Having self-published books with Amazon, maybe I'm not the most suitable person to talk about the situation of bookstores in Italy, or maybe it's the other way around. And this stems from the fact that, after reading the "Historical bookstores that close because of Amazon", I want to write a few words on how the Italian book landscape works.
First, Italy has a glaring anomaly.
In Italy, that is, publishers also own distribution. What does it mean?
It means that all over the world the publisher simply produces the book. Then the distribution process begins, which is the whole system of logistics, advertising, events, marketing, merchandising required by the book, up to the "management" of the bookstores.
"Management" of bookstores and shop windows means that offering more or less money to put a book in the shop window, or to keep all the merchandising in sight, etc.
So, in normal countries (and I know why I'm writing another SF book and I'm contacting a publisher) it happens that you talk to the publisher, the publisher supports you in the production of the book, (if it's valid: but in Germany SF has more market and more necklaces) and in the end they decide in what format and how to do it. Well.
From that moment on, the distributor arrives. The distributor decides a lot and decides if and how to offer the book to the market. Obviously if you are Rowling the distributor already knows that he must agree with the publisher for the merchandising and the launch, but if you are nobody (but the distributor believes that it might make sense) then you find more or less in the showcase and more or less invited to present the book.
This, however, takes away a lot of power from the Publisher, and takes away a lot of power from the distributor. The fact that they are separate means that in Italy 60% of the cover price goes to distribution. In Germany it varies between 40 and 50 percent.
How do you get there?
The problem with Italy is that publishers and distributors are the same entities. We make the names:
Mondadori, Einaudi and Rizzoli have their distribution, all the rest is distributed by this Feltrinelli-Messaggerie group. Messaggerie is the Gems group, therefore Longanesi, Guanda, Neri Pozza, Garzanti and many others. It is the Mauri Spagnol family that manages everything, together with Feltrinelli. Then there is the Mondadori distribution and a very small part of independent distributions, including ALI (Agenzia Libraria International) and a few other very small ones.
What does this mean? In case your independent publishing house wants to distribute books in Italy, it can only ask, in fact, to four entities: Amazon, Messaggerie, Feltrinelli chain and Mondadori chain. Which are also publishers.
If they say to your publishing house "no, we won't distribute it to you", your publishing house replies that you have no hope. You may have written something beautiful, but if you are not in the "mafia" of this tour, you get nothing. This makes it clear how credible characters such as Valerio Evangelisti, who is the revolutionary, quotes Toni Negri and thunders against capitalism, and then simply joins the neighborhood mafietta. Ditto for Saviano and all the other operetta revolutionaries who fight against "mafias and their culture".
Because it doesn't even matter the publishing house, which in Italy CANNOT be independent: if they can distribute it is because they agree with a distributor, and since the distributors coincide with the publishers, there are NO "independent publishing houses" in Italy ”, Are they all satellites, or are they all under blackmail / influence.
In this scenario, the problem is Amazon. Amazon has entered the distribution market, is a very powerful distributor because of its logistics, and accepts many books, and very easily. The reason is that selling online has no catalog limit.
So, it happened that when Amazon entered the scene they "opened" the market a little bit, and even traditional publishers / distributors turn to Amazon much more often.
So the situation is:
- The traditional market, the one that flows into the bookstores, is under the control of a monopoly that in fact forces the bookstores to showcase Bruno Vespa, Totti's book, and other miserable junk food that nobody cares about, if not to the salons where the owners of the distribution live, who are friends of the various Vespa and Totti.
- The digital market is dominated by Amazon, which however does not distribute in the bookstore. Distributes at home. The "independent" publishing houses that have raised their heads are almost all dependent on Amazon. Except that they also have the most interesting books (because I repeat: Bruno's book wasp in the window as if it were Rowling (1) is possible only because of the monopoly) and this takes away the interesting books from bookstores.
The reason Amazon is causing bookstores to disappear is that it is absorbing all the more interesting book production. Self publishing, combined with the possibility for any publisher to distribute at his own expense, are bringing all possible freedom to Amazon. And you know that when it comes to art, intellectual freedom is paramount.
I'm not saying Amazon's are Voltairians. But Amazon is not only a Buyer: it also allows publishers to work as pure sellers. In this way, Amazon accepts practically any book, as long as the publisher accepts part of the logistics under the usual Amazon conditions.
In practice, when it acts as a Buyer Amazon it acts like "the bad guys". But when it acts as an e-commerce Amazon it behaves like pure logistics. And this has opened up the market in a very heavy way, because when Amazon acts as pure logistics, "money talks", there are no Bruni Vespa that count.
