WHAT DOES AMAZON DO WELL? It catalogues a wide range of knowledge and makes it easier to find. It prices keenly and delivers efficiently. It captures data on what we buy and uses it to target promotional activity online and offline. Readers all over the world can get hold of a wider range of books (and everything else) than ever before, and than was ever possible. Hassled parents can find the toy of choice at birthdays and Christmas and have it delivered within days. Obscure computer parts or connectors can be sourced, and prices are keen across the range. Price is an issue, but for many customers it is secondary to availability. Put simply, Amazon has pretty much everything, and can get most of it to you quickly. That’s an incredible offer.
What Amazon can’t do yet, and has failed to do on several occasions so far, is create the products themselves (with the notable exception of the Kindle range). Its forays into book publishing still look like self-publishing which is done better elsewhere. The things they don’t do offer clues as to where a publisher adds value. These include acting as a quality filter, working to develop new authors, or seeking authors for known projects or ranges such as academic and reference works. During writing, publishers give intelligent broad input, continuing encouragement and guidance, and detailed final scrutiny and correction to manuscripts.
Less well known is the way publishers, along with librarians and booksellers, can help to catalogue, define and develop new fields of study. My own career includes a decade as a commissioning editor in which it was my privilege to work with excellent authors. Their input and my publisher’s output were both driven by my own ideas about the needs of the professional audience I served, based not only on data and analysis (though that is important) but on talking to people, making connections, networking and using intuition based on many conversations. Amazon’s algorithms are no match, yet, for human expertise and deduction.
Duncan has been a senior director with over 25 years experience in the publishing industry. He’d be delighted to discuss your leadership issues, whatever the size of your publishing-related concern. You can find out about his background here or contact him now.