be taking advantage of the community”

In addition to this, authors such as James and Clare can be considered to be taking advantage of the community, using it to launch their career and then refusing to acknowledge the fan-base that helped them get there. Part of the controversy surrounding James novel included the fact that her “commercial success was perceived to come on the backs of those fans who may have contributed for reasons other than financial”. Many felt betrayed by her move to mainstream media and in particular the way that she is now targeting works which she considers derivative of Fifty Shades of Grey. Clare faced similar criticism, particularly for the fact that her work had actually been removed from for violating the terms of service, and her account was under investigation after claims that her story plagiarised other fanfiction and published works.

In conclusion, though fanfiction moving into the mainstream and becoming more commercialised may be a good thing for the individual writing the fanfiction, we should “avoid celebrating a process that commodifies fan cultural production and sells it back to us with a considerable mark-up”, particularly one which can be seen as damaging towards the community that these fan productions came from.

Will Amazon Eventually Kill all High Street Bookshops?

Established in 1994 as a simple online bookstore, Amazon has grown to become one of the world’s largest retailers. In 2012, The Codex Group found that 41% of new book unit purchases came from Amazon, as well as 65% of all new book units worldwide; highlighting the online giants’ dominating force in the book industry. The Bookseller revealed 2012 to be the first year in which book purchases online were higher than from high street outlets. This highlights a drastic change in the retail environment, marked by a consumer shift to online shopping that is extremely threatening for high street booksellers. Many see trends such as this as the long awaited curtain call for booksellers, as customers flood to Amazon’s extremely low prices and convenience. However, there is evidence to suggest that the local bookshop is not quite finished yet.

Amazon’s Appeal

The largest thorn in the side of high street books shops is Amazon’s extremely low pricing. Just one example is David Walliams’ new book The Midnight Gang; sold at Waterstone’s for £9.99, whereas Amazon offers it for just £5. On average, according to Slate magazine, you can expect to save between 30-50% if you buy books from Amazon, rather than a high street outlet. Effectively, Amazon has made buying from high street shops a luxury.

Another element is the availability of customer reviews, one simply has to scroll down to see a list of reviews for a book, and this influences buyers immensely. Stock limitation is a major issue for physical bookstores as there is only so much space available. An article from Bookmasters notes that as a result, popular titles may have sold out or the outlet may just not have what you want. Buying from Amazon avoids this issue completely.

The E-book Market

An explosion in e-book readership in recent years, influenced by the presence of tablets and e-readers (especially the Kindle) has had a very detrimental effect on the high street bookshop. This is simply due to that fact that the vast majority of booksellers do not trade in e-books; therefore, any reader who moves to e-books is effectively money out of their pockets.  A survey taken in 2016 by The Codex Group found 32.4% of the participants were e-book readers. 30 years ago, this 32.4% would have been just another part of the print market.  When you consider that the same study found that Amazon accounts for 74% of all US e-book purchases, you realise the scale of the company’s influence in the phenomenon.

Copy right – GoodEReader

Amazon Books: Amazon’s Physical Stores

In 2015, Amazon unveiled the first of the three currently open physical bookstores known simply as Amazon Books. The stores are stocked with titles selected based on data collected from and Goodreads. The sentiment of the stores are to merge the online and physical shopping experience. Aside from buying items there and then, you can also order them online from the store, download a book to your Kindle, or add a product to your Amazon wish list. This has created a completely new way of shopping where Amazon has used its online advantage against regular bookshops. Interestingly, aside from an about page, Amazon has said little and less regarding the new venture; not even so much as a press release regarding their intentions for this move, which is widely speculated.

An article featured in New York Times in 2016 begged the question “So why does [Amazon] need physical stores at all?”. A distinct prevalence of electronic Amazon gadgets throughout the store was mentioned, raising the possibility that the stores are merely fronts to showcase these electronic products in the same manner as Apple Stores.

Copy right – University Village

According to a source for Bookmasters, Amazon has plans to open 300-400 stores across the U.S. Tech Reporter Greg Bensinger, states that if these plans came into fruition, then it would put Amazon as the number 2 in the U.S behind Barnes & Noble in terms of physical outlets. This is a very threatening image for bookstores, as the online giant would transform into a high street giant.

