Amazon swallows more of the market

Friday, 25. August 2017 - 12:00

Wiki Commons/Álvaro Ibáñez

What do Arabella lingerie, Denali tools, Franklin & Freeman shoes, Strathwood furniture and Pike Street linen all have in common? The fact that they’re all sold by Amazon is pretty unremarkable: almost everything can be bought from the giant e-tailer, after all. What sets these brands apart is that you can’t buy them anywhere else. And that, as Mike Murphy reveals in an article in Quartz is because they’re all brands that actually belong to the giant etailer.

Buyers of these –  and a few other similar – brands have no reason to know this, however. All they are told is that the item they are looking at online is ‘exclusive to Amazon Prime members’, a description that applies to all sorts of products offered by the site.

Amazon-watchers will not be surprised by the giant’s move into taking ownership of at least some of what it sells. Millions of Amazon Prime users watch TV program produced by the company, and there was little secrecy about its expansion into book publishing in 2009. But I suspect the number and breadth of Amazon imprints might surprise many media professionals.

That self-improvement book in the hands of your neighbour on the subway was published by Grand Harbor, while the more devoutly Christian woman opposite is reading her spiritual Waterfall Press volume and the history fan beside her is lapping up a biography from New Harvest, almost oblivious to the child on his lap who’s peacefully enjoying his book from Two Lions.

All of these feature among Amazon’s 13 English language imprints, which collectively published some 2,000 books last year. English is only the company’s first language. This year, as Publishing Perspectives reported in February, Amazon launched Tinte & Feder its second brand for German-speakers. Unlike the brands mentioned at the beginning of this post, print versions of these books are available through independent bookshops.

Of course, the nature of Amazon’s digital distribution model makes it hard to assess just how successful its output has been. According to specialist analysts, Symphony Advanced Media, for example, over 2.5m 18-49 year olds in the US watched the first episode of The Grand Tour, its expensively rebranded version of the BBC’s Top Gear, but there are no figures for other countries. Amazon’s own statistics show three of the top ten Kindle best sellers in 2016 as bearing its Thomas & Mercer and Lake Union imprints.

As a brand owner, Amazon has the ability to test the success of each of its products more precisely than has ever previously been possible. Its analysts not only know how many people are tuning into its programs and downloading its books, they know the number of minutes their customers have watched and pages they have read. Even more importantly, it can also tell which of its customers are buying which of its wares.

So what happens when – not if – Amazon moves into its own wine brands? In July, it briefly seemed as though the etailer had already taken this step, with the launch of a trio of Oregon wines under the NEXT label which was described by its producers, King Estate in a press-release as “the first wine ever developed from conception to release with Amazon Wine”. Less than 12 hours after this story appeared in Forbes.com, however, Amazon bluntly told the online platform TechCrunch, “Next is not owned nor developed by Amazon.”

But that correction should not be taken to suggest that the company is not already planning to release wine brands of its own as it did last year with Happy Belly coffee and Mama Bear baby food. Especially given the additional routes to market Amazon now enjoys since its $13.7bn acquisition of Whole Foods and its relationship with UK’s fourth biggest supermarket chain, Morrisons.

Unfortunately, for any readers looking for magic ways to counter this threat, I have none to offer - apart from thinking it timely to quote Sun Tzu's Art of War: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Robert Joseph