Brand Loyalty and Book Loyalty

After a full weekend of ZOMG on Twitter about the Macmillan/Amazon showdown, where Amazon did the hokey pokey with the buy links for Macmillan authors, I was having a hard time articulating why this didn’t send me into rage and ire. I’m horrified for authors whose books are no longer on sale from what I’m told is the largest independent bookseller in the US, and I’m sorry that people looking for books from Macmillan authors on Kindle will not find them and likely move onto something else. But I’m not angry at one party over another. Mostly I want to throw my hands up in the air similar to when my children are fighting over a small pile of Cheerios while I’m holding a full box.

Why? Because I don’t harbor any particular feelings of loyalty toward Amazon or toward Macmillan. As I said on Twitter:

My brand loyalty: to authors who write good books. Not to publisher, not to bookstore, not to vendor. Author. And Book. That is all.

I care who wrote the book, and I develop loyalty towards authors and towards specific books they’ve written. I could give a rat’s ass who published it. I suspect the only people who pay attention to what house published whom is someone who works in publishing. I couldn’t tell you who writes for Pocket or who writes for Tor – except now I can find one author’s books in Kindle and not the other. I don’t know who is a Macmillan author and who isn’t – and even when I started searching for books to see who was and was not available at Amazon, I had to stop and think which book and which authors would be affected because I honestly didn’t remember.

 

I have no brand loyalty towards a specific house or imprint. Increased transparency for editors online is a good thing for readers like me because I’m more likely to learn about their tastes, and see where they align with mine. I don’t necessarily remember if something is an Avon book, but I might care that Esi Sogah edited it because I know her taste from following her on Twitter and reading what she says on the Avon editor’s blog. I’m not impressed with Macmillan’s positions on ebooks, and know that if I am looking for a book published by a Macmillan author online in digital format, I likely will have a devil of a time finding it.

The exception to the publisher house brand loyalty oblivion are small presses who’ve consistently impressed or horrified me. Most of the time, if it’s a big publishing house or an imprint of one? I couldn’t tell one from another and don’t care to, either.

I don’t have any terrible brand loyalty to Amazon, though. I don’t care where I buy my books. I care about price and whether I can get them digitally in the format I want. I am discerning about the books and the authors and the prices I pay. And I don’t buy books all that often from Amazon. I buy groceries, children supplies and electronics, but books? Hardly ever. I use a Kindle, as I said earlier, but I bought it used and rarely do I put Amazon books on it, even though buying my books from other sources means I don’t have access to the additional features like syncing across devices. I’m more likely to buy from eHarlequin or AllRomanceeBooks.com than Amazon.

I don’t think either Amazon or Macmillan is thinking about the consumer in any of their tree-pissing positioning. I understand intellectually what they’re doing, but in the end, since I look for books and authors, not publishers and stores, their showdown only strengthens my deep and bubbly apathy towards publishers and vendors.

It doesn’t change much of my shopping habits, though it prods my empathy in a big way for the authors caught in the middle of this face-off. My loyalty is to them, and to the books that they write that I love. I don’t care where they come from, and I don’t care where I buy them, so long as I can have them. Neither Amazon nor Macmillan have stirred my loyalty as a reader such that I’m going to change anything.

What about you? Do you notice which publisher published what? Do you shop at more than one bookstore? What’s most important, the author and the book, or the publisher or the store – or none of the above? 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Audrey says:

    This is unrelated, but as a student, the ereader market really interests me because I see it as an alternative to physical textbooks.  And as pricey as textbooks are (and being a poor student!) the biggest factor for picking books is pricing.  I’m going to get it wherever it’s cheapest and this trend towards selling higher-priced books worries me because if we move towards digital media, that means students won’t even have the option of buying “used” (and thus cheaper) textbooks.  I guess in answer to your question, all of the above are important to me because they affect so much of my reading experience (in textbooks and personal reading).  Publishers and stores affect the price I can get books at while the author really provides the content.  But there’s a certain price cap for me and once it exceeds that, the book’s not worth it any more.