Amazon’s Expansionist Growth

Part of Amazon’s success stems from its refusal to be pigeonholed to a specific area and this makes bookstores nervous. The New Yorker noted in 2014 that of Amazon’s annual revenue of 75 billion dollars, only 7% came from book sales. This lack of reliance on the book trade draws into question whether Amazon truly cares about the industry, unlike traditional booksellers who rely on it utterly.

Amazon’s expansion over profit-orientated growth is another cause for concern. According to figures from The Wall Street Journal between 1995 and 2015, Amazon amassed over $400 billion in sales, however less than $2 billion in profit, which may account for the huge product discounts. Some are concerned that this is part of a long-term strategy to price the competition out of business, then amp up their prices when consumers have nowhere else to shop.

Despite their current success, there are signs that Amazon cannot keep up what they are doing forever. Amazon often offers free or discounted shipping especially to Prime Members. NYU Professor, Scott Galloway, notes the Amazon cannot sustain this practice, dubbing it “an Achilles heel of Amazon” as by offering free delivery, Amazon must pick up the bill themselves.

What State is the High Street Bookstore in?

High street bookshops have taken a big hit in the past decade. According to The Guardian, in 2005 independent bookstores witnessed a 40% drop and are still declining today. Book selling chains have also suffered, James Daunt, Managing Director of Waterstone’s, oversaw major cutbacks; the closure of underperforming shops and many staff redundancies were the only solutions.

Daunt stated to Management Today, that a major issue is that financial setbacks of the past have led to the online presence of Waterstone’s to suffer. This appears to be a widespread trend, making it no wonder that the sector suffers so much in today’s online orientated retail environment.

The Benefits of High Street Bookshops

Miriam Sontz, CEO of Powell’s Books, argues that Amazon’s interest in brick-and-mortar stores highlights the value and relevance physical bookstores hold in today’s world. This may very well be true, as selling through this avenue does hold a number powerful draws. The ability to look and feel through books cannot be underestimated; it is a very enjoyable process for book lovers, evoking an emotional response to the store. Bookshops also create a great sense of community, bringing together readers and creating face-to-face dialogues between them; something that Amazon is currently incapable of replicating.

Bookshops are great places to discover new books; in 2013, Enders Analysis estimated that random discovery of books produces as much as two thirds of the UK’s total book sales, most of which took place in bookshops.

 The Importance of Bookstores

Features editor at The Bookseller, Tom Tivnan stresses that authors hold huge value in bookshops for the discoverability of new books. This especially speaks to mid-range to fresh authors who lack an existing following. Resultantly, authors and publishers alike want to keep bookshops alive.

Joe Henry, the director of Book Market Research, determined at the 2012 Bowker’s annual conference that the value bookshops brought to the book industry was around $450 million in that year alone. Furthermore, The Bookseller noted that consumers over 35 (60% of the population of the UK) value bookshops over online outlets; this is important as wealth is increasingly being pooled in older demographics. The magazine also estimates that when a bookshop closes, around a third of its sales move to another bookstore and the rest disappears from the industry completely. This professes dire consequences for the printed book industry if the high street bookshop died.

Booksellers respond

Waterstone’s and other booksellers have been countering Amazon by adopting one of their tactics, selling more non-book products. These usually include; post cards, maps, stationary and items to that extend. James Daunt notes that the trick is to sell items that complement the general selection of the shops and encourages book sales.

Offering bonus material is another strategy. In 2013, booksellers including Waterstone’s and Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, have signed exclusive deals with publishers to obtain bonus material for copies sold in their stores.

Another way that bookstores have been able to one-up Amazon is by holding special events for reader-author interaction. For example, the independent store Booka has become a point of attraction for many book lovers across the Midlands, who come to hear writers such as Michael Morpurgo and Martin Bell giving talks and answering questions.

Copy right – Bookabookshop

The effectivity of this technique for booksellers has been in persuading readers to turn away from Amazon remains to be seen, however, it is an interesting example of how high street bookshops can exploit the physicality of their outlets in a way that Amazon cannot.


