The Gorilla in in the House Again

by Amanda S. Green

The holidays are upon us and the Grinches are out. No, I’m not talking about me when someone says I have to go to the mall. Yes, I turn green. Yes, I grumble and mumble and become ill-tempered. But that’s not what I’m talking about. No, I’m talking about all the Grinches who have come out this week to bitch and moan about a couple of things some are saying Amazon is or has done while they are studiously ignoring the one thing the retailer has done that could “hurt” its competitors.

Let’s start with the first and, to me, the most ridiculous charge against Amazon. Calling it a “new low“, Josie Leavitt holds no punches in her attack on Amazon and its promotion of its new price checking app. Her blog, much like other knee-jerk reactions to the announcement, fails to point out that the discount Amazon was offering FOR ONE DAY if you used the app and then bought the item you price-checked from Amazon did not apply to books (okay, I’ll admit here, I’m going on memory and on what I found on various fora trying to research the point this morning). What gets me more is her long tirade about how small bookstores are tired of having to deal with questions their customers bring them based on Amazon.

Some of us are tired of having to explain why our prices can’t be as low as Amazon’s. Okay, I can understand this, to a point. But instead of getting bent out of shape having to explain why, as a small store, you can’t offer prices as low as Amazon, why don’t you focus instead on the positive – on what you can offer that Amazon can’t? Maybe you do. I don’t know. Your rant doesn’t say that.

We’re tired of explaining why you can’t buy e-books from us if you have a Kindle. So, you’re only tired of answering that question about Kindles and not Nooks, Sony readers, iPads? More than that, you can sell e-books. It isn’t that hard. You can work out agreements with your local authors where you can sell gift cards that can be redeemed on their websites for e-books. You can become part of Google Books. There are ways. Hell, I know a lot of authors and small publishers — myself included — who would be glad to work with you on this.

I do understand her frustration. It’s hard to try to scratch out a living in an industry that is in as much upheaval as publishing right now. But she forgets that it wasn’t Amazon who struck the real heart shot against local independent bookstores. It wasn’t Amazon. It was the big box bookstores. One of those is now gone, but there are still others. Yes, Amazon does take business away from the smaller booksellers. That is why, as I’ve said many times before, they have to find their niche and then cater to it. Build your clientele through service, stock and amenities — something Amazon can’t offer. Work with your local authors on events and promotions and, yes, how to offer their e-books for sale. As long as there are readers, there will be a market. Will it be easy? Hell no. But it can be done.

The other post I saw yesterday that had me shaking my head was about how publishers were crying because big, bad Amazon was trying to get them to pay more for advertising and how Amazon wanted to go away from the agency model of pricing for e-books. Poor big publishers. Someone wants to make them pay through the nose like they, the publishers, want their readers to pay. I have little sympathy for legacy publishers who cry because a seller wants to be able to offer their customers e-books at a reasonable price. And, just so you know, publishers have truly lost sight of what “reasonable” is.

Let’s look at Stephen King’s latest book. 11/22/63 is his long-anticipated book about the Kennedy Assassination, among other things. Its cover price is, wait for it, $35.00. You can buy it through Amazon for $17.50. It is $18.04 at BN.com. The Kindle price is $14.99 and the Nook price is $16.99. Now, before you get excited about the fact that Amazon’s price is lower, it isn’t really. These are two different versions of the book. The Nook version is the “enhanced” version, which means it has some content the standard Kindle can’t access.

Now, I know I’m as old as dirt, or at least I feel that way at times, but $15 for an e-book is ridiculous. However, neither Amazon nor B&N nor any other e-book seller can change that price because it is set by the publisher. This costs everyone, including Mr. King, money because it takes away from sales. Sure, there are still a number of folks who will buy the book because it has King’s name on it. But not as many as would have bought it at $9.99 or even $10.99.

My point is this: legacy publishers still are not “getting” the e-book market. They think people will pay more for an e-book than they will print copies — and let’s be honest, the $14.99 for this e-book is more than we’d pay for the mmpb version. And they will, for some, but not for the majority of books being offered. People won’t pay $35 for a hard cover. Yes, they will pay the discounted price at Amazon and big box stores. Yes, it is this price that kills the smaller stores. So, who sets the original price — the publishers. Maybe I’m wrong, but if publishers would reasonably price their books folks would be more likely to buy them from the local independent bookstore where they get good service than from the faceless Amazon. It sure as hell couldn’t hurt.

Legacy publishers are more than glad to squeeze their suppliers — authors and artists — so I have no problem at all seeing Amazon — and others — try to squeeze them in return.

Finally, there is one new program at Amazon that doesn’t affect the big publishers but it does affect all those who publish through their KDP program — small publishers and self-published authors. It’s a program I figured would have Barnes & Noble screaming about as well as Smashwords. Earlier this month, Amazon announced its KDP Select Program. Basically, if you opt into the program, your book or short story will receive money from a common fund each time it is “checked out” through the Kindle Owners Lending Library. The amount you get is determined by the number of books in the program and the number of times your title is checked out. The catch is, your title can’t be offered for sale through any other outlet for the period you are in the program. However — and this is a big incentive — one of the benefits is the ability to take your title for free on Amazon for up to five days during a 90 day period. I’ve seen how offering a book for free on Amazon can increase sales later.

If the number of free book offerings this past week is any indication, there are a number of authors and small publishers taking advantage of this program. What the long term benefits will be remain to be seen. However, short term at least, it means books are being removed from other outlets and that should be raising cries of “foul” but aren’t, as of yet.

