Earlier this week, I could only shake my head as an author on one of the discussion boards I sometimes visit pontificated about how Amazon is not, never has been and never will be, an author’s friend. You see, according to this author, Amazon is the big evil, the reason why bookstores and small presses have gone out of business. Good on Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million for declaring that they won’t carry books published by The Big Evil. We, as authors and readers, should avoid supporting The Big Evil at all costs.
Okay, this author — and those who feel as she does — are entitled to their opinions. What bothered me about her argument was multi-fold. First was the fact that she didn’t seem to mind at all the fact that Barnes & Noble purchased Stirling Publishing in 2003 and Stirling is now its own imprint. Guess what, as of my search last night, Amazon carries books published by Stirling. So, why is it okay for BN and BAM to refuse to carry books published by Amazon’s imprints when it expects Amazon to carry books published by BN’s imprint? Can you say, “pot calling kettle black”? And am I the only one who can just hear the cries of “foul” BN would send up if Amazon suddenly decided to quit selling books by Sterling because it is owned by a competitor?
The next issue I had with the author’s assertion that Amazon is The Big Evil goes to her condemnation for Amazon refusing to sell books from the Big Five (it wasn’t six at that point) back at the beginning of the agency pricing model. Apparently, she has a problem with a retailer, and that is what Amazon is, not only choosing what it stocks but also being able to set its own prices. She doesn’t see the need for competitive pricing. In fact, she didn’t like the fact that Amazon was selling e-books from the major publishers for $9.99, and losing money doing it. It didn’t matter that it was the price point e-books readers wanted — and still want. It didn’t matter that publishers weren’t losing money. No, it is simply that The Big Evil was doing it, so it must be wrong.
Then there’s the argument that Amazon having its own imprints will drive print publishers and bookstores out of business. Okay, remember Stirling? That sort of throws a wrench in that argument. But, let’s look at it a bit more. Sure, the fact that Amazon doesn’t have brick and mortar stores, the fact it can and does sell for less than most brick and mortar stores, does make it a competitor. But it isn’t and never has been the sole reason for the problems in the publishing industry or in the survival of bookstores.
I’ve written a number of posts about this, as have my fellow MGCers. Publishing is operating under a business model that is decades out of date. Most legacy publishers have failed to recognize, much less embrace, changes in technology or demand of the buying public. Like the ostrich, it has kept its head in the sand, convinced that if it ignored e-books long enough, the abomination would disappear.
Likewise, it failed to recognize that people want to read for entertainment. Yes, I know there are those who read to learn. I’m one of them. But most folks read for entertainment. They don’t want to read the same book over and over again, simply with different character names and places. Fads are just that, fads. They go just as quickly as they come.
People also don’t want publishers trying to “educate” them through the books they are reading for fun. They are tired of PCness being shoved down their throats. Most of us are tired of the “men are evil, women are wonderful” and “business is the ultimate evil”. Moreover, if we want literary, we’ll buy it. Don’t try to sell it to us wrapped in the guise of genre fiction. Sorry, folks, but not all of us want plotless, pointless navel gazing in our reading.
Then there is the argument that Amazon is killing bookstores. Nope, sorry, but the big box stores managed to strike that blow themselves. The very companies that are now crying foul over Amazon are the ones who came in and wiped out the local bookstores without batting an eye. How? By being bigger. They could offer more stock at lower prices than the local indies could. Once they cornered the market, these big box stores over-expanded and, being the only game in town, started having problems, especially when the economy went into a downturn.
But, like the publishing industry, it didn’t adapt. It kept building big stores and hiring people who didn’t know the stock and who weren’t passionate about books. (Okay, over-generalization, but on the whole true) Actual book stock decreased as knick-knacks increased. Books may only stay on the shelves for a week. If it’s not bought then, it is boxed up and shipped back. If you special order a book, you may or may not get it. But that’s not their fault. It’s all the fault of Amazon, The Big Evil, because people can order books from them for less.
Well, guess what, if these same bookstores would take time to review what their customers want and try to address those issues, if they’d hire employees who knew the stock — and this implies paying these employees a decent wage with benefits instead of hiring a store full of nothing but part-timers so they don’t have to pay benefits — most readers would be more than happy to pay a bit more to buy locally. Why? Because it does support the local economy. Because most readers enjoy the experience of browsing the rows of books. Not only will you, hopefully, find the book you came for, but you might find something else you’ll like as much, if not more. Sure, coffee shops are nice, but good stock and knowledgeable, courteous employees are more important.
Now, am I saying that I agree with everything Amazon does? Heck no. But blaming them for everything that is wrong in a seriously ill industry is so short-sighted as to be ridiculous. This is especially true when it comes from an author. Amazon is the first of the major retailers to allow authors and small presses to direct sell their e-books without having to go through a repackager. I know from my own numbers, that most of my sales come by far from Amazon. Part of it is because it is Amazon. Part of it is because BN waited too long to get into the e-book business and its web interface isn’t as user friendly as Amazon’s. Amazon also has a very active community, which benefits authors whether we realize it or not.
Like I said, the author who feels Amazon is The Big Evil is entitled to her opinion. It’s not completely wrong. Nor is it completely right. But, before condemning Amazon, I wish she had taken time to look at the companies she was supporting. If she had, she might have realized there is much more involved in the issues publishing is facing than just The Big Evil. Publishing was on the road to ruin long before Amazon was started. Did Amazon speed the process? Undoubtedly. But it did not cause it — either for publishers or for bookstores.
For me, I support my locally owned indie bookstores as much as possible. Unfortunately, we don’t have all that many and most aren’t conveniently located. Still, when I’m near one, I go and I buy. I also buy from Amazon because I can find books there I can’t in the stores. I use the library. I buy e-books from a variety of sources. However, I have found that I buy fewer and fewer e-books from the legacy publishers because they are priced too high. But then, e-books are just the latest fad and if the legacy publishers have their way, e-books will go the way of sparkly vampires. Oh wait, legacy publishers still like sparkly vampires…oh well, guess that means e-books are here to stay.