Why Bookstores are not dead  

Though high street bookshops have suffered massively of late, the damage seems to be plateauing. Flavourwire noted a level of growth in bookshop sales in 2015 which was the best in recent history and according to a study by The US Census Bureau in January 2015 this was a growth of 2.5%, totalling at $11.17 billion, compared to $10.89 billion of the previous year. Although bookstore sales are not quite back to their former height of $17 billion as they were in 2007, The Guardian states that amount of closures has decreased from a rate of 7% to 5%.

Unless Amazon has any other tricks up its sleeves it is clear that the local high street bookshop is, at least for the time being, not finished yet and very much alive and kicking still with much to offer the modern reader.


How Amazon Dominates the Online Publishing Retail Market of Print Books and has Begun Moving into the Brick and Mortar Book Industry

The huge online retailer Amazon currently dominates the online market of print book sales, and has even begun to open brick and mortar bookstores in its expansion into the market. Its command of online sales is unparalleled and it’s interesting to see whether or not they will begin to command the sales of books among brick and mortar bookstores as well. With their foot in that door, only time will tell as to what kind of success they have in a different world of publishing, with competitors like Waterstones recognising this threat. They may have to fight hard with the giant to stay in business.

Amazon Dominance

Amazon has dominated online print sales for many years, beginning with its introduction into the publishing industry in 1995. Between then and the present day it’s risen to dominate the industry, towering above its competitors.

According to a survey by RBC Capital, Amazon sales were at around 90%, where the next highest, eBay, was around 38%. The companies closest in rivalry are also huge, but don’t come close to Amazon, which owns roughly 40% of print and digital sales in America.

RBC Capital Markets Survey (Taken from Business Insider)

Brick and mortar book companies have the benefit of seeing what Amazon did to online competitors, so they know what to expect. It’s anyone’s guess as to how Amazon will do in this area.

The US giant has opened stores in Seattle and San Diego, called Amazon Books, and planned one in Boston among other places. The company put many stores out of business in the past, including the bookstore company Borders, and damaged Barnes and Noble. How far this competitiveness will continue to push others out of the way is a subject of interest and hugely important for the future of the book industry, as we could be looking at mainly or only Amazon stores, with other retailers gone bankrupt. Amazon then would have the ability to do what they liked with complete control, for example, raise prices and since they’re the main outlet for books, the public would be limited in choice.

Brick and Mortar Bookstores

Giant Barnes and Noble were hurt by the discounted prices and other factors imposed by Amazon, but have survived. Their brick and mortar chain is strong and they also sell online, whereas Amazon dominates online but have only recently begun to expand into brick and mortar bookstores. For now, Barnes and Noble are ahead with bookstores, and have hindsight, witnessing what Amazon did in the digital market. If Amazon begins to expand more and more into print, it’s uncertain who would win the struggle for dominance.

Barnes and Noble will be one of the largest threats to Amazon’s brick and mortar expansion. It’s been around since 1873, and Amazon only joined the book market as a whole in 1995. The history of Barnes and Noble is intriguing. Leonard Riggio, a former clerk who attended New York University aimed to compete with Barnes and Noble in the 1960s. He aimed to compete with them at first, believing he could do better at serving students. He eventually acquired them himself. Following this, the store apparently became “one of New York’s finest bookstores, known for its knowledgeable staff, wide selection and great service.”
As one of the oldest bookstores around today, it achieved many great things, including becoming “the first bookseller in America to advertise on television”, and “the first bookseller in America to discount books by offering New York Times bestsellers at 40% off publishers’ list prices.”

A Barnes and Noble bookstore (Photo by

Despite this history of success, it now faces a very real threat, just like other well established giants like Waterstones and WHSmith do.

This speculation also stretches to other countries. What could become of huge retailers like Waterstones, the number one retailer in the UK and other giants worldwide? The future could be one where only or mostly huge Amazon warehouses exist, distributing literature to customers, with every other book company forced out of business, from small to large independent stores and others. But Amazon could also fail and be pushed out of the market. It’s unclear at this stage.

Customer satisfaction will be a key factor in this. Amazon focus on their customer rather than their competitors, as CEO Jeff Bezos believes this is important. The customers are the ones who buy the product, not the competitors, so rather than trying to outsmart their rivals Amazon has gone directly to their audience.