  2. 2
    m3t says:

    ummm who is macmillian?  Never heard of them, don’t know their author list. Like you, I don’t care who publishes what.  I care about author and price.  Not loyal to amazon. I am loyal to paperbackswap.com (tyvm sbtb!)

  3. 3
    SheaLuna says:

    Like you, I could care less who publishes a particular book or author.  In fact, I couldn’t tell you a single publisher name from my vast collection of books, not even my auto buys from my favorite authors.  I do know that Tor does sci fi and fantasy and Luna does urban fantasies aimed at women, and that’s about as far as it goes.

    When buying books at a physical store, I go to whatever one is closest to me when the mood strikes.  Usually because I’m not going in to buy a specific book, but rather to browse and possibly buy whatever catches my eye.  90% of the time this usually means Waterstone’s, but it could just as easily be WH Smith or Borders or some random indy shop (though those are very few and far between here).

    I will admit that when buying online, I almost always buy from Amazon. Why?  Because it’s easy and because it means I can get a lot of US authors that aren’t otherwise available over here.  And if a US author/book isn’t available at Amazon.co.uk, I can get it through Amazon.com if I’m willing to pay the shipping.  Having said that, I have no particular loyalty to Amazon and if I could find the same book elsewhere online for the same price or less without going on a massive hunt for it, I would be perfectly happy to do so.

    It’s all about the books and those wonderful authors who create them.

  4. 4
    AgTigress says:

    ummm who is macmillian?  Never heard of them,

    Macmillan is one of the world’s largest publishing houses, and was founded in the 1840s.  They publish in just about all fields—academic, educational and fiction.
    I should have thought that if they are having a set-to with Amazon, they probably have the clout to win.
    I agree with Sarah, though, that one does not normally think of books in terms of their publisher, but rather, their author.  Publishers naturally find that hard to believe.
    :-)

  5. 5

    As one of the author’s impacted by this issue (as of this moment supposedly resolved, although my book is *still* not back up for pre-order) I have to say that authors are often told to look at the publishing houses marking books in their genre so they know which house might be more likely to want their next mss. So this may simply be something we authors are hypersensitive about. And personally, I’m glad that many readers don’t shop along publishing house lines since many authors strive to publish with multiple houses.

    SheaLuna, Tor is a Macmillan imprint. As is St. Martin’s Press and St. Martin’s Griffin, so two YA authors whose names you might recognize who are impacted by this are Alyson Noel and PC Cast (just off the top of my head).

    So glad you gave your input on this, Sarah.

  6. 6
    Trai says:

    Frankly, I shop at whatever bookstore has the book I’m looking for (I check the inventory online before I go, so I can go to the store and know they most likely have it). At home, Barnes and Noble is much closer than Borders so I’m more likely to go there.

    Now that I’m in college, it’s a little more tricky. There’s two nice independent bookstores in town—one sells new and the other sells used. I can usually find at least something I’m looking for, and the new bookstore is very nice about taking orders if not, but both don’t carry romance novels (I’ve only gotten into them fairly recently). For anything by Harlequin or the other imprints, I have to go down to my town’s Stop and Shop and pick up books with my groceries :) Otherwise, I have ordered online from Barnes and Noble’s website.

    I’m not loyal to one particular store—like you said, I care more about the author and the book—but for me, it usually depends on convenience. My loyalty goes a little more towards Barnes and Noble these days, though, because they actually offer free expedited shipping over $25 an order, so that’s very nice when you’re impatient like me!

  7. 7
    KatherineB says:

    I think in terms of book commerce, I go for author, then price next. As to publisher? Hmm. Really, at that point I just look for how my books are put together (read: durability), in hard copy formats anyway. Haven’t invested in a Kindle, just using my iphone for ebooks, so no comments there.

    If had a publisher loyalty, it’d be to Penguin, whose books never fall apart no matter how I often I read in the bath.
    On the other hand, Random House had better get their shit together – I purchased a trilogy, in that annoyingly large-than-pocket size they keep pushing, and the glue in the spine was so shoddy that it cracked and chunks of pages fell out during the FIRST reading. Shame on you Random House. I have paperbacks from the 1950s that are still in good shape, so there’s no excuse.

  8. 8

    When I was debating what to do about my publishing problem, I talked to a lot of people who read books. Who read. Not write, not review. Read.

