The Internet’s Book Buying Utility


Robert McCrum has written a very interesting piece about the transformation of publishing – from paper to e-ink.  I kind of agree with him when he writes:

When cultural historians eventually come to describe the years 1990 to 2012, they will be hard put to resist phrases such as “paradigm shift”, “literary upheaval”, and “IT revolution”. No question: my generation has seen a transformation in the world of letters unequaled since the days of Gutenberg. What’s more, it has happened at warp speed.

And here we are at the end of 2012. We’ve seen the dominance of Amazon morph into that of God-like status – they are truly masters of all they survey and that’s why Penguin and Random House merged. Another super colossus to challenge the titan or at least give the appearance of doing so. We’ve seen yet another book phenomenon in the 50 Shades series and self-published work this year is probably far higher than last year. McCrum, I think, sees e-book explosion as an opportunity for writers and maybe he’s right. But damn, if you take on the role of publisher and promoter of your own work, even with the multitude of social networking tools available online these days it’s still a gambler’s game that you’ll meet with any kind of success given the sheer volume of other authors doing the same thing.

And you still have to write books while you’re trying to promote your existing stuff. Then there’s the issue of getting your message out to the majority of readers (and they are the majority of readers) who don’t blog, don’t tweet, may not use Facebook. I’m not saying this is the market that will buy in a brick and mortar book store because those are closing up shop all over the place and the big chains like Chapters/Indigo are turning into gift shops that happen to sell books.  They might well be shopping online for a book, so the question comes to mind: how are they going to find your book amid the millions of other books out there?

Where are they going to shop for that book. If Penguin/Random House thinks that folks are going to shop on a new Random Penguin Super Website, why would a reader do that when they can simply just “Amazon it”. See what I’ve just done here? I’ve said “Amazon it”. Just as Google wiped cyberspace clean of the multitude of search engines in the early 2000’s bringing the term “Google It” into our day-to-day use, my sense is that for book lovers, Amazon is doing the same thing. So I’m going to throw out an idea that has been bubbling away in my head over the last few weeks since I came back from my trip to London: Google is the primary search engine online. It’s the Internet’s “utility” now.

I think that 2012 is the year Amazon because the Internet’s utility for book buying and I base this on a very unscientific observation: I actually hear people saying “Oh, I’ll look that one up on Amazon” now. See? Someone recommends a book – you say, “I’ll look it up on Amazon.”

I’ve heard this kind of statement a lot this year. I hear it in Saskatoon where I live. I’ve heard it in the United States and in England. I see it being written on Facebook or better still, there’s a link to the book from a friend. I see it on Twitter.

Very simply, Amazon is now Google … for books. At least from the public consciousness perspective.

I think the publishing houses are too late to come up with something to counter Amazon. And it’s not just books because just as you can search for anything on Google, you can search for anything to buy on Amazon. Everything from socks to binders to books to DVD’s to flat screen televisions.

Think about that as you think about where you’re buying books or where you intend to buy this coming holiday season. Even Google Books hasn’t developed anything to counter Amazon – they were late to the party. Same thing with iTunes.

I don’t believe anyone is going to catch them, either.



  1. Depends if the UK government do anything about Amazon’s tax dodging, I think there is an appetite over here for companies that pay their taxes right now. I do look things up on Amazon a lot and I use their wishlist facility but to be perfectly honest I don’t buy more books from them than anyone else. I buy more in Tesco when I’m doing my food shopping.

    I used to look everything up on Goodreads but they ruined that when they moved away from Amazon data and chose a source that wasn’t international friendly.

    Of course your article is implying we’re all moving over to ebooks. I have a Kindle because at the time it was the only viable option…now the UK market has several options and I see a lot of people choosing Kobo…which releases them from the grasp of Amazon. But still, everyone I know with an ereader still buys paper books.

  2. admin

    I don’t think I’m implying we’re moving to ebooks though its a growing market, I think that an increasingly larger segment of book buyers are aware they can simply click the mouse and order from Amazon. Does this mean the death of brick and mortar bookstores? Not yet … but eventually, I think this is going to happen.

  3. I agree with you. I even say look for that book on amazon. Another thing amazon did was to allow affiliates. Anyone can become an affilitate of amazon. Every blog out there is. That means if anyone clicks on an amazon link on their site they will get a small percentage of that sale! That is why my blog has amazon links to all books in our reviews. If someone uses that link to go buy the book…we just made a little money 🙂 AND if that person clicks to other products on amazon with in the next 15 minutes, we get a percentage of those sales too! Book Depository does the same thing, but they aren’t as user friendly as the amazon affiliate program is.

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