According to Sandeep Mathrani, the boss of a shopping-mall, Amazon wanted to open four hundred brick and mortar bookstores over the course of a few years. Amazon didn’t confirm this but did state its wishes to expand into the bookstore market, albeit on a smaller scale at first.

Amazon’s Strengths

Amazon also offers free shipping in some cases, a tough thing for competitors to imitate, as well as servicing a broad area in the western world. Such benefits to Amazon, combined with the fact that it’s worth hundreds of billions of dollars, means it has a great advantage over other companies and could simply take losses while it establishes itself over more established rivals. It’s able to afford this, while many other businesses aren’t.

Amazon rose to dominance in a very short space of time in the online arena, pushing other companies like eBay far down the list. The print arena is another matter, for sure, with other factors to consider on different companies. Brand satisfaction, loyalty and the ability to adapt in time are elements of success that other companies can draw upon. Maybe others can even outsmart Amazon with the foreknowledge of its past dominance, ambitions and strategies. But whether or not any of these companies can battle with the huge financial resources Amazon draws upon is one major issue.

If Amazon sustains huge losses it may wish to pull out of the brick and mortar business, but this doesn’t seem likely to happen after seeing what it’s capable of doing.

Another reason Amazon holds huge advantages over bookstores is that it doesn’t only stock books now, but profits from selling almost every product imaginable. Bookstores deriving revenue from books alone lack the funding to compete in many ways.

Amazon Bookstore in the US (Taken from

Expansion overseas for Amazon is another factor. As well as planning more bookstores in the USA, it also plans stores and warehouses in Australia by September next year. This expansion would be huge and pave the way for even more dominance for them as a company. With such influence, is it possible anyone can compete?

However, they’re not infallible and CEO Jeff Bezos once lost ‘$3 Billion In An Hour After Amazon Misses On Earnings’. This shows how things don’t always go their way and how losses can be high. However, the company is still one of the richest in the world. Jeff Bezos is America’s second richest man, behind Bill Gates.

Innovative Amazon vs. Established Bookstore Companies

Barnes and Noble and Waterstone’s as well as all other large bookstores stand the greatest chance of surviving Amazon’s aggressive expansion. Smaller indie stores will suffer the hardest and many will undoubtedly be forced out of business if Amazon’s huge ambitions go ahead. The big companies may have to start introducing new measures to ensure advantages and consolidate themselves over Amazon, as it is a newcomer in their field, where they are much more experienced.

Amazon is innovative no doubt, but can it invade brick and mortar giants’ home territory so easily without hardships and significant drawbacks? One would say not. It’s conceivable to even say that corporations owning large bookstore chains have the power and established presence to put pressure on Amazon as it explores the waters of this new area. They already have a giant pool of consumers who visit their stores and prefer buying books in person as opposed to shopping online. Many probably also disapprove of Amazon because of this and the way it operates. If they use this to apply pressure on Amazon during its growing pains then they could conceivably interfere with its growth, inflict losses, maintain dominance or even push it back out of the market.

Amazon will definitely be able to afford the losses due to its size, but if it was losing money from brick and mortar, this would affect the company as a whole and may deem it better to pull out of the market to focus on increasing its wealth by staying where it’s most successful. It’s been mostly successful online and maybe this is where it belongs. Only time will tell.

What is the point of eReaders?

According to reports, Amazon controls 79% of the eBook market here in the UK. ‘When Apple announced the iPad with its iBookstore many people thought the inferior Kindle would be toast, but by letting people read Kindle books on any device, Amazon has preserved, and even arguably gained, marketshare.’ It is quite clear that many big companies see the eReader venture as a profitable one as there are many to choose from, even outside of Amazon, with Apple as ‘the second most-used e-book platform, with 9% of respondents saying it was their preferred choice’ and Google as the third most popular, being used by 8% of people.

However, since 2012 when eReader sales figures reached their peak of 40 million units worldwide, the numbers have begun to decline, last year only selling 20.2 million worldwide. So, what is the reason for this and would it be too far to think of eReaders as becoming redundant?

Why would you purchase an eReader?