    Know what I learned? 95% of them didn’t know the difference between publishers. Didn’t care, either. The other five percent? They were either business junkies, or had heard my discussions of what to do with a project that had an audience but no publisher interest.

    It’s similar to record companies: the only people who follow the people who make books and music happen are the people directly involved. The rest want to turn on the radio or open a book and be entertained.

  9. 9

    My brand loyalty: to authors who write good books. Not to publisher, not to bookstore, not to vendor. Author. And Book. That is all.

    This is me as an author…thank you.

    I don’t think either Amazon or Macmillan is thinking about the consumer in any of their tree-pissing positioning.

    This is me speaking as a consumer…damn straight.  Taking books out the buyer’s eye-which is what happened when all the ‘buy now’ links disappeared-proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that that Amazon wasn’t thinking about the consumer.  Sorry.  They weren’t.  They can claim they were trying to use that as ‘leverage’ for their kindle readers but their kindle readers still make up a pretty small percentage compared to their print readers, if I’m under stand correctly.  No way can they claim it was ‘putting the consumer first’ when they removed easy access to those print books.

    And keeping ebook prices high isn’t keeping consumers in mind, either.  Pubs need to turn a profit, but maybe the new ‘agency model’ that puts Amazon back more in the ‘retailer’ position instead of retailer/wholesaler/publisher will allow the pubs to offer better prices and still turn the profit they need.

    Dunno.

    But, one cool thing-scored like 7 books from Omnilit yesterday for $22 bucks.  Can’t beat that.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    authors are often told to look at the publishing houses marking books in their genre so they know which house might be more likely to want their next mss.

    Isn’t that based on the specific editor you’re querying, though? Like Ms. So and So is looking for romantic suspense, but not paranormal, while Mr. Whosiswhat is looking for paranormal?

    ETA: So in other words, it’s a specific person you’re after, not a house? Or is there a draw for publishing houses that supercedes the draw to work with or pitch to a particular editor.

    Also: question for authors – does this price war maneuvering make you more or less likely to want to publish with Macmillan? Does it make a difference at all?

  11. 11
    Joanne says:

    I don’t care who the publisher is.  What I do know is that I’m not paying $15 for an ebook.  If that’s the price MacMillan charges for an ebook, they’ve lost my business because of what they’re doing, not who they are.

  12. 12
    MicheleKS says:

    Sarah, in reply to your first question above: as an aspiring author, I research not only who the editors are and what they’re looking for, but the publishing house they work for also. For example, Avon publishes a lot of historical romance so if I wrote historical romance (which I don’t) I would start looking at what their submission guidelines are, etc. As an aspiring author, I not only research individual editors but also publishers because you wouldn’t want to submit something to a publisher who doesn’t publish that type of book (like sending a category-length book to a publisher that only publishes single-title length, etc).

  13. 13
    Kara says:

    I care more about the author and the book!! Don’t know who their publishers are and really don’t care. What I read is based on my interest, the author who writes that particular genre, and both the current and backlists of my favorite authors.

    I also shop a lot of different places…Borders is closest to my home. We don’t have any independent booksellers where I live or I would support them first. Then usually I buy from Amazon online…just because of the ease. But I have no particular loyalty to them. I get my eBooks from Fictionwise. And some of the independent eBook sellers out there like Ellora’s and Samhain. Then of course there is my all time favorite of shopping the library book sales.

  14. 14
    Terry Odell says:

    I’m also one of those who doesn’t pay attention to the publisher. Bookstores and libraries don’t arrange shelves by publishers. I was surprised to see some of my favorite authors mentioned as those whose books wouldn’t be available at Amazon. I’ve been reading Sue Grafton since A is for Alibi, and had no idea—nor did I care.

    Price does matter to me as a buyer, and since I assume I’m not alone, I expect it matters to readers as well. When one of my e-publishers decided to move into larger distribution channels and set up Kindle versions, I was delighted. On the other hand, I was shocked that my publisher set a sale price of double what they charge on their own website. So when Amazon listed the books at $9.99, I was more than OK with it. To me, as an unknown, it’s all about reaching readers, not the royalties. And I’d rather people not have to know who my publishers are if they want my books.

