Why is your book on Amazon?

We’ve had a few people get in touch and ask why we link to Amazon, as opposed to independent bookshops (or the online stores that say they support them) when telling people about Birmingham: It’s Not Shit the book.

We get the point. Printing the copies of our books in Brum is important to us, even though it probably costs us more than some other options. The shop thing is not something we can address though – and I’m going to go on a bit in telling you why. I might get some details of this not perfect, but it’s my understanding.

Bookshops (independent or not) are mostly stocked via the big book distributors. These have to agree to take your book on – and they won’t take them on if they don’t think they will make money – and typically pay 40% of the cover price to you.

They don’t pay this straight away, and books from bookshops that are returned don’t get paid for. They can’t be sold, so they get pulped (or the big titles make it to The Works etc).

Independent bookshops work on very tight margins and are worth your support, but the risk on selling the actual books is passed to the publishers (via the distribution cartel).

If you’re a small publisher, especially selling a local niche title (in an area without many bookshops, as we do) that means that not only do you have to risk your money upfront to print the books, but you have to store them – without any guarantee that they will ever be sold.

With our previous book we were lucky enough to get a small number of local shops (not bookshops) to stock them – they paid on a direct sale basis, not sale or return. We were lucky enough to get orders that allowed us to do further print runs (these are absolutely impractical at less than 3-400 copies as the price per book is too high). Thus far no shops are returning our calls on this one – if they do we will be able to reprint in Brum, and also sell direct again. (If you would like to stock BiNS the book as a shop, please get in touch.)

The books will not reach Hive, for example, though as it won’t be distributed by a major distributor.

Amazon – untaxed behemoth of capitalism that it is – runs a print on demand service. When people order a copy of our book from them it gets printed: no risk to us, no storage, no upfront costs. Doing, that when we don’t have stock, we can afford. Small print runs and individually chasing book distributors, and then shops we can’t.

The publishing model (and the distribution cartel) works against independent bookshops just as much as Amazon does. Small publishers do not own or control the means of production here. Nor that of distribution.

There is no truly ethical consumption under capitalism, and the individual responsibility/morality line on bookshops is often promoted by the big publishing houses – owned by equally unscrupulous people as Bezos – Rupert Murdoch for example (who one suspects get a better deal from shops than they do from Amazon). Penguin is owned by Bertelsmann who are as big as they are in part because collaborated with the German Nazis in the 30-40s and used slave labour, Simon & Schuster by are owned by corporate monolith Viacom, HarperCollins is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp.

It’s not to say you shouldn’t support you local shop when you can, just don’t be surprised if it can’t stock everything you want.

So tl;dr, as much as we’d like people to avoid Amazon too, capitalism is a pervasive system that we live inside. You are welcome to join me in attempting to get rid of it.

Author: Jon Bounds

14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands 2008, subsequently not placed. His new book about visiting every seaside pier in England and Wales — Pier Review — has been described as “On the Road meets On the Buses”, it's out now. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama to be performed on Twitter and founded the famous blog Birmingham: It's Not Shit.