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What Can We Learn from Amazon?

What Can We Learn from Amazon?

This image is not an ad. It is a screenshot of Amazon’s homepage from 02/24/15.


It’s a company that needs no introduction. There are plenty of people that love it. There are people that don’t. Same goes for how independent publishers think of it. I don’t want to rehash the same old, same old here. I do not want to advocate against it (at least not this time). I do think though that however you view the company, there are things that independent publishers (myself definitely included) can learn from Amazon. Many independent publishers are started by writers and/or artists that do not have a business background. The following is meant to be helpful for independent publishers, writers and artists. So let’s explore two areas specifically…

Customer Service

Over the years, Amazon has been a company that has concentrated on and is currently refining the notion of customer service. As a business, its customer service is generally seen as one of the big positives by most all who use it (not counting various Kindle incidents a few years back). Once an order is placed and processed, all efforts are made to get that product to its destination as soon as possible. Despite what many would categorize as the use of deplorable business practices to do that, there is no denying that they are able to successfully reach that goal more than the majority of time. And in doing so, they have created a customer base that expects the same level of customer service from any online retailer. That is key. And that includes independent publishers.

Unfortunately, much of the independent publishing community has the opposite reputation as Amazon regarding customer service and the speed in which items are processed and shipped. There are things that Amazon does that if we as independent publishers did as well, would help to alleviate some of the confusion surrounding when an order is placed online direct via a publisher website. Sometimes it takes us days or weeks to ship orders out. I do recognize the challenges that we face. We do not have the same workforce and distribution points as Amazon obviously. We also may not live close enough to a post office to justify going more than once or twice a week to send out orders and that is fine. But communicating that with the readers is important.

Even through automated messages that say things like “Thank you for order,” “Your order is being processed,” and “Your order has shipped” Amazon has that down. Many of us can do better. Just sending a message automated or not saying that the order was received and is being processed would go a long way. Some independent publishers do this already and it is a very helpful when ordering from them. Just realizing that customer service, or even parts of customer service is something that is within our means to change individually as publishers can be a beginning.

Innovative Thinking

No matter how crazy you may think the “delivery by drone” idea is, you have to recognize that it is a new way of approaching the delivery of materials. Yes, Amazon has a lot of $ that allows it to spend time on such ideas. And although we as independent publishers lack even a fraction of the financial power of Amazon, we can make up for that by realizing that we are in an ideal situation to try and innovate. A good example of that is Joe Pan and the fine folks at Brooklyn Arts Press.

bap-gordon-dealThey have currently released a book by Noah Eli Gordon titled “The Word Kingdom in the Word Kingdom” that will use the “pay what you want model.” For a limited time, from February 14 – March 7, anyone can pay what they want for this book (including $5 shipping & handling). Although others have tried such a strategy before, it is not a widely accepted one. Other established writers (Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman) and musicians (Radiohead, Talib Kweli) have used a version of “pay what you want” with success although they all already had established audiences. But the point is that Brooklyn Arts Press is trying to figure out a price point and see if what they are currently selling their books at is ideal. They are not afraid to try something new and that type of mentality should be embraced by all independent publishers simply because of the fact that we are “independent.” We don’t have to worry about pleasing a corporate manager or a board of directors.

Striving to be an innovative press should be a goal of all of ours.

Jeremy Spencer
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About The Author

Jeremy Spencer

Jeremy edits The Scrambler (an e-zine) and Scrambler Books (an independent publisher of books) out of Sacramento, CA.

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