  15. 15

    My brand loyalty: to authors who write good books. Not to publisher, not to bookstore, not to vendor. Author. And Book. That is all.

    And an awful lot of those authors are furious with Amazon.com right now.  They may not like Macmillan’s ebook plans, necessarily, but what Amazon.com did was nasty and it wasn’t the first time, either.  Many of them are pulling links to that seller off their sites and pointing readers to competitors, for good.

  16. 16
    Judy says:

    Reiterating all of the above: author and book.

    I admit to preferring hard copy over audio or electronic, libraries and swapping over buying.  But when I do buy, I buy for the above and wherever I can can find it (the cheapest, hopefully). 

    This debacle is another reason why I am not yet investing in an eReader. Hopefully things will shake out within the next year or so but in the meantime it is difficult for both the consumer and the author.  To all the authors affected: if you write it, we will find it….

  17. 17

    Oh but the authors know who published them!!! Big bragging point, this. You won’t hear authors brag too much when published by this or that e-publisher, but if their publisher is Berkley or Random House, you will definitely get an earful. Yes reader could give a fig less, but authors do care.

    As far as the squabble going on between a bookseller and a publisher, we are in agreement—Big DEAL. However, when it comes to the pricing of books, this hurts us all, reader and author alike, so we’d best pay attention. And by the way, when Macmillan increases the price of their book, do they direct some of their profit to the author? What a dumb question that is—of course not. I’m thinking they need the extra money to cover their mistakes—you know those ones they make when they buy a crappy book that readers reject?

  18. 18
    Finrael says:

    Where I live the only retailer used to be walmart, now we also have target.  Oh boy! There is one used bookstore in the area, and it sucks. So I do all of my book buying through Amazon, unless I wanna drive an hour or more away to visit B&N or Borders.  I stood back and watched the outcome of the whole E-book thing.  I wasn’t overly impressed with the sony e-readers.  When the amazon kindle came out I waited for the price to drop on it.  It works for me because I live in an area where wifi isn’t the norm, so the Kindle won on that front for me.

    Now on pricing.  I’ve watched paperbacks skyrocket in price, and I’ve watched the Novelette thing happen.  Who wants to pay $25 for a hardback that’s slim and double spaced?  I have really enjoyed buying new books for $10.  I’ve tried authors that I wouldn’t normally try.  I was a die hard fantasy person, and now I’ll read anything practically.  Amazon and the publisher are both businesses, they really don’t care about the customer.  They are both out to make a profit.  The publisher can say they want to make it a variable price and list a really low price, but you know they are gonna stick it with the highest amount they can.  They are crack dealers and they know they have us in their pocket.

    I gotta say tho, now that I have an e-reader there is less dusting and taking care of books, which is nice.  I no longer have to take box loads of books to the library or the used book store.

  19. 19
    Nat says:

    Science fiction author and blogger John Scalzi has a really good point about this. Alas, I can’t do the correct quote thing, so here’s a link:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/02/01/all-the-many-ways-amazon-so-very-failed-the-weekend/

    Point 6 is especially interesting. He’s right, people just want to buy the damn book.

    To answer your question, Sarah, “does this price war maneuvering make you more or less likely to want to publish with Macmillan? Does it make a difference at all?” Nope, no difference at all, except that whenever I’ll think of these two, I’ll remember the public hissy fit more than anything else.

  20. 20
    Kwana says:

    I only notice publishers of books I like in the genre I write in for research purposes as an unpublished writer. As a reader it doesn’t matter to me. What matters is the author and the story. If I like an author I’m going to try and get that book at the best price I can. If I get a recommendation from a friend I’m going to try and get that book at the best price I can.
    So I guess author and price are the bottom line for me and honestly if it is too high I’m putting it on hold at my lovely library and getting it there. I do that often still. My library is wonderful that way.
    Publishers and sellers must realize that it’s all about the economy right now and the consumer will shop around. Don’t make us work too hard or have the authors suffer please. They work hard too.
    I’m happy for my Sony and the ability to do that shopping around.

