Pull up a chair, grab your favorite drink and snack and settle back for your next installment of Authors United vs. the evil that is Amazon (sorry if the sarcasm meter just broke). In yet another attempt to convince the Department of Justice that Amazon is the worst of all monopolies to ever exist, Authors Unlimited hosted an event entitled “Amazon’s Book Monopoly—A Threat to Freedom of Expression?”
To begin with, there is no attempt here to be fair or unbiased by Authors Unlimited. The very title of their event proves that. They start from the assumption that Amazon is a monopoly. As you can expect, it goes downhill from there.
If you go to the announcement of the event, you can find this description: Amazon dominates the U.S. book market to a degree never before seen in America. This corporation dominates every key segment of the market. And this immense size gives Amazon unprecedented power to manipulate the flow of books – hence of information and ideas – between author and reader.
Now, let’s see how that simple statement isn’t exactly accurate.
- Amazon dominates the U. S. book market to a degree never before seen in America. Hmm. How is it doing so? Does it sell the most books in the U. S.? I think we are probably safe in saying that it does. However, is it accurate to say it dominates the market to a degree never before seen? That is a bit hazier. After all, before Amazon, the publishers dominated the market because they had no competition. In more recent years, the big box booksellers dominated that aspect of the market by running the smaller, locally owned stores out of business. So is it accurate to say that Amazon’s actions rank that high? Nope, at least not in my mind. Why? Because the publishers are still in existence and still publishing the books that they choose to. But let’s move on.
- This corporation dominates every key segment of the market. That’s one of those statements I hate because it is an absolute without enough definition to really counter. What are these key segments and how is Amazon dominating them? Is it allowing more writers to find their voices, so to speak, and put there work out there for the reading public to find? Yep. But how many of those authors had tried going the traditional route and were turned away? How is that taking away from publishers? Did it become the leader in e-book distribution? Yes, but that again is one of those things that the publishers could have explored long ago and didn’t. Instead of following the example of Jim Baen and creating their own webstores and selling e-books, they ridiculed Baen and said e-books were a passing fancy. Amazon recognized a new market and ran with it. Do you punish it for looking forward instead of looking back?
- And this immense size gives Amazon unprecedented power to manipulate the flow of books – hence of information and ideas – between author and reader. Ah, there’s the rub. They don’t want anyone but their members and traditional publishing to have control over the flow of information and ideas between the author and reader. It doesn’t matter what the reading public might want. It doesn’t matter that traditional publishing doesn’t have enough slots to publish every book that is well-written. No, as far as these folks are concerned, they want to step back into the previous century and not allow those of us who have proven that we can write and make more than many of those traditionally published do to have an outlet for our work.
So, how about if we change the wording just a little bit. Substitute The Big 5 for Amazon. Now you tell me which one wants to dominate the market, which one actually controls all the key segments of the market and which one wants to dominate the flow of information and ideas between author and reader.
But let’s continue.
In one of those instances where you look at the speaker and ask yourself if there isn’t just a hint of conflict of interest, Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, said that Amazon’s practices, if left unchecked, could lead to a “nuclear winter” for book publishing. So, let’s see. The CEO of one of Amazon’s competitors thinks Amazon is bad. Funny that. And again, how is Amazon going to do this? By allowing publishers to set their own prices for books being sold? By showing readers that they have alternatives to traditionally published books by allowing authors and small presses to offer their work at prices they, the author or small press sets? Or is it by allowing those same authors and small presses sell their digital work without extra DRM being applied?
Where I really had to sit back and wonder WTF was when Scott Turow commented that, while Amazon has been good to him, he is in the fight against it because he believes in “an independent authorial class.”
Go back and read that again. Apparently Turow believes that Amazon has been hobbling authors. And I repeat, WTF?!?
Amazon has opened the doors for authors to connect with readers over and over again. Their KDP program allows authors and small presses to bring their digital work to readers in a way they never before had been able to. Unlike Smashwords and other sites like it, this is a direct to public route where the author doesn’t have to pay an intermediary for putting them on a site. With the increasing number of devices which allow for the reading of e-books, this has opened the market even more to authors. Oh, and the author or small press isn’t limited to just Amazon sales unless they elect to go that route.
If they do, the KDP Select program gives them a number of perks that are all designed to increase royalties. We can do countdown deals where we have an stair-stepped promotion. You can set your sales prices at several different levels during the course of the countdown until the price returns to normal. The product page notes that it is a countdown deal and how long the reader has to buy the e-book before the price goes up.
If that isn’t enough, the authors taking part in this program can offer their work for free for up to 5 days every quarter. That, too, can help drive sales by giving readers exposure to you work without costing them anything for that initial taste.
The Kindle Unlimited program works in much the same way. Readers can subscribe to the program for a monthly fee. Eligible books can be downloaded for free. It is a win for authors, especially those of longer work, because we get paid for each “normalized page” read. In some instances, that means we get paid more for a book that is read in the KU program than we do for a sale. Unfortunately, shorter works no longer make as much as they did under the previous “borrow” program but it is much more fair for long works.
Then there is Createspace where you can design, set up and publish print versions of your work — at little to no cost — and Audible where you can create audio versions of your work.
But Amazon isn’t supporting an independent authorial class.
What Amazon has done is allowed authors from all walks of life, in all genres and sub-genres, no matter what their “message” to have an outlet to the public. It has given the power of what books to read to the readers. Has it impacted publishers? You bet. But the publishers, instead of adapting, continue to cry “foul!” and demand that things go back to how they once were. The claims that Amazon put booksellers out of business are skewed at best. Long before Amazon came onto the scene, big box stores put the mom and pop stores out of business. Then, as Amazon was getting its foothold, the big box stores continued an unrestrained growth, often putting huge stores right across the street from one another. Instead of looking at what the market could support, it ignored the lessons from earlier business failures — who remembers Skillern Drugs or Eckards or any number of grocery stores or department stores that thought going into the same mall or on the same corner as the competition meant they would automatically make money?
At one point, there were at least a dozen big box bookstores within 20 miles of my house. Often you would find a B&N within half a mile — or less — of a Borders. The economy simply couldn’t support that sort of thing. But it is so much easier to blame Amazon for the failure of Borders and the problems B&N finds itself in right now than to admit that the suits and bean counters made a mistake and failed to read the ledger sheets and future business analysis.
It is more of the same old, same old. It is another indication of what is wrong with so much of the publishing industry. Today is the first day of the future. Isn’t it time for the industry to not only recognize that but to admit it and embrace it?