Amazon struggles to get its books onto the bestseller charts(Read article summary)
Books published by Amazon like the Penny Marshall memoir 'My Mother Was Nuts' have not seen strong sales.
If Amazon is the Hercules of the book world, the leviathan who overshadows all, then publishing is its Achillesâ heel.
Despite its almost mythical dominance in book retailing, Amazon has struggled mightily to crack the publishing business. While it sells millions of copies of other publishersâ books, Amazon canât quite seem to get its own books off the ground and onto the bestseller charts, according to a recent Wall Street Journal piece that examined the online retailerâs publishing woes.
Case in point: Penny Marshallâs memoir, âMy Mother Was Nuts.â The memoir by the actress and director was published by Amazon and was slated to be one of its biggest titles for fall. âIn its first four weeks of sale it has sold just 7,000 copies in hardcover, according to Nielsen BookScan,â reports the Wall Street Journal. âBy comparison, actor Rob Loweâs memoir, 2011âs âStories I Only Tell My Friends,â published by Macmillanâs Henry Holt & Co., sold 54,000 hardcover copies in its first four weeks.â
Granted, there could be many reasons for the memoirâs failure to sell. âMarshall hasnât been in the limelight for a while,â writes the WSJ, and, of course, not every memoir strikes a chord. But thereâs one considerable culprit for the slow sales of âMy Mother Was Nuts" and every other book Amazon publishes: âits severely limited availability.â
If readers wanted to find âMy Mother Was Nutsâ in a bricks-and-mortar store, or simply stumble upon it, the way some books are discovered, they would be hard-pressed to do so. The memoir wasnât stocked in any of the almost-700 Barnes and Nobles stores across the country, nor in Wal-Mart or Target stores. Most independent booksellers donât stock the book, and the e-book version wasnât carried by stores operated by Sony, Apple, or Google. Just about the only place a reader is guaranteed to find the memoir is at Amazon.com.
Thatâs largely due to a deliberate boycott of Amazon books by retailers resentful of the mega-online retailerâs Herculean dominance of the books market. In a move called a âdeclaration of war,â Barnes and Noble announced early this year its decision to yank Amazon-published books from its shelves.
âBarnes & Noble has made a decision not to stock Amazon published titles in our store showrooms,â Barnes & Noble chief merchandising officer, Jaime Carey, wrote in an email in February 2012. âOur decision is based on Amazonâs continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents, and the authors they represent.â
The tactical move was âan attempt to cut off access for the online books behemoth that [Barnes and Noble] says âundermined the industryâ by signing exclusive agreements with publishers, agents, and authors,â according to a February 2012 Chapter & Verse post.
Amazon is feeling the pain now: the Penny Marshall memoir is the first big Amazon title to be published since the boycott began. And though all retailers are not boycotting Amazon books, âthe companyâs status as a competitor is clearly a factor for some,â writes the WSJ. âI donât want to be a showroom for Amazon,â Mitchell Kaplan, owner of three Books & Books stores in Florida, told the Journal.
Authors are taking note. After a string of deals with authors like Deepak Chopra, Timothy Ferriss, and James Franco in the spring of last year, Amazon, which entered publishing quietly in 2009, appears to be struggling to attract big names. The Barnes & Noble boycott, it seems, has slowed the number of big-name books Amazon has been able to sign. Â
âItâs panic time,â Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia, told the WSJ. âThe notion that a company as powerful as Amazon has such a tremendous amount of influence on what we read, how much money authors make, and the formats that books appear in is really scary to the book industry and other industries as well.â
In other words, the Herculean Amazonâs very strength has become its greatest weakness.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.