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Amazon powers along

26 July 2005


Amazon is steaming ahead and making good progress with its aim to become the biggest Internet shopping site. Robin Terrell, until recently MD of Amazon UK, said: 'We want to be where you can discover anything that you want to buy.'

Recent figures from the international division, which comprises the company's UK, German, French, Japanese and Chinese sites, grew 33% in the three months to end June. Given its dominant position in the US, these international sites must be where the Internet retailer is looking to expand.

Amazon’s Marketplace scheme, which shows used books alongside the new ones, ranked in price order, has been a great success for the company. It is beginning to cause serious concern to publishers, agents and authors, who feel it must be affecting new book sales. Search inside the Book, which has just been made available in the UK, is also thought by publishers to be a step too far, even though big publishers have largely accepted it in the States. Unlike the recent Google Print initiative, only a small portion of the book is made available, more of a taster, but Amazon's wish to digitise the whole book is still causing friction.

In spite of the fact that Amazon supplies goods at close to shop prices, once the discount has been balanced against the postage, it has managed to achieve and maintain a reputation for offering value for money, which is attractive to students and to heavy book-buyers. Many demanding readers find it invaluable as a source of backlist and obscure titles.  As compared to trailing round the shops, it takes no more than the click of a button to check if the title is available and what it costs. It's not surprising that many publishers now rate Amazon as their most important outlet as far as backlist is concerned. It is believed to account for up to 75% of Amazon's book sales.

As a consumer, one can only be grateful that so many backlist titles are available from Amazon, but what makes you uneasy is the memory that backlist was always the strength of chains such as Waterstone's. The territory seems to have been ceded too easily by terrestrial booksellers to an international giant which may have started with books, but now has its eyes set on international domination of internet sales. The book business, which produces so many new models each year and keeps so many of the old models in stock, is particularly open to the seduction of the web - and particularly vulnerable to it too. But there is no turning the clock back.  The Internet - and Amazon - are here to stay.