A writer/publisher’s concern over the future of Amazon

Yeah. I know what you’re thinking. Another author wants to weigh in on Amazon’s influence (pros or cons) on the publishing industry. Well, I can see where you might be getting tired of hearing about it…but let me give you one good reason the Amazon “situation” is crucially important if you’re a reader: choice. That’s right. What happens today in the publishing world will affect the choices you have in the future. And there’s no denying that the juggernaut Amazon stands at the forefront to shape the industry from this day forth.
Now before I go into my (hopefully brief) tirade, let me say this…I’ve praised the name Amazon for the past few years. I’ve been its biggest defender. After all, the online company almost single handledly changed publishing forever and allowed thousands of aspiring authors to enter your libraries who never would have been able to before. When I was ready to publish my first book, PRIMAL THIRST, I had a dilemma. I honestly didn’t want to go the “traditional” route to publishing. I sent the manuscript to only one publisher. That publisher was actually interested in it, but…yeah, that’s right. They wanted me to change Jack (he wasn’t heroic enough). They wanted me to change this and that and this again. Frankly, I wanted no part of it. So, I decided to self-publish.
But there was a problem. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but back in 2009 (when Primal Thirst was first released), there was still a huge stigma for anyone who self-published. To the industry as a whole, anyone who self-published wasn’t considered a “real” author. Heck, I’ve got some FB friends (big named authors) who still hold that viewpoint (and it burns me up every time they make a comment about it actually).
Then, something extraordinary happened. The Amazon Kindle took off. I mean, it really started flying off those virtual shelves…and so, in fact, did the ebooks that were associated with it. All of a sudden, there were more self and indie published books out there than you could shake a stick at. And what was more…a great many of those self/indie published books were GOOD! Viva la Revolution! Things started happening fast. Big named authors started self-pubbing themselves. John Locke started making zillions of dollars on his self-published titles. Joe Konrath began heralding the hallelujahs of the ebook world. And those who opted to publish their books themselves were seen as heroes more than pariahs. It truly was/is a brilliant time to be an author.
And we owe much of that to the leaders of Amazon.
But there is something brewing that I just can’t quite explain. For some reason, recent events at Amazon have caused me to see dark skies over the horizon. As the managing editor of a ever-growing, successful small press, I sense trouble ahead and it makes me nervous. Makes me begin to wonder if perhaps I have chosen the wrong side in the Amazon vs. Barnes and Noble competition even. Now first of all, please understand. I’m by no means an insider when it comes to the inner workings of book retailers. There are authors and blogs out there that have numbers, facts, quotes, etc. who can give you a much better assessmen of the state of things…but today, I just wanted to share a few observations I’ve seen with Amazon and ask a few questions to see what we might discover.
I think I started becoming really concerned a few months ago when I discovered that Amazon was having issues with Lightning Source (a print-on-demand “POD” printer/distributor that Seven Realms and a great many other small presses use for their print books). You see, Amazon had started their own POD called CreateSpace. Naturally, they wanted self-pubbers and small presses to use their printer over company’s like Lightning Source. So, they started playing around with the numbers. They wouldn’t order as many copies of a particular book, so it would end up having the dreaded “Out of Stock” or worse, the “This product usually ships in six to eight weeks” (an exaggeration, but close enough) text at the top of the screen. Of course, to be fair, most of these cases were with books whose wholesale price was well over 50% of retail. Now most booksellers want the wholesale price to be 50% or more so they can discount books and still make a hefty profit, so I can sort of understand their reasoning here. But still…this when the alarm bells started ringing for me.
Then, Amazon announced that they were starting their own traditional publishing company. Really? Now I’m all for capitalism (I’m a card-carrying capitalist myself), but this is beginning to sound like the beginning stages of some type of industry coup. It was bad enough Amazon was offering POD printing for self-pubbers, but to set up its own publishing company in the traditional sense? Now things were getting scary.
And I’m sure most of you have at least heard of the more recent controversy involving Amazon’s KDP Select. What exactly is that about, you might ask? Well, basically, Amazon throws a huge amount of money into a monthly pot. Then authors agree to make their ebook available exclusively through Kindle for a specific period of time and that author will receive a percentage of that monthly pot based on the number of times their book is borrowed. But the one major catch to this is…you cannot sale your ebook to any other device. No Nook. No iPad. No Smashwords. Just Amazon. See the problem with this? Yeah, once again, we’re talking monopoly. We’re seeing Amazon trying to set themselves up as the one and only ebook supplier.
Still, despite all this, I wasn’t entirely convinced. But there is something happening with Amazon behind the scenes…that I’ve not heard anyone talk about…that concerns me more than anything. For you readers out there, you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about…but you small press publishers and self-pubbers, you will.
