Or Books Co-founder Asks: Is Amazon Really Worth It For Small Publishers?

Last week we asked; is Amazon taking aim once again on publishers? Amazon is  reported to be threatening to pull the ‘buy buttons’ once again on publisher’s books if they do not get concessions on deals surrounding the new agency model.
From last week’s story:

“Currently several large publishers are in negotiations with Amazon about the implementation of the agency model for e-books. According to the article in the New York Times, two industry executives have disclosed to the newspaper that Amazon is looking for concessions on the deal, including extending any new deal to three years and an assurance that no other e-book competitor the publishers deal with will undercut the agreed Amazing price.”

While large publishers may bring more weight to negotiations, it is unlikely Amazon will extend any leeway to publishers outside of the big six publishing houses, and certainly there would seem little likelihood of Amazon offering any favours to independent publishers.
OR Books co-founder, Colin Robinson, wrote a piece in the Huffington Post yesterday that left no one in any doubt where Or Books stand regarding independent publishers and the kind of relationship they have with Amazon. In his article entitled ‘Bedtime for Bezos’, Robinson stated the position of the new start-up publisher he co-founded with John Oakes:

“…we have a simple message for publishers being menaced in this way: You are in an abusive relationship. It’s doing little for you that you can’t do better yourselves. It’s time to say “IT’S OVER.

With sales of $24 billion in 2009 (up 26% on the previous year), Amazon didn’t get to where it is today by being touchy-feely. This is a company, after all, founded by Jeff Bezos, a man so devoted to the cold science of calculation that, for evening companionship after a hectic day on 80s Wall Street, he developed a system called “women flow”, a variation of finance’s “deal flow”.

It was hard ball from the start for the Or Books co-founder. They made an early decision not to list their books on Amazon and concede a retailer discount of up to 60%, preferring to use their viral marketing, other online retailers, high street and independent bookstores, as well as their own online bookstore.

“…we looked hard at what Amazon costs a small publisher, and what it provides in return. We decided it wasn’t worth it; that we would be better off on our own.”

For Or Books and many other independent publishers, the real struggle is their concession of such a high discount to Amazon, leaving the independents unable to match the listed Amazon price on their own online bookstores. It may be better to invest the money conceded on a heavy retail discount into direct and acute marketing and advertising of titles. Ultimately, Amazon is simply listing and making books available for purchase, while the independent publisher is actively trying to find customers and create a unique connection with them.
Or Books hit the New York Times bestseller lists with their first book, ‘Going Rouge: Sarah Palin – An American Nightmare’. Their second title to be published is ‘This Time We Went too far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion’ by Norman Finkelstein.

About Or Books
OR Books is a new type of publishing company. It embraces progressive change in politics, culture and the way we do business.

Our list is highly selective: we publish just one or two books a month, combining established authors with new discoveries.

Our editorial standards are fastidious; our design clear and elegant.
We employ exciting promotion with highly creative use of video and the Internet.

To avoid the waste of unsold stock and returns, we produce our books only when they are wanted, either through print-on-demand or as platform-agnostic e-books.

This system allows a rapid publishing turnaround so relevant books can intervene quickly in issues of the day.

Most importantly, we sell direct to you, the customer, shipping promptly when a book is released and/or your order is received.

Our approach jettisons the inefficiencies of conventional publishing to better serve readers, writers and the environment.

It points to a new future for book publishing.


  1. eddiestack.com said:

    It depends on what a publisher’s expectations of Amazon are and what amount of profit they want to make. We use POD and are very pleased with how Amazon does for us: we get a worldwide distribution that we would not get otherwise and readers get good prices. We also sell well on Kindle…but we price to sell and understand that our ebook sales are icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

  2. Mick Rooney said:


    I take your point about worldwide availability, but I think Colin from Or Books was looking at the dilemma on Amazon discounts from the perspective of independent American publishers – making the point that Amazon wasn’t the only ‘online’ gig in town.

    Or Books have a particular sharp viral marketing strategy and their the two books published have distinctive US political themes. That’s very much the network and readership they are trying to connect with.

    Certainly for some small publishers – where Amazon represents a mainstay for print and ebook sales – casting aside the Amazon platform would indeed be tantamount to cutting their own throats.

  3. eddiestack.com said:

    Good points Mick. I also think that the way technology is evolving that Amazon will not be the top dog for ever; they suit our needs at present. We introduced the first ‘enhanced ebook’ as an iPhone app a few weeks ago and have a finger in the Apple pie as well.

  4. Mick Rooney said:


    Sounds like you are making good short to medium term plans for the books you publish.

    No, I agree, I don’t think Amazon will remain the dominating fixture for books purchased online, particularly ebooks, even with the brand strength of the Kindle. The Apple iPad will certainly shake things by the end of the year.

    I think I read somewhere, a few weeks back, around the time of the Macmillan scuffle, that Amazon had more than 80% of the online market share – scary stuff.

  5. Inkling said:

    OR’s co-founder seems to know little about the dynamics of publishing. I have 30 titles on Amazon and it gets them at the same 45% off retail as every other retail outlet. I’ve been in the business 10 years, and Amazon’s never come calling asking for any greater discount.

    Eddiestack is right. Apart from Amazon’s now defunct efforts to bring POD in-house, their online store works quite well with small publishers using POD. Personally, I prefer The Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide, but they’re not nearly as well known.

    There’s also this odd remark from them: “Our editorial standards are fastidious; our design clear and elegant. We employ exciting promotion with highly creative use of video and the Internet.”

    Actually, their standards are dismal, their designs deceptive, and their promotions amateurish and mean-spirited. The cover of their Sarah Palin book is a rip-off of that on Sarah Palin’s genuine political autobiography. If that’s brilliance, then every Xerox machine is a genius.

    I fear we’re focusing too much on current events. Ebook publishing needs what print publishing has long had, distributors who provide a useful buffer between authors/publishers and retail outlets. Requiring contracts and file uploads for each outlet prejudices the system in favor of a few large retailers such as Amazon and Apple. Doing business directly with every online ebookstore, however small, is just too much hassle. And distributors such as Ingram and Smashwords have enough weight to block attempts to bully smaller publishers.

    My hunch is that it’ll take a couple of years to sort this out. For now, I’m happy to be dealing with two 400-pound gorillas rather than one 800-pound one.

  6. Mick Rooney said:

    “Actually, their standards are dismal, their designs deceptive, and their promotions amateurish and mean-spirited. The cover of their Sarah Palin book is a rip-off of that on Sarah Palin’s genuine political autobiography. If that’s brilliance, then every Xerox machine is a genius.”

    I think the visual pun on the Sarah Palin cover was…eh, deliberate, the book being a parody of Palin’s book.

    Don’t get me wrong, I take your points on what works for a publisher, works, whether with or without Amazon. but no one – not even Robinson – said Amazon expect 60% discount, but up to… most average publishers like yours hit the 40-45% marker.

    The point is that Or Books are not using POD, nor Amazon, they are a recent starter, they get books into brick n mortar bookstores, they have not published 30 books – just two, and their first published book made the New York Times bestseller lists.

    Somewhere in the quagmire of what you seem to perceive as a misguided approach or a recommendation not to use Amazon – it has worked for them.

    It’s a perspective which has worked for one publisher, and very well by the looks of things – not an iron-fast blue-print for every publisher.