Time was, when Amazon targetted a new country to launch in, it used the Kindle store as a spearhead – Mexico, Brazil and Australia being recent examples.
Nowadays AWS is more likely to be the first sign of interest, and it’s always possible a non-books move might be on the cards next, as we saw in Singapore.
But the mere mention of the name Amazon is enough to make publishers nervous, as we see this month in Argentina.
Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri recently met with Elaine Feeney, Amazon’s Vice President of Global Infrastructure Expansion to discuss an “initial investment” in a data centre.
According to Argentina’s Clarin, Feeney told Macri
the idea is to gradually increase…business in the country (with) US $ 30 million in a data center that could expand…to US $ 200 million.
A Kindle store? Online book sales?
No hints of that yet – the job ads on Linked-In confirm Amazon is looking for IT experts in Argentina (and also in Romania) but no hints of publishing interest. Yet.
But that isn’t stopping the speculation in downtown Buenos Aries.
Clarin’s Patricia Kolesnicov asked this week,
As Amazon looks, does the publishing industry tremble?
No, is the answer. At least, not yet.
Rather, it is seen as a warning to up their game.
Says Trini Vergara, of V & R Editoras, which operates in Argentina, Mexico and Portuguese-speaking Brazil,
If what happened in Brazil happens (in Argentina), first Amazon installs its computer business; in a second stage it begins to sell digital books (ebooks and audiobooks) and in a third, it incorporates logistics to sell printed books.
Vergara estimates a five year breathing space before Amazon would become an effective publishing industry player in Argentina, and that will force a reappraisal of how things are done.
You have to modernize. And then what will happen? We will start selling, more and more.
If only it were that simple.
Other publishers are less optimistic, but resigned to their fate.
Kolesnicov quotes one unnamed publishing executive as saying,
They’re going to come, they’re coming.”
Publishers are for now taking solace in Argentina’s fixed-price law, designed to protect bookstores against discounting by supermarkets.
Others take a more philosophical approach and say the bigger problem is not Amazon’s as yet uncertain arrival but low interest in books.
After all, as we all know, Latinos don’t read.
But wait, haven’t we seen that argument somewhere else? Last month here at The New Publishing Standard I took apart the “Arabs don’t read” fallacy and I’ll return to the “Latinos don’t read” nonsense another time.
Here just to ask why, if Argentina’s readers are so indifferent to books, the Buenos Aries International Book Fair sees 1.2 million visitors pile through its doors every year?
It comes down to the 3As problem. Availability, accessibility and affordability.
In neighbouring Brazil this week the film Justice League opened to record box-office numbers. It’s not that Brazil has a track record of fawning over DC superheroes, but give the public what they want…
It’s the same with books. Make available content the readers want, where readers can access it, and at prices they are willing to pay.
To that end, while the disruption may be unwelcome short-term, the arrival of a Kindle Argentina store and a follow-up print distribution operation may be just what Argentina’s publishing industry needs to shake it out of its current state of lethargic complacency.
But the five years grace Trini Vergara talks of may prove a lot less if Amazon does start rolling out a book-selling operation in Argentina.
It may not quite be trembling time in Buenos Aries, but the interest of Amazon should be the wake-up call the industry needs so it doesn’t repeat the mistakes made by its northern counterparts.