Amazon IS the world's biggest bookstore

Amazon reported their earnings for the second quarter of calendar 2005 yesterday, beating expectations and bringing about a 10% jump in their stock price. Their North American media sales (they don't break out books from music and video) were up 14% for the first six months of the year, making the fourth straight year with double digit growth. This means that Amazon is growing their media sales at twice the rate of Barnes&Noble, which in turn, has been growing at twice the rate of Borders. Amazon will nearly catch Borders for North American sales this year, and will be at approximately 75% of Barnes&Noble sales.

Amazon's overseas growth is even more startling, and stands out in contrast to the torpid growth of the two other American retailers overseas. Amazon's international media sales, primarily in the UK, Germany, France and Japan, reached 97% of Amazon North American sales in the first half of the year. At their current growth rate, Amazon will sell more books overseas than in North America next year. While none of the big three retailers break out their book sales vs other media, such as music, movies, and audio books, it's probable that the Amazon mix contains more of these non-book products.

What this means to the self publisher is that putting all of your eggs in Amazon's basket isn't necessarily the worst thing to do. If you have the option to get your books into Barnes&Noble, Borders and the independents, by all means do so, but weigh the costs and risks. Getting books stocked on shelves doesn't mean they'll sell, and it’s quite an upfront investment to meet their stocking requirements. With Amazon, a single copy on their shelf means it's "in stock" and they'll ramp up their ordering to meet actual demand, rather than insisting on a huge print run for initial stocking. Sure, sales will be slower when the book is on "2 - 3 weeks shipping", but as it builds momentum, stocking will catch up. All of this goes against the traditional "push" model of publishing, where the economics dictate printing the greatest possible number of books to lower the unit cost and increase the shelf impact, but it's ideal for print on demand.

I've seen increasing sales through Amazon.UK thanks to my books there being printed by Lightning Source U.K., the overseas branch the primary print on demand provider for all U.S. publishers. Amazon recently acquired their own print on demand operation, Booksurge, but it's unclear as yet how they will integrate Booksurge printed titles into their international operations. Replica also maintains a direct relationship with Amazon via Baker&Taylor, but I don't know if they have any international connections, and the stocking mechanism is a little clunky.

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