  21. 21
    Missy Ann says:

    I have no specific publisher loyalty, like most others my loyalty is to the author.

    But I do admit to avoiding a publisher. Tor Romance was so awful that I will check a book and if it’s published by them I put it back on the shelf. Same with Medallion. Both burned me with what I consider unreadable dreck more than once.

    Anyway, Amazon vs. Macmillan. Both are wrong. Amazon went about trying to force Macmillan in a way that punished readers. And Macmillan needs to lay down the crack pipe if they think I’m going to pay more for an e copy than I will a print edition. I won’t even pay the same for an e copy. I expect a small discount because there is no printing cost or shipping.

    Publishers need to hire someone to look at ACTUAL buying habits; someone who will tell them the truth and not what they want to hear.

    If I’m reading a hardcover it’s because I borrowed it from the library or found it at my local used bookstore.

    If I’m reading a paperback it’s because this author is one of my favorites or I bought it from my local used book store.

    If I’m reading my Kindle it’s because the author is a favorite or the book is getting really good reviews.

    Did you see that? When a book is getting good buzz I will buy it for my Kindle. I won’t wait and buy it second hand where the publisher & author make nothing.

  22. 22
    Diatryma says:

    In SFF, I can identify a Baen book at twenty paces, I know Luna is usually fluffier than I want but still readable, and certain small publishers are a bit disappointing or reliably good.  But I’m more aware of this kind of thing because I also write and hang out with writers.
    Like bestseller lists, publishers count when I need more data.  Otherwise, it’s author, autograb, et cetera.

    I usually buy from the independent bookstore downtown because it’s walking distance, immediate, and I want there to still be a bookstore downtown next year.  It’s the same reason I still buy a few books even though I’m pretty broke—I know the authors and want them to succeed.  I try to buy them in the first month, when it gives the sales an extra boost.

    I’m on the side of the authors on this one, and all of them seem to be against Amazon.  Amazon’s not the one writing checks to authors.

  23. 23
    liz m says:

    Author, then Publisher, then Price

    First, I buy by author. Then, if I don’t know the author, I am more likely to give (I should say was more likely, since I have had a break in faith this last year or so) a trusted publisher a shot, then I look at price. If it’s overpriced (over paper market price, etc) it’s not bought. If it’s not an author I know, but it’s got a loss leader price (buy first of a series for 1.99, etc) I’ll get it.

    I don’t have a set price. I just bought Balogh’s novella Matter Of Class, and I have purchased some ‘hardbacks’. But I do have a set ‘value’ marking. If it costs more in ebook than in paper, I will never buy it. Not even if the price falls.

  24. 24

    Somewhat. There’s one big publisher I’m a bit lary of because the authors tend to be not my favorites. But I didn’t realise it until I checked to see what the authors had in common.
    In ebooks, yes, because I know that the author gets a bigger cut if the book is bought from the publisher website.
    Otherwise, no. With one big exception. Harlequin. It because where Macmillan, Penguin etc tend to prefer to have diverse lines and identities, Harlequin has house styles, house lines and they’re instantly recognisable in the store.

  25. 25
    Karenmc says:

    I keep track of all my books in bookpedia, which keeps a stat on publishers. When I first saw the bar graph I thought, “I don’t care”. I still don’t. I look for the authors I enjoy and the authors recommended at sites like SBTB, then I check pricing. But publisher? Not so much.

  26. 26
    Lori says:

    I don’t even have a e-reader, although, I do want one. But with prices that high, I don’t think it will be worth it. I couldn’t agree more with what you posted. I don’t look at the publisher when I am buying a book, I am looking for the author. I don’t generally know who there publisher is. Frankly, I don’t care. It’s obvious that they don’t care either…Nicely done.

  27. 27
    Laurel says:

    What I took away from this whole thing was this:

    Amazon blinked.

    That’s a good thing, even if it means some eBook prices will climb. They’ll probably do the same thing the paper model does. Macmillan’s website says that some of their eBooks will be available for around $6.00 and others as high as $14.50. But allowing the publisher to have input on pricing will pave the road to things like an eBook release at a premium price at the same time as the hardcover.

