(For those looking for the next installment of The Road to Digital Publishing, it will be posted Sunday.)
This past Saturday, I posted about how frustrated I have gotten with folks who lay all the blame for the problems of the publishing and bookselling industries at the feet of Amazon. In the course of the post, I admitted that I do agree that Amazon has had a hand in the situation both industries find themselves in, but I don’t believe it is the only reason they are there. Like so many businesses, publishing has suffered from bloat and over-confidence and a disconnect from what what the buying public wants. Worse, as technology has changed, making it easier for authors to connect with their readers and to bring out their work on their own, instead of showing their authors “the love”, publishers have tried to tie authors to them with more and more onerous contractual terms. Add in the fact that, as Dave said yesterday, a lot of the value added services publishers offered has gone by the wayside and, well, it’s no surprise authors are looking for alternatives. After all, most of us want to be able to write what we want and be paid a reasonable amount for it.
I have about as much patience for those who cry “foul” and accuse Amazon of trying to put the big box bookstores out of business as I do those for those who say Amazon is trying to put publishers out of business. These same folks stood by and watched as the big box stores came into town and put the mom and pop bookstores out of business. They loved the fact these new stores offered more selections at lower prices than the indie bookstore they’d been shopping at for years. And, wow, you could get coffee and a danish at these new stores as well. It was book buyer heaven.
And yes, the sarcasm meter is going off the chart right now.
What made these big box stores work in the beginning was the fact they were new and were able to offer lower prices because they could purchase in bulk. Also, the didn’t over-build. For those of you old enough to remember, think about it. Borders, the first of these new stores, didn’t build at every mall in town. They made sure the stores weren’t too close together. Even when Barnes & Noble moved in, you didn’t find them located too close together. But, as the economy improved and flourished, greed set in and expansion plans grew with the immediate in mind and not the long term. Instead of stores being five or ten miles apart, they were suddenly — in some instances — only a mile or two apart. Too close for long term growth, especially once the economy started taking hits.
Then along came Amazon into this mix. Without physical stores, it was able to under-sell the bookstores. Oh the cries of foul that rose. Why? Because it was doing exactly what the big box stores had done to the small locally owned stores. But still Amazon and publishers were able to get along because Amazon was selling their books, making them money.
The end of the love affair between Amazon and the major legacy publishers came with the agency pricing model. And, guys, look, this wasn’t something Amazon did. This came from an agreement these same publishers made with Apple that they wouldn’t let their e-books be sold anywhere else for less than they were sold through Apple. For Amazon and its customers, it meant an increase in the price of many of the best selling e-books. Amazon tried to hold out. Why? Because its customers had told it they wanted prices to remain low.
Oh, the hue and cry when the battle began. How dare Amazon remove the “buy” button from certain publishers’ e-books. Authors screamed and gnashed their teeth. Publishers talked about how evil Amazon was. Finally, Amazon’s customers said, “Let us choose if we want to pay more than $9.99 for an e-book.” And Amazon caved.
But let’s look at this. Did Amazon do anything wrong when it removed the “buy” button? Not really. This is no different from the local grocery store removing stock from the shelves as it negotiates a new contract with its supplier, or the local clothing store doing the same thing. Amazon is a retailer. It can choose what it does and does not sell and, frankly, it should be able to choose what it sells those items for and should be able to put those items “on sale” from time to time if it wants.
Amazon still feels the fall-out from its decision to agree to the agency pricing model. Purchasers of e-books are still asking why they have to pay as much for an e-book as they do for a physical book and they often choose not to buy that e-book. They also wonder why Amazon doesn’t “give” them the e-book if they can prove they’ve purchased a hard copy of the book. They simply don’t get the fact that these are not decisions that are in Amazon’s hands. Prices and the giving away of e-books is up to the publisher.
Now there’s a new hue and cry going up about Amazon, one that’s happened since I wrote Saturday’s post. Once more, its detractors are yelling that Amazon is The Big Evil. Not only is it trying to take over the publishing world by having its own imprints for print books but, gasp, it is now planning to open its own bookstore. How dare it! This is proof it is trying to force bookstores out of business.
What little I’ve been able to find about this is that Amazon is planning to open a test store in Seattle to see if there is a market. This isn’t going to be a big box store. No, it is going to be a niche store that will focus on Amazon imprints, the kindle and kindle fire. In other words, it will be a store that will promote its own brand. Can anyone say Apple Store?
Now, before anyone starts going on about how this just shows why we shouldn’t trust Amazon, let me reiterate, I don’t trust them, at least not completely. However, as an author and as an editor for a small press, Amazon has been a friend. It has opened up an avenue of sales I wouldn’t have had. It is easy to get titles up on Amazon for sale, much easier than with Apple where you have to have certain hardware to be able to directly upload to the Apple store. Otherwise, you have to use a re-packager of some sort.
And, unlike some who say the new KDP Select program is just one more way to rip off authors, at least in these early days of the program I have to disagree. First of all, no matter what anyone says, the program is optional. You don’t have to take part. However, if you do, you are committing to an exclusive 90 period where you will only sell that title on Amazon. That’s the downside. It means you aren’t getting your title out in as many markets as possible.
The upside is that you can choose to take your title for free on Amazon for five days during that 90 day period. Yes, free. Yes, I encourage doing that sort of promotion. Why? Because it will get people to try your book or short story who might not otherwise. Let’s face it, folks like to get something for nothing. Much as I hate losing a sale, I have seen that this will drive sales. Without going into exact numbers — simply because I don’t have permission from the author to do so — Naked Reader Press took Wedding Bell Blues for free for five days the end of December/first of January. Free downloads for the book were in the four-to-five digit range. Unit sales for the book last month after it came off the free list are in the mid-four digit range. “Loans” of the book were in the 500 – 600 range. We’re waiting to see how many dollars that will translate into. But let’s just say the bump in sales, the fact the book hit the top 10 in multiple categories while it was free and was in the top hundred paid books for awhile once it went off being free helped propel sales as well.
Another benefit of the enrolling Wedding Bell Blues in the program is that Ellie’s short story sales have also increased. That helps Ellie because it means more money in her pocket and it encourages her to write more. Let’s face it, we all like knowing people are buying what we write.
Another or NRP’s books went free today. B. Quick, a mystery by C. S. Laurel, was one of the first e-books NRP published. The sequel, Quick Sand, and a short story featuring the same characters, Quick Change Artist, went on sale in most major e-book markets last week. All three titles have sold well, but we think they will sell better after B. Quick‘s free promotion on Amazon. So far, downloads for B. Quick are in the triple digit area and we have seen an increase in sales for the other two titles. That means word of mouth, even through the “printed” form of linking the books on Amazon, works.
Will this work, or work as well, for everyone? No. Genre, day of the week, pricing after something comes off free and any number of other factors will all play a part. However, this is a program that can benefit indie writers and small presses. Yet Amazon is being demonized for this program as well because they are “blackmailing” authors to use the program. No, they are giving us an option. It is up to use to choose whether to take part or not.
Do I trust Amazon to always look out for my interests? Hell, no. But, for now, they offer me more options and more control of my work than does B&N through PubIt and its reporting program is so much easier to follow and deal with than Smashwords. It is also the bull in the china shop in that it is where the vast majority of my sales occur. So I’d rather work with it, keeping my eyes open and always watching the fine print, than go out crying about how it is trying to ruin the industry.
Sorry, but the industry has done its best to ruin itself. It’s time for publishers, booksellers and authors to all pull on their big boy pants and re-evaluate their own business plans and customer service departments/experience and decide whether to try to maintain the status quo or move forward, adapting to new demands and new technology.