One of the main selling points for Kindles and other eReaders is that they have a back lit, ‘glare-free screen’. This means that no matter where you are, what light you are in or how you are reading from your Kindle, you will always be able to do just that – read. Another aspect that many eReaders boast about is their lightweight feel and increased durability compared to tablets like the iPad, and let’s face it, we have all experienced or know many who have had to pay a huge fee to get their Apple device’s screen fixed. Another selling point is that eReaders also allow readers to store all their books in one device easily, usually without any annoying notifications popping up alerting you to your storage that is nearly full.

The newest release from Amazon, the Kindle Oasis, boasts that it ‘reads like the printed page’. But, it’s not the printed page, and with most of us used to smartphone, laptop and computer screens, why do we actually need this feature especially when, for a little more money, you could have a lot of components that are frankly, much better and anti-glare screen protectors are available for any device at a small fee.

Do you need an eReader?                                                                                                

Despite its shortcomings that seem to range over all the devices created by Apple, for example, software update issues, durability issues and charging problems, the Apple iPad sold over 58 million units worldwide in 2012 at the same time that eReaders reached their peak sales figures. Last year, in 2015, these numbers dropped, but only slightly with Apple still selling nearly 55 million iPads. These figures alone show that Apple has a much wider audience and is bringing digital print to a larger number of people even if that is not one of their main goals. The way we’re consuming books is constantly evolving and with a bigger screen, access to the internet and millions of apps and a camera are only some of the versatile aspects of an Apple iPad and many other tablets now available on the market. Despite Apple’s high price tags being common knowledge, there are many other tablets available if you are willing to shop around from the likes of Sony, Samsung, Microsoft and Amazon who released a range of Kindle Fire devices. Darren Laws, CEO of UK Publisher, Caffeine Nights says that “Amazon’s next challenge, and that of the publishing industry, will be how to transition older readers to newer technology than eReaders. This may take some time or be a natural progression as the market matures, so dedicated eReaders may be around for a while yet.”

©️ MediaShift

The introduction of the independent Kindle App available on tablets and smartphones have allowed consumers to completely bypass Kindle eReaders altogether. The app, which is free on the iOS App Store, Google Play Store and the Microsoft Store allow both Apple device users and android users to gain the same experience of reading without buying a Kindle, with the option to change the colours, brightness, text size and ability to highlight sections of text which you can return to later. In fact, most tablets have their own app already installed on their devices so it is not even necessary to download another app for your digital reading needs. For example, Apple devices come with iBooks, and android ones have Google Play Books ready and waiting for users to read from.

Hang on, do you even need a tablet?

The answer is no, not if you don’t want one. With smartphones being released all the time with bigger screens than ever before (like the Apple 6 and 7 plus, and Amazon Fire Phone), the inconvenience of reading on a screen that is small enough to fit in your pocket is becoming less of a concern to avid readers. Currently, an enormous 2.1 billion of us have a smartphone of our own all with the same apps included on a tablet that make reading easier for us. According to research, only 18% of older readers say that they can read a digital book just as well as on a tablet whilst this figure jumps to 32% for those aged between 18-34. With titles like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins which remained a bestseller for weeks, all the way to The Three Little Pigs by Nosy Cow, the content existing on apps like iBooks is extremely wide and versatile even allowing users to download audiobooks. In fact, last year, an author named Iain Pears created an app that he claimed was actually necessary to understand his novel, Arcadia. An app that is free to purchase, claims that ‘the strands of story could be mixed or kept separate offered a liberation from those shackles known as genres’ showing that this innovative invention brings a greater and more interesting experience to readers who use smartphones.

Of course, there is always the option to completely ignore digital reading and stick to paperbacks, the tried and tested form which still remains its popularity. With no need for a power source and print being easier on the human eye, it has many qualities that other methods cannot produce. Dr. Gregory Leadbetter, Director of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing at Birmingham City University says, “I don’t foresee the extinction of print books with the rise of digital reading, especially if print publishers are sensible and don’t try to fight the convenience of digital technologies.”