    It is probably not a coincidence that Macmillan waited to pick this fight until after the iPad dropped. Apple and Macmillan had worked things out so Macmillan had a place to go. Amazon knew it. And some of the Macmillan authors have fans like us, people who buy an author over a house or bookseller or format.

    eBook pricing will shake itself out over time as long as nobody has a monopoly on digital books. This looks like a crack in Amazon’s evil plot for world domination to me. Love my Kindle, but I’m glad to see Amazon getting some pushback and competition.

  28. 28
    Henofthewoods says:

    Baen – Because they have made themselves different and worth checking.

    There are lines that are good at linking groups of authors I will like, but mostly I am skeptical of publisher’s predictions of what will appeal to the same group of readers. I would rather read the review that tells me why someone liked the book (or didn’t) and get a feel for whether I will want to read it.

    I buy most of my books from Fictionwise because when I had a catastrophic computer failure, device failure and network failure all within a few weeks (computer and reader were days apart) they were the easiest to reload. No email to beg for reactivation, no snarky “you should have backed up” [I did, on the server that crashed, the reader that crashed and the stupid dead pc.] Now I feel locked in with them; it worries me that if I buy something somewhere else, I will forget and buy it a second time. I already did buy a book whose title changed – actually one of the GA Aiken Dragon books that Sarah mentioned a few days ago. I hate buying an ebook twice, I can’t give it to someone.

    I did my real world shopping with my dog. My closest bookstore was a Barnes and Noble that gave dog treats. They closed when their rent went up 5-fold. The next closest was a Borders. They allow dogs in the store, but they are in Penn Plaza and the guards on the sidewalk outside of the store don’t allow dogs. I can carry him over the sidewalk, but it is less pleasant. I really have dropped off shopping since I can’t go with the dog.

  29. 29
    Jacquilynne says:

    I largely don’t care who publishes a given book, though I used to find a fair number of books that I liked from the Orion imprint in the UK. I noticed what seemed to be the house cover style more than the actual publisher, though.

    Oddly enough, in music, I do find label to be a better indication of whether I’d like something, at least in the mid-level houses. Rounder, Sugar Hill, Lost Highway, all labels I can usually rely on to put out discs that I will like.

    I suspect if my taste in literature ran more to smaller press publications, I might find I had more loyalty to a given house, because I imagine that small presses are more likely to publish niche lists.

  30. 30
    Tabetha says:

    Do you notice which publisher published what? Do you shop at more than one bookstore? What’s most important, the author and the book, or the publisher or the store – or none of the above?

    I’ve never paid attention to publishers until I started buying ebooks from the the epubs but I do now.  EC, overpriced mixed bag quality wise—may buy but probably not, Siren complete unedited crap—will not buy even the authors who I like from them because everything else is so shitty, Samhain great prices and there’s always an attempt to provide a well edited story—I’m happy to buy from them and take a chance on new authors. 

    I shop for books where it’s convenient and for me that means Amazon (I don’t own a Kindle I’ll never buy a proprietory platform), Samhain (whatever book store they use) and the grocery store.  My husband likes to meet a friend at Borders so occasionally he’ll get a list of books to bring home from there but the covers are embarassing so I try not to torture him too much. 

    The author has always been the most important factor for me until I started reading ebooks.  It started with the epubs like I said above and soon after I took notice of Macmillan and how they would delay their ebook releases and charge outrageous prices for them.  But since I’m one of those readers who’s just as happy reading a paperback (I never buy HC) as an ebook it wasn’t that big of a deal for me I just bought the paperback instead of the ebook. 

    But Macmillan forcing Amazon to charge more for their products?  That outrageous and totally unacceptable to me—sorry favorite authors but I won’t be buying your books if you’re with Macmillan.  I don’t even know who you are yet but as I buy books from now on I’ll be taking notice of who publishes them.  And I won’t be buying from Macmillan.  If I don’t buy a favorite author because of this mess I’ll be sure to send them an email letting them know and hope at some point they consider finding another publisher so I can buy their books again.  Maybe they’ll put up a donation button so if I end up pirating their book to read it—I’m not a martyr I’ll still be reading my favorite authors trust me—I can give them a couple bucks.

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