Should Authors Link to Amazon?

Dustin Kurtz argues that “there are exactly zero defensible reasons for authors to link to Amazon” when advertising their books on their personal websites:

All of the discussion of the ills of Amazon aside… authors have nothing appreciable to gain by linking to Amazon. Linking to an indie [bookstore] can have real, pecuniary benefits. If linking to the former alienates the latter—and it damned well should—then an already obvious choice becomes something closer to an imperative. Link to your local bookstore.

While I agree with Kurtz that promoting local booksellers is more beneficial than sending customers to Amazon, his defense of indie store linking is incomplete and warrants further argumentation.   Kurtz only conceives of two scenarios for authors to promote their books online:

  • Scenario A- link customers to a single local store, which yields you “new friends” in your town and helps your community through economic support.
  • Scenario B- send customers to Amazon, which doesn’t care about your well-being and effectively harms your community by nabbing a potential local cash infusion.

Kurtz says that “in most cases people looking to buy your book will navigate [to Amazon] first, not your site.”  If this is the case, it’s rational to conclude that most traffic to an author’s website would be for informational purposes rather than actually purchasing their work.  I’d be interested to know what percentage of author sales are a result of clicks from their personal sites, but I’d be surprised if it’s above the low single digits.  So it’s unlikely that linking to a local bookstore will substantially benefit the community on a per-author basis since there would be relatively few clicks with the intent to purchase.

Even if we assume indies do benefit from author links, however, there are still disincentives for authors to send readers to a single local store.  Let’s say I’m based in Northern California and I link to a local Palo Alto bookstore.  My online customers could be ordering from anywhere in the country or the world.  Can I be sure that this bookstore has the infrastructure to efficiently handle and ship these orders?  And why is my local bookstore superior to the customer’s local bookstore?  It would probably be faster, easier, cheaper, and fairer to link customers to their own stores and encourage broader indie growth rather than focusing on a single store in my neighborhood.

This isn’t an argument in support of Amazon, of course, but it speaks to author and consumer concerns that Kurtz does not mention.  Despite of Kurtz’s criticisms of Amazon, it still has one of the fastest and most efficient delivery systems in the world.  It’s also got the benefit of selling other products, meaning customers are more likely to have an account and will actually purchase things there.  While pay sites like PayPal are making online shopping easier than ever, the scope of Amazon’s offerings incentivizes customers to combine their purchases for a more consolidated experience.   There is less variance in ordering from one giant seller instead of multiple small unknowns.

This is not an insurmountable hurdle for indies, though.  It’s surprising that Kurtz paints such a black or white picture of how authors can sell books: either link to only one local store or link to Amazon.  A powerful middle ground would see scores of indie bookstores band together and create a database or algorithm that authors can link to on their sites.  Customers would enter their zip code and the database would link to their closest participating bookstore, but any other store in the network could also be selected.  This kind of network would ensure a baseline quality standard for local ordering and would allow readers to pick which stores they want to support.  Kurtz mentions an indie bookstore network in his article that seems to help authors set up their local links, and it very well might have a service like this set up.  If not, it’s a good synthesis that helps authors support a greater number of indie bookstores and allows customers to purchase books with greater efficiency.

I share Kurtz’s fervent support of local bookstores, which are important hubs of information and social energy for their respective communities.  A stronger network of indie stores would remove the current incentives authors and customers do have from linking to Amazon, creating a better buying alternative where any given indie could be a benefactor.

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