Publishing is changing and all of us need to adapt if we are to survive. As authors, we need to write more and get more out there for the reading public to mean. HOWEVER, just because you have 10 or 100 titles available doesn’t mean you will be successful. You still have to make sure the book is well edited, well copy edited, well proofread and well formatted. It isn’t enough to just be throwing titles up there. Sorry, it should be obvious, but I’ve seen some folks forgetting that mechanics that are needed and I’ve tried to read far too many e-books of late suffering from those problems.

What the long-term reaction will be to the changes currently assailing the industry, no one knows. My guess is that we will see the big box retailers continue to decline unless they change their format. Small, indie booksellers will survive — if they adapt and start courting not only their customers but also their local authors. The e-book section of the market will continue to grow. Some of the big publishers very well may fail, not only because they aren’t adapting to the changes in the market quickly enough but because they didn’t react to changes in the market even before the e-book revolution.

What do you think?

15 comments

  1. Off the subject of Amazon, I’ve been “amused” about complaints from small book store owners after I visited one such store and decided not to come back. Later the store when out of business and the owner complained about the big chains. Well, there were two reasons that I didn’t go back and neither were the fault of the big chains. First, it was extremely hard to find parking near that store. Second, that store had a poor selection of books (especially ones I wanted to purchase).

    1. Paul, the parking issue seems to be common for a lot of the indie bookstores and, yes, it does often lead to customers not coming back. As for the lack of selection, that is just poor management, imo. It’s also not knowing your customers and what they want. That last is also a problem of the big box stores.

      1. Amanda, there was a SF/F independent bookstore in the Chicago area that had parking problems but as long as I lived in the Chicago area I went back to it. It survived because of great selection and good people working in the store. The owner seemed to hire people who knew SF/F and who were always helpful. Unfortunately, it died in the down-turn about ten years ago.

  2. Riiight. Like companies haven’t been advertizing “Find it anywhere for less and we’ll match their price” for decades. The internet made the search easier, and Amazon leaped on the possibilities.

    Amazon wins the “Welcome to the New World Championship” again.

    They’re on my Good List with their select program. One short story and one novel, free for the next three days. Search for “Pam Uphoff” on their site.

    My contribution to enjoyable travel over the holidays. 😉

    1. Pam, it’s more than that even. There have been apps allowing you to compare prices for items by scanning their bar codes for several years at least. It really is nothing new. It’s just that it is big, bad Amazon doing the encouraging. Still, the thing that got me are all the howls of outrage over what they were doing, without those howling actually reading the fine print. But then, if they did, they might find they were wrong and they certainly wouldn’t want to spoil their outrage with a little knowledge.

      The Select program is both good and bad, at least right now. Good because it does give small publishers and self-published authors the chance to offer their titles for free without having to jump through hoops. It is bad because there have been so many free books and short stories offered this week that it is nearly impossible to keep up with them. Instead of a hundred or so new titles a week, there have been well over 1,000 titles this week. Maybe it will slow down over the next few weeks. I hope so. In the meantime, I am very interested to see where it goes.

      1. Indeed. Will those free downloads lead to future sales of other books, or are people just snatching it up because it’s free, and they’ll forget about it long before they even get around to reading it? Or even if they like it, will they remember at least the title, so they can find the author’s other books?Only one way to find out.

        1. Agreed. My concern is that so many are just snatching the titles and those titles will be forgotten because of the sheer number of new freebies this week. I know I’ve grabbed a number of them to load onto my mother’s kindle. The problem is, I haven’t done it yet and now, because of the number of them, I am having a hard time remembering which is which and I don’t want to take the time to go look up the synopses.

          1. I suppose we’re dealing with a lot of people who (like pirates) wouldn’t have bought the book. But unlike pirates, they do regularly read and purchase books, and there it sits, on their reader. Some of them will finally read it. So we’ll increase exposure and, in theory, see benefits down the road, on that long tail Kris Rusch is always talking about.

            Or everything will change (again) and we’ll change (again) because we are flexible.

    2. Oho! I have now learned something else about the wonders of Kindle books on the international market.

      See, when I look at Amazon.com, I see:

      Outcasts and Gods: 0.00 — And they actually didn’t charge me anything!
      Fancy Farmer: 0.99
      Lawyers of Mars: 3.99!
      The Black Goats: 5.99
      Lost Boy: 0.00

      A quick look at Naked Reader suggests that the Lawyers of Mars price includes the wonderful $2 surcharge that they like to slap on orders from Japan. I’ve argued with them, and they tell me:

      1. The author/publisher requested it (I have yet to find an author or publisher who agrees… maybe you should ask for part of it?)
      2. It’s for international delivery (via the internet?)
      3. It’s for currency handling (although I pay in dollars using an American credit card?)

      What I find amusing is that apparently free items (such as Outcasts and Gods) and low-cost items (such as Fancy Farmer) don’t require such a surcharge. And in fact, they happily provided me with a copy of Outcasts and Gods, without any charge.

      BTW, the price on all of these “includes free international wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet.” Funny that it is only free part of the time…

      I’m glad it’s working for you. But that surcharge seems like a deliberate slap in the face for international readers.

        1. Yup. Although I usually go with ePub and Stanza (whoops, now Megareader) as long as I’m rolling my own. But I wonder whether the people who aren’t quite as technophiliac — oh, heck, geeky — know how to do that. Irritates me, and I never get a straight answer from Amazon about it. Well, an answer that I believe, anyway.

  3. Good grief! I had no idea there was a surcharge. They don’t bother to ask the author about it. They make a point to show that Amazon.de, uk, fr etc is charging the same ammount in whatever currency.

    I’m going to go dig and see if they’ve got an excuse better than “international delivery.”

    1. Hopefully, as they expand the kdp program to other countries, we’ll see that change. However, it may be as simple as contractual regs with those countries for products not “originating” there. Which is why NRP does have the webstore.

      And, at least Amazon does deliver e-books outside of the US, unlike a number of other e-taliers.

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