There are independent readers. They buy online. They do not spend a lot of money with Amazon. If they buy from Amazon it will most like be a kindle. They are comfortable reading eBooks. They will only buy a kindle only if it is significantly cheaper than the alternative or if the book they want is only available as a kindle and there are no alternatives. They have a preference for print. They may only recently have given up reading printed newspapers once in a while.
While they don’t buy from Amazon they buy on Amazon. They use the huge network of second-hand dealers. They may occasionally resort to Abe Books for something that is difficult to get, to a specialist for a foreign-language book or to a dealer who is off the network for something genuinely rare. Abe Books is of course now owned by Amazon. Mostly however when it comes to the time to buy independent readers find the edition they want on Amazon and click on ‘used and new’ to find the dealers they want.
Amazon is so big that like eBay and one or two others it isn’t really an online company any more. It is part of the web. That has a number of advantages for the reader. Most obviously, all the regular publishers whatever their reservations about Amazon think they have to be on it. Because of that you can get everything that’s in print. Since Amazon also makes it very easy for second-hand booksellers and discount dealers to use the network you can get almost everything that’s out of print as well. Additionally Amazon provides a high level of consumer protection. They are good on refunds and returns for example and set quite strict limits for delivery charges.
Amazon is hugely dominant in the book market and any company which has that sort of dominant position in the market will behave in some ways like a monopoly. In principle that’s dangerous. If you want choice you don’t have a choice. You go to Amazon. In the meantime readers and book-buyers are very well served. Publishers complain. If their own practices were more competitive one might have more sympathy.
Independent readers make use of recommendations on Amazon. Amazon don’t sell their recommendations to publishers. Independent readers may make use of recommendations on Goodreads as well. Goodreads is of course owned by Amazon.
Independent readers screen their recommendations. They may download samples even if they have no intention of buying the eBook. The facility of downloading a sample is another and no doubt unintended way in which eBooks benefit the reader. Independent readers look up books on Google. They may search on Google for a wider topic, the literature of a period for example, and then search for a particular title or writer. It has never been so easy to find a book and it has never been so easy to find out about books.
Independent readers buy the backlist. They buy translations. They buy classics. They read books that found their way into print in a time or a place when publishing was less aggressively commercial. They do not buy new books from regular publishers. They do not trust publishers. They do not even look for books from independent writers. There are so many books being published that good new books are hard to find.
Independent readers of the kind I am describing are the kind of reader that independent writers want. Some independent writers at least are probably also the kind of independent reader I am describing. They would get along.
Under current conditions it is very difficult for them to find each other.