Illegal Downloads

Unfortunately, for authors, publishers and booksellers, whether their audiences are using an eReader or a tablet, a smartphone or a laptop, typing in a book title on a search engine will pop up thousands of results, some of which are sure to be what you are looking for. The Booksellers Association released a video earlier this year featuring Nic Bottomley, the owner of independent bookseller Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, located in Bath, ‘urging people not to illegally download creative content such as e-books, or risk destroying the industry’. However, whilst these illegal pdf, mobi and epub files are not always the easiest to read due to the reader not being able to change text size, font etc., a survey indicated that infringers ‘downloaded the works illegally because it is easy (60%), quick (48%) and free (44%)’, factors that are enough to tempt many.

The Future of eReaders

The future of eReaders is uncertain because the industry has already taken multiple routes to improving readers’ digital reading experience. Matt Graham, Technical Consultant at app developer Apadmi in London pointed out: “I think eReaders will maintain their popularity. Amazon has by no means killed the eReader, because its tablets and phones do not replicate any of the USPs of an eReader, namely very long battery life, the ability to read in bright light, and no eye strain when reading for prolonged periods.” In the two years after this statement, Amazon has begun developing their eReaders in a more sophisticated direction, shown by their newest release, the Kindle Oasis, and innovation has begun to close the gap between eReaders, tablets and smartphones with the release of the YotaPhone, the world’s first dual screen smartphone, with an e-ink screen featuring on the back and five days’ reading possible on a single charge bringing those USPs mentioned by Graham to the smartphone industry.



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Is there a future for the independent bookshop?

Independent Bookshop Mr Bs Emporium Bath

Digital buying changed the way we interact with books

Walk into your local independent bookshop and join the numbers browsing, but how many people do you see at the counter buying? We’ve all taken a guilty book photo or noted down a title, only to later order it on Amazon that evening for next-day delivery or to find the e-book version. Is there room for an integrated digital model that persuades us to start buying in our shops?

The closure of independent bookshops, particularly high street stores is no new phenomenon. Recent data from The British Retailers Association, suggests closure is still the trend: ‘Independent shops are in dramatic decline, as more shops closed than opened in the first six months of the year for the first time since 2012. There was a net loss of 144 independent shops in the first half of 2015.’

Our preference for browsing and buying print books online, and our preference for e-book formats over print means independent bookshops are struggling to offer what the modern consumer demands.

Digital buying online
© Static Pexels, 2014

But aren’t independent bookshops all about the print experience?

Booksellers argue independent bookshops can thrive despite digital threats. Innovative survivors such as Daunt Books, Claire De Rouen and Mr B’s Emporium suggest the future is more competitive, but bright. Independent bookshops are places where customers can browse and pick out the covers which attract them visually, finding new titles through personal recommendations, rather than relying on mainstream sales data from Amazon.

Francessa Main, editorial director of Picador emphasises the need for an independent outlook on the book industry suggesting that ‘Amazon is just a giant sea of books, unless you are on the right algorithm you won’t be found’. The advantage of independent bookshops is that they have the potential to reach out and promote new, less well-known titles.

Some booksellers say digital buying is healthy competition for their stores. For example, Johnny de Falbe, co-owner of independent bookshop John Sandoe argues ‘We may have lost some customers, but overall we’ve gained in trade, precisely because of Amazon. The feel of the physical space, and the idea of a bookshop as a nice place to go, matters to people more than ever, and they will make a considerable effort to come here.’

John Sandoe Books
© John Sandoe, 2015

The ambiance of a bookshop and the intimate customer service experience is arguably irreplaceable by the distanced, robotic purchase of books online. Non-fiction art, fashion and photography books remain essential bookshop items because their form and aesthetic is centred on the physical print object.

In an interview, author Irvine Welsh discussed the shift in the community aspect of a bookshop: ‘I am optimistic because I think if bookshops can play the long game, consumers will go back to analogue, and they can become cultural hubs, be it art orientated shops or a social place or music hangout. But, they have to become cultural cafes.’ There is space for independent bookshops to become community orientated.

Independent bookshops may benefit by expanding the ways they bring customers into their business. Already bookshops are finding extensions of their business to attract customers. However, is this enough to meet the digital demand for instant online purchases and e-book availability?

What are Amazon up to with physical digital bookshops?

