About $3 billion worth of physical books sold worldwide in the first half of 2017. With 80% of global ebook sales via Kindle. While Amazon’s numbers sure do all the talking, three different Indian publishers we spoke to also suggested Amazon accounted for anywhere between 40-55% of their total physical sales.
Thomas Abraham, managing director at Hachette India, the Indian arm of the world’s second-largest publisher, says, “Of the total 45% that comprises our online sales, Amazon is about 82% and the rest of online (including Flipkart and others) is 18%. But these numbers wouldn’t reflect the real picture as those will need end consumer sales”, which are tracked only by Nielsen in India. Both Amazon India and Nielsen did not comment on this story.
To see how Amazon made it this far, let’s back up a little.
Back in July 2015, Westland, the publishers of bestselling writer Amish Tripathi’s book Scion of Ikshvaku, took Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart to court, alleging it had no right to sell the novel on its platform. Westland had signed an exclusive two-month deal with global e-commerce behemoth Amazon to sell the book, but the book was available for purchase on Flipkart’s marketplace before the two months were over.
But this was merely a role reversal. In 2014, Rupa Publications—the publishers of Chetan Bhagat—had levied a similar charge on Amazon. Rupa had inked a deal with Flipkart that allowed it to sell Bhagat’s new book, Half Girlfriend, exclusively, but the novel was available on Amazon via third-party sellers.
At the time, this was most unusual for Indian trade publishing. First, giving a particular seller ‘exclusive’ rights to sell a novel was unheard of. Second, the battle of the e-commerce giants—Amazon, which had entered the Indian market in 2013, and Flipkart, a pioneer of the Indian e-commerce space—had breached the walls of publishing. Third, the feud between the two platforms was a warning sign to bookstores across India: publishers no longer depended on them to sell their books.
By October 2016, Amazon would acquire Westland in its entirety.
Amazon has invoked a curious sense of awe and fear in the publishing industry worldwide since its very beginning. Its long drawn-out battle with publishers and Apple over ebook pricing; its decision to delete certain purchased titles—among them, ironically, George Orwell’s 1984—from its customers’ Kindles; the massive discounts it offers on books and their impact on the physical retail industry; and the pressure it imposes upon the book industry, forcing 900 authors, including Stephen King, John Grisham and Donna Tartt, to write an open letter asking Amazon to ‘stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business’–all of these together have created a picture of Amazon in which the e-commerce giant is a relentless hyper-capitalist.