Amazon in the Wars but Close to Dutch Launch

Amazon has recently been in discussions with several Dutch publishers with a view to finally launching into the book market in the Netherlands. In fact, if current negotiations go well, the global online retailer could enter the market with Amazon.nl in a matter of weeks. That said, Amazon’s track record for negations at the moment with a protracted dispute with French publishing conglomerate Hachette still unresolved, and Amazon seem to battling on many fronts. UK publishers asked for a competition inquiry into Amazon just last week, and there exists a competition complaint from German booksellers.

The online retailer seems to be in the wars everywhere it turns. Two thousand Amazon warehouse workers were on strike in Germany up until yesterday in a long-running dispute over pay and working conditions. Fair pay and improved working conditions has been a recurring news story in the United States for several years. And that’s not even getting into the claims that Amazon isn’t paying its fair share of taxes. Even one of the UK’s most popular dramas, Downton Abbey, has been dragged into the Amazon Wars when the British ITV network featured advertisements for the Kindle during ad breaks for the show’s opening episode of season five. It’s understood Amazon has sponsored the entire season five of Downton Abbey. During and following Sunday’s screening, campaign group Amazon Anonymous organised a social media protest stating that “a programme about social inequality is being sponsored by a company that creates inequality. By paying their c.e.o. millions whilst treating their warehouse workers terribly, by avoiding paying their fare share of tax, and by driving independent businesses out of business Amazon are taking us back to the 1920s.”
While Amazon ships to countries across the globe, it currently only has twelve dedicated retail websites: United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, Brazil, Japan, China, India and Mexico. It has professed an interest in the Dutch e-book market as far back as 2011. Currently Amazon.nl redirects to Amazon UK, which then ships products to the Netherlands.
Amazon Wars aside, Dutch publishers seem on the whole very positive about the online retailers arrival. Sander Knol is director of Xander, one of the Dutch publishers talking with Amazon. According to the Financial Times, he said, “Within the book trade it has been a recurring message that Amazon might enter the market. But now Amazon has actually been in touch and so we are getting close. As a publisher, I see it as my responsibility to distribute books – so I am willing to talk to everyone ”
One significant reason Amazon may have delayed a move into the Dutch book market is the fact that the Netherlands does not allow retailers to sell print books below the listed price on the cover—not the most attractive market for a global online retailer which has carved much of its market dominance from deep discounting and operating a sophisticated delivery supply chain better than much of the competition. However, this restriction does not apply to e-books, which grew by 60% last year. But the Dutch market would still represent a small pond at this moment for Amazon—with nearly 42 million books sold in the Netherlands last year (populations 16 million), only 2 million were e-books. That’s about 1 out of every 20 books sold is an e-book.
Should Amazon push the button on .nl this year, it’s still unclear if it will have all the same bells and whistles as some of its other retail websites. For example, would it include a KDP Dutch variation for authors? Amazon.nl might be good news for publishers, readers and authors in the Netherlands, but it might not be as easily welcomed by independent booksellers and existing self-publishing platforms without some spats.
Watch this space.

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

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