Meanwhile in the USA, Amazon is seizing an opportunity by launching new physical bookshops in Seattle, Portland and potentially New York. The bookshops integrate Amazon’s book selection with their digital e-books and Kindles. Customers are encouraged to browse shelves organised by categories such as ‘4.8 stars and above’ and ‘Top pre-orders from’.

Amazon Books stated:

We select books based on customer ratings, pre-orders, sales, popularity on Goodreads, and our curators’ assessments. We place books face-out on the shelves, so each can communicate its own essence. Under each book is a review card with the customer rating and a review. Most have been rated 4 stars or above and many are award winners.

Amazon open physical bookshops
© Amazon, 2016

Amazon’s customer-facing, digital sales data model bridges the gap between what is selling online and what is available in store. Customers are actively encouraged to use the e-readers on display, browse print copies and purchase the e-book on a device, reducing the isolation of the print and digital spheres.

It is unclear whether Amazon’s move is channeled from desperation, or a desire to experiment with a prototype. In a similar way to Amazon, Barnes & Noble recently teamed up with Nook e-readers, offering incentive schemes such as the ‘Free Fridays Nook Book through the B&N website’ and free downloads over B&N WiFi if you visit the physical store. Fisher claims ‘these free Nook books usually cost money, but as a promotion they’re free just on that Friday. You’ll want to download it that day because it will most likely not become free again.’

Amazon and Barnes & Noble seem to be trying to combine the digital purchase and print browsing experience of the bookshop. Perhaps there is a drive to get customers accessing e-books in store and there is an opportunity to build better relationships with digital technology.

Is there room for an integrated digital model for independent bookshops?

Penguin Random House trialled an online platform called My Independent Bookshop in 2014, which linked the e-commerce website Hive with independent bookshops. The system meant users could ‘choose their favourite real-world independent bookshop to connect with through Hive, benefitting from a 5% commission on book orders and 8% on e-books orders from purchases made through their website’ (The Bookseller).

In this model, a percentage of online sales went back to the bookshop. The delivery option meant the customer was directed to the nearest bookshop to collect their delivery or offered discounts, encouraging customers into bookshops they were unfamiliar with. Marie Telford, owner of The Hayling Island Bookshop, said: ‘This new site is a great way for people to share their favourite books online and we also hope that many of them will come and visit us in person too’.

However, Penguin Random House announced the closure of the platform at the end of 2015, in a move to a new company site. Penguin used the data collected to help map what books readers were interested in through the conversations and reviews they posted on the site. Unfortunately, they decided they could not continue to maintain the website. Michael Kozlowski, Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader suggested the site ‘failed to garner significant interest.’

Perhaps our purchasing habits are becoming ingrained and we are hesitant to change the way we shop for books. Amazon is the go-to for many, simply because of its low prices, ease, outreach and speedy service.

Indie Bound independent book campaign
© Indie Bound, 2016

Organisations such as Books Are My Bag and Indie Bound are campaigning to change our purchasing behaviour and aim to promote independent bookshops. Indie Bound’s mission statement prides itself on the collaboration between publishers, bookshops and authors. The campaign argues, ‘For many people bookshops conjure fond images of book readings, in-store cafes and delight at the discovery of a new author. And in fact, 56% of all book buying decisions are made by consumers in a bookshop – but we must continue to celebrate – and shop in! – our fabulous high street bookshops.’

What’s next for the independent bookshop?

Penguin Random House’s pilot My Independent Bookshop was a platform in the early stages. Potentially other organisations could do the same, working on the core system and promoting the service more effectively. There is still room for an alliance with digital platforms and independent bookshops.

Digital technology and independent bookshops could work hand in hand. For example, a barcode system that allows users to photograph the books on their devices, which links them to the e-book extension of the independent bookstore. Apps could ease the way for customers who like to browse selections online, combining services such as ordering books to pick up in store, new releases and notifications on latest events.

The future does look bleak for independent bookshops. Amazon will remain the supergiant of online book sales and their pop-up physical stores could threaten the status of Barnes & Noble. On a more optimistic note, the independent bookshop experience has become bolder and more innovative as a result. There is definitely an exciting opportunity for independent bookshops to beat the decline by interacting with digital technology positively, whether that be event notifications, bookstore apps or the presence of e-books alongside print.