Finder’s fee and the future of publishing

I was in my local Barnes and Noble on Sunday and I bought two books.  Both of them from Amazon, online, using my iPhone while standing in the isles.

Of course I felt bad.  I learned about these two books thanks to Barnes and Noble.  They ought to have made the sale.

The problem was, I wanted both books in Kindle form and Barnes and Noble couldn’t help me there.

Still, it’s clear they ought to be getting a finder’s fee.  As should booker reviewers, websites, magazines and other players in the stream.  And it doesn’t have to be much to add up. 

If Barnes and Noble were getting .25 for every book they brought to America’s attention, it would be a pretty penny.

Here’s the thing: Amazon is now engaged in a dangerous game of “winner take all.”  It must see that it’s time to give BN a finder’s fee when I make my purchase.  Because this bookstore created value.  It instructed me in my possibilities.  And it deserves to harvest this value.

Yes, Amazon tries to do this.  I continue to be impressed by how badly it does it.  There is no substitute for browsing, and nothing browses better than a bookstore. 

7 thoughts on “Finder’s fee and the future of publishing

  1. Steve Portigal

    I wonder if we could generate more tipping behavior (and not in the Gladwelgian sense) by acting on these impulses. I once had a friend that sent Iggy Pop $5 cash, though I could also imagine that Mr. Osterberg maybe wasn’t so impressed with the gesture. But maybe PWYC should evolve to PWYTYS (Pay What You Think You Should). Either pass the hat, or make your own hat. If I download an episode of Weeds (hypothetically) via BitTorrent, maybe I could send Jenji Kohan and/or Showtime a small amount, just on my own. If either of them had a PayPal tipjar on their site, it might make it easier. Maybe you could drop $2 in a bucket on your way out of B&N?

    I have been thinking about this, actually. I’m giving a workshop at a conference in a few months and this conference doesn’t have a very evolved financial model. Fine, they aren’t charging extra for workshops, so there’s no revenue sharing with workshop leaders, but they don’t even have a model that would let them comp me into the event itself. I’m paying my flight and hotel, and I’m teaching a half-day workshop, and I’m paying the full registration fee. I’m tempted to invite workshop participants to ante up, if they so choose, to contribute to a defray-your-instructor’s-fees fund, for all of us who are going to put the effort in. But doing so would probably really upset a lot of people; I wonder if even suggesting that this is a possibility will upset those same people. Sorry, folks, just thinking aloud.

    I bet the corporations could get around the accounting nightmare this would create by turning into a divert-to-charity stream; that seems to get around all sorts of financial discomfort. Maybe it’s PWYTYS(AWGITC) *…and we’ll give it to charity

  2. Virginia Postrel

    Amazon Associates provides a finder’s fee for websites, and you get money even if the customer only goes to Amazon from your site and buys something you never even thought of mentioning. Please do all your Amazon shopping from or!

  3. Mary Walker

    Excellent point.

    And you’re absolutely right about bookstores being great places to browse. It continues to astound me that, despite having huge pieces of my purchase/rental history, Amazon and Netflix can’t make recommendations to me, that include the materials that I can find by browsing at a good bookstore or independent DVD rental store.

    I’m with you in that I prefer to buy on the Kindle now (it’s a lot cheaper than adding more rooms to my house to store an endless incoming stream of physical books). But I do buy physical books when: 1) the book isn’t offered on the Kindle, and 2) I want to support a particular bookstore. When I buy from a mainstream (vs an independent) retailer, I buy from B&N (because their frequent purchase card is a much better deal for me than is Borders).

  4. Johnny Abacus

    I read what you said and immediately thought “library!”

    You might have a point in that many libraries are not curated as well as bookstores with respect to reader enjoyment (focus on profit generates a wonderful sort of discipline), but that sort of thing shouldn’t be difficult to fix at all.

    I could see Amazon running their own libraries that are tied into sales data for better curation. Alternately, Amazon could just partner with real, public libraries to supplement their catalog of on site books and reduce real estate costs (I’m thinking more branches than a typical library system has). As long as Amazon routed most sales through their web interface, with the option for immediate sales for a price premium, I think they should be able to provide a lower cost service that still allows people to relatively comfortably browse before they buy.

  5. Amy Alkon

    Actually, Virginia (and hi! You’re the one who turned me on to Grant), Amazon TOTALLY SCREWS bloggers on Kindle purchases. I link to a book, and if the person who clicks on the Amazon link on my site buys a Kindle book, I get ZERO. And so do you and so do all bloggers. I’ve talked to the Kindle team about this and even wrote a letter to Jeff Bezos. A mail it at the post office letter, that’s how upset I am about this. And they simply wrote back – some underling did – to say that there are no kickbacks from Kindle books. I want somebody to do a story on this. Here, Kindle is supposed to be the future of books, and they’re cutting all of us sending them customers out…and when there’s no shipping, paper, cardboard…just a download!

    P.S. You can also buy books through, my site, to help me survive the downturn in newspapers.

  6. Anjali Puri

    I’m intrigued that no one is talking about the reverse – i.e. there are a whole lot of people who browse online and buy offline. I enjoy browsing in bookstores as much as the next person, but I also do a lot of my browsing on Amazon and then trot off to the friendly neighborhood bookstore to buy the book or get them to order it for me (because where I live – India – Amazon shipping charges are prohibitive and delivery time depressingly long). But Amazon gets no credit for sending me shopping in the first place – especially as I am likely to browse in the bookstore and buy much more than what I came for.

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