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?