Business models

Canary in the Coal Mine?

Faced with Amazonian Losses, Indie Publisher Sells Books out of Car Trunk

An independent small publisher called recently, seeking to maintain control of, and expand market reach for his successful books on organic farming. His leading title, in its 9th edition, has sold over 18,000 copies. He wants to control business model, pricing, content, and customer contact for both paper and electronic — critical aspects of the publishing process which aggregators and e-tailers generally hang on to for themselves rather than share with publishers.

He’s an independent Yankee who’s opted to stay away from the deep-pocketed newcomers to the publishing space, the giants (you know who you are!). But he did sell books to B&N, which apparently dumped overstock when they went belly up, so now his books are available at Amazon and other e-tailers, apparently as loss leaders, sold for pennies on the dollar, of which his share is virtually nothing. He has lost control of his internet-based market. With his main market of indie bookstores disappearing like spring snow, and little to no income from Internet sales, his decades of successful independent publishing is threatened.

His organic farming books beckon readers from beyond New England; his current business model – driving around to local people he knows, selling books out of the trunk of his car – is fun but it doesn’t scale, isn’t future-proof. But there is hope! The internet is a mansion with countless doors; this publisher, like so many small independents, can find in the cloud inexpensive means to market which he can manage independently, without surrendering his publishing power and ensuing profits to third parties.

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