Publishing Industry Market Update; Vol. 2, Issue 7

Amazon will be broken up by federal regulators…if the House Judiciary Committee has its way.

Amazon Busting

The Antitrust Subcommittee has set its sights on Big Tech (companies worth over $600 billion), including, of course, Amazon. A handful of bills were introduced in efforts to corral the Facebooks, Googles, and Amazons of the world. Of those, the most notable for the fine readers of this report would be the breaking up of Amazon’s vertical publishing monopoly. The legislation is targeting giant platforms that “leverage their control across multiple business lines…in ways that undermine free and fair competition.” What that could mean for Amazon’s present vertical in the publishing industry is the breaking up or spinning off of Audible, Brilliance Audio, Kindle, Kindle Direct Publishing (self-publishing), and their “Amazon Publishing'' imprint.

Additional measures under discussion include curbs on these platforms’ practices of using “non-public data” (the stuff they collect from us) they get from the transactions of third-party sellers on their site, which they turn around and use to promote their own products. Ever notice when you search for Advil on Amazon, the Amazon generic product comes up first?

A “Schoolhouse Rock” education is enough to know that these measures are a long way from becoming law (not to mention the myriad legal challenges they will evoke). But stay tuned, this could be an area that garners bipartisan support (some of you “youngins” may need to look that up, but it used to be a thing).

And That’s Not All

Amazon is also facing a growing number of class-action lawsuits on behalf of consumers, as well as a handful of state and federal legal challenges, to their pricing policies. The suits’ primary gripe is that Amazon’s longstanding requirement that third-party sellers on their platform grant the tech behemoth “most favored nations” status runs afoul of federal antitrust pricing rules. If someone wants to sell a product on Amazon, they can’t sell it anywhere else for cheaper – even though Amazon’s commission (and shipping/fulfillment requirements) take a bigger bite out of the seller’s profit margin.

Fortunately for Mr. Bezos, he has more lawyers than grey Sprinter vans. So, we'll see….

The Growing “Book Pie”

Our friend and HarperCollins' CEO Brian Murray offered some encouraging words to all in the publishing world—especially authors (and agents)—during an interview with investors. Murry announced that Harper is “being aggressive in terms of buying books.” Their analysts have seen the “book pie grow” as much as 15% in the past year, and he wants to make sure Harper has a healthy piece of that growing pie. He referenced their consumer research which indicates that “consumers are going to continue to spend time and money buying books through the remainder of 2021.” As if that wasn’t music enough, Murray added that they are increasing their title output as well. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard the words “increasing” and “title output” in the same sentence. Praise be!

Selling Trends

I pointed out in the prior issue that the weekly increasing sales streak for print books year-over-year (that we have been enjoying since we started this report) was showing signs of slowing. And, in fact, it has fallen into a decline for the all-important category (especially to Y&Y) of adult non-fiction. But fiction, perhaps buoyed by the summer travel tsunami of 2021 caused by our pent-up vacation urges from the lost summer of 2020, has more than filled the void. So, while we continue to track above last year’s rates in the aggregate (all print books), last week managed just a sliver of growth over the same period in 2020: only 1.1%.

If you’re keeping score at home, we had slowed to a 2.3% increase for the last week of May. Now, we’re down to 1.1%. I told you there was a pattern. Hopefully, Brian Murray and his consumer research department will prove right.

Get Your Passports Ready (maybe)

We close with some welcome news from across the Pond: the Frankfurt Book Fair is back and in person. October 20-24, 2021 will be the return of one of the world’s largest book industry events, as publishers and agents from throughout Europe and beyond will once again gather in Germany. It will be a smaller footprint, and US publishers seem to be cool to the idea of attending, but it’s a start.

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