Here’s my primary issue/concern: For the last few books I’ve published, I’ve begun to notice a disturbing trend. It is becoming much more difficult to change, edit, or add product details, photos, and Inside the Book features to a book’s product page. Use to be, there was a page a publisher could go to that would allow him to edit a product description or add an author blurb or pretty much do whatever he wanted to. But a few books ago, I noticed this feature no longer existed. So how is a publisher supposed to get faulty product descriptions fixed? Well, Amazon’s answer is to have the “author” do it via his/her Author Central page. Really? That’s their answer? Well, here’s my response…it’s not the author’s responsibility to do that. It’s the publisher’s. But they won’t let me any more. They are keeping me away from my company’s own books.
And try adding a book cover image or Inside the Book content! Wow. The Adventures of Dodge Dalton on the High Road to Oblivion was released near the beginning of the month of January. I uploaded the Inside the Book content several weeks before it’s release in hopes that it would be up around the time the book went live. No such luck. So, I re-uploaded it thinking that maybe there wasn’t a mistake. I re-uploaded it a third time. A fourth. And it’s still not up yet. So, you’d think you could just call someone up or email them to discuss this issue? Oh no…getting a hold of someone who can help a publisher over at Amazon is like trying to find the Holy Grail. And, a week and a half later when they finally email you back, what invariably do you receive? A form email that basically says, “Please take a look at our FAQ. The majority of problems can be answered there. If you need more assistance, please write back.” Grrrrr…I may not be the brightest bulb in the pack, but I’m smart enough to look at the FAQs before going to their customer service for help.
Anyway, I’m sorry…I’ve sort of digressed into a complaint session and that’s not my intent. My intention for this post was to raise a red flag. With all these changes with Amazon in recent months, I can tell you that something is happening. Something that will not be beneficial for small presses and indie authors like me. And it won’t be beneficial for readers like you either. Remember the choice issue I mentioned at the beginning? That’s where this comes in…
Imagine a single company controlling the ebb and flow of the books that make it onto your shelf. Imagine a single gatekeeper that gets to pick what books are sold and what books are not. Imagine a single entity which chooses what is worthy to be downloaded onto your Kindle (and yes, in this future, the only choice you’d have is a Kindle). If the publisher didn’t do things the way this company wanted, fine…they just won’t be able to selll their books. If an author has a point of view that goes against what this particular company agrees with, nope…you will never see it.
The worrisome thing for me in all this is that Amazon has always been about breaking down those Gatekeepers. That’s been one of the praises I’ve sung the loudest over this company because it has allowed so many authors to finally break out into the publishing world…for the simple reason that they bypassed the traditional gatekeepers of time’s past (i.e. traditional publishers/agents) and allowed the keys to the gate to be held by those who truly deserve that role…you, the reader. But the more Amazon does to corner the market, the more narrow those gates become and all the hard work they accomplished will soon disappear by their own greed.
So what am I saying? Am I denouncing Amazon in this post? No way. I love Amazon. I buy most of my stuff (books, DVDs, etc.) through them and will continue to do so (for now). And yes, I prefer my Kindle to my iPad or the Nook. I actually WANT Amazon to succeed. I want them to grow. I want them to continue to innovate the industry. I just don’t want them to forget those who made their success in recent years possible…the indie publishers and small press authors, as well as you readers who’ve been loyal to them all this time. I want them to understand that they don’t have to corner the market because a great many people will turn to them before anyone else. I want them to remember to keep those gates open as wide as they can get and to allow the reader to act as watchdog over what books are successful and those that are not. And I just want my silly little “product description editing form” page back! lol
Anyway, that’s it for tonight. Hope this hasn’t been a horribly boring post for you. I hope you’ve learned something from it and that you’ll be keeping your eyes and ears open to the direction the publishing industry is moving. If you’re a reader, it’s even more important for you than it is for us writers/publishers. And one final thing that has nothing to do with Amazon or anything else…stop expecting books to be under $0.99. Your killing us! lol If you enjoy a book, please don’t feel bad about paying that author some money for that enjoyment. And authors…stop offering books for under $0.99. You put a lot of work into it. It deserves compensation. Don’t whore yourself out for the chance of easy discovery.
[Okay, soap box put away…coming soon, an interview with the hugely prolific Scott Nicholson!]

1 thought on “A writer/publisher’s concern over the future of Amazon”

  1. No publisher, no retailer has tried to control the whole pie before the way Amazon is now raging about. Barnes & Noble also offers platforms and avenues for authors and small publishers and their Nook family of e-readers was judged to be the best in the marketplace in the August issue of Consumer Reports. I'm not keen on supporting a company that thinks it's OK to monopolize intellectual property. This is a dangerous, ugly road it's set itself on. Amazon is not your friend

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