At Frankfurt Book Fair: Where's Amazon?

Frankfurt Book Fair by Marc JacqueminMy first sea journey was on the Cunard liner, the HMS Queen Elizabeth.Not the QEII, but her predecessor — longer than the HMS Queen Mary by 11 feet, I loved telling my friends.

And as my family drove along the dock in France to reach the ship, I noticed a vast, dark brown wall beside us…thought nothing of it…some big warehouse or other. It was the ship, of course. This was the hull of a cruise liner, looming so large beside us that we neither recognized nor spoke of it as what it was: at that time, the biggest commercial seagoing vessel on the planet.

Here at Frankfurt Book Fair, the answer to “Where’s Amazon?” has seemed as easy as “Which dock for the Queen Elizabeth?”

See Amazon Publishing in Halle 8.0, stand R25, right? Or go to CreateSpace / Kindle Direct Publishing in Halle 3.1, stand G97. Per the trade show’s catalog:

Bücher veröffentlichen im Selbstverlag: Mit Amazons Independent Publishing-Plattform veröffentlichen Sie Ihr Werk als gedrucktes Buch ohne Vorlaufkosten und laufende Gebühren und erreichen damit Millionen von Lesern auf der ganzen Welt.

Philip Jones
Philip Jones

Innocuous, no? You can walk right past it. Everywhere. We frequently don’t grasp the expanse of Amazon’s influence, lowering along with the unrelievedly gray clouds over this city with too few taxis.

But as The Bookseller’s Philip Jones puts it in a new column from week’s end, Cruise control: “Amazon does not attend the Frankfurt Book Fair in any public way, and it is hard to ignore the fact that there is a growing publishing business—and author community—that sees Seattle as its Mecca, not Frankfurt.”

It’s that sense that many in the industry dare not speak its name — or, at the least, have trouble bringing themselves to acknowledge its looming prominence — that can be unsettling. Frankfurt, as big as it is, presents some close confines for so many of the industyr’s discrete operations, leaders, and issues. As fuzzy as it may be, the focus of the Fair is jarring, especially when, as Jones nails it: “By concentrating on what they do well—making books—publishers have glided along the literary autobahn, accelerating with the pace of change only when they have had to.” No one is rushing toward anything like resolution.

And it’s not as if getting a good handle on the nature and weight of Seattle’s presence has ever been easy, and not just for the books industry.

Derek Thompson

At The Atlantic, Derek Thompson’s new What in the World Is Amazon? leaves no doubt about the doubt.

He notes that while the company may dominate more than 40 percent of the book business, by the criteria some call Amazon a retail “monopoly,” the word “has no meaning” and “Shasta Soda really, really must be stopped.”

Amazon confuses people. It is the most ambitious company in America and the least profitable major tech company in America, and these things are true for the same reason…It is a consumer-friendly company that is the opposite of friendly to its competitors, suppliers, and even employees.

But it’s hard to argue that confusion and, yes, genuine market power are good reasons to look the other way and whistle a hapless tune.

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

The FutureBook: At Frankfurt Book Fair, Where’s Amazon?

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