And I don't mention Vespa out of sadism, but:
Libraries are therefore strangled on both fronts, in the sense that:
- Their distributors force them to make catastrophic editorial choices. By manipulating the percentages, they force them to keep the books of those who count in the "good laps" on display, but they are things that people care little about. The serial reader does not buy Riina's book, Vespa's book or Barbara d'Urso's book. By putting it in the window, they draw on those people who want to make a gift, who are not great readers, who need a book to read on vacation, but in fact hide the best books from fans, which are usually at the bottom, piled up in a pile, close to the cheetah's cage (cit.).
- Amazon also offers alternative solutions, but does not use libraries. The few Italian serial readers, who went to highly selected (often thematic) bookstores looking for things that suited their tastes, are struggling today because bookstores are losing the chance to offer those books, which are offered online.
To this is added a further catastrophe: to remedy the lack of quality of the shit that they showcase (Urso, Vespa, Riina, etc) they find themselves compensating with the quantity. This is because, having no skills or ideas (those who had stopped working for monopolists for some time) do not know who to bet on. So they throw everything out, hoping that the Ferrante "case" will be born. BUT with 73,000 releases a year, bookstores don't have enough space to select the best books. And so the average is that a book stays on the shelves for about a month, then disappears.
But this isn't Amazon's fault. Amazon has made bookstores difficult simply because it has taken (offering freedom) what little interesting that traditional distributors-publishers still offered.
Now, however, one thing needs to be clarified: is it the publishers-distributors' oligopoly that kills the bookstores, or is it Amazon?
No, it's not Amazon: the Bezos company in this case only put the shit in contact with the fan. It blew up one of the many commercial latifundium situations that exist in Italy. The bookstores were able to giggle, stuck in the latifundium situation, but a new entity to divide the cake is blowing up the system.
The problem with the Italian landowner system is precisely this: exploitation extends and everyone takes their own slice, as long as everyone remains only the bare minimum to survive.
The balance seems to last forever, since like all political things, it is perfectly calibrated to not leave any faction enough power to change things, which means, enough money to grow.
The problem comes when a new entity, usually a foreign one, arrives and takes a slice. In that case, since the slices were calibrated to ensure mere survival for everyone, the system breaks, and breaks on the weaker side.
But it is useless to blame the external agent who breaks a balance of mere subsistence. The problem is that the existing oligopoly system suffocates the libraries:
- They cannot differentiate the offer because at some point if they want to live they have to showcase the Bruno Vespa of the situation.
- They cannot accumulate enough money to invest and improve (or grow) because a 60% commission strangles them and leaves them a very small EBT.
- They have no space to devote to interesting books, because so much shit comes out that they can't follow it all.
This is the point: the bookstores is not strangling Amazon. Amazon only blew up a system that offered mere subsistence to everyone. Seeing the booksellers complaining about Amazon is like seeing the inhabitants of a mafia neighborhood complaining that the Nigerian mafia has ALSO arrived. But first there was the local one, and no one breathed.
The bookstores have a part of guilt: if you put it in your ass thinking that in the end you can live even with a broken ass, you must always ask yourself what will happen when someone with a bigger cock arrives. And today it has arrived.
This too is an Italian flaw: the mafia system is supported by saying that so much "I can survive", and when the stranger arrives who breaks everything he accuses the stranger. But if you didn't say a word when Feltrinelli threw it in your ass, dear bookseller, now shut up and take Amazon too. Does it hurt more? Eh, taking cocks in the ass is like this: you know how you start, but you don't know who comes later.
But the bulk of the blame has a distribution system that has merged with the publishers and that has also merged with the politics and with the good salons of Rome: if you find Bruno Vespa in the shop window it is because knows the right people in the right living rooms. The fact that this Roman knowledge can be enough to be on all the windows of the country speaks volumes about how mafia the current system is.
The point, therefore, is simply this: Amazon is the usual foreigner who comes to disrupt the Italian balance. As usual, the balance falls apart on the weaker side.
Since the weakest has always endured the system up to that point, I don't feel sorry for it, since if you've done thirty, now you have to do thirty-one.
And thirty-one is: close.
For this time, therefore, Amazon is not to blame. Who wants to find a culprit, has only to look in the mirror.
(1) A clarification. I don't like the Harry Potter saga very much. But it's not because it's spelled wrong: that woman is a genius. When one comes to invent a language for magic, we are talking about one who handles the language and has steel balls. He also writes very well. The problem is that I don't like the genre, but they are personal tastes. Rowling is a writer with steel attributes, and it makes me even more pleasure because she has made the provincial ambitions of the New Italian Epic disappear, a shameless pig that fortunately disappeared from the market with a cataclysmic (and well deserved) raspberry.