Amazon is the thorn in the flesh that pricks you from the beautiful rose garden adorning your house. You know that without the rose garden, your house is just another simple, undervalued number on your block, so you make room for the thorns.
Amazon is part of the reason you now see some self-published authors referring to published authors as “passive writer-victims,” why published authors are firing back with their reasons for avoiding self-publishing.
Just recently, the retailer sent a storm through the book industry when it announced that it would enter the publishing business; aspiring to publish approximately 122 books in the fall, including the upcoming book by author Tim Ferris, The 4-Hour Chef.
It’s official; step aside Barnes & Noble, Amazon is now pissing in the pot of the publishing industry.
If you’re wondering what would make Amazon’s offer so attractive to Tim Ferris, that he would side-step traditional publishing, you can fuggedaboutit because the author is not talking. No one is. In fact, Amazon’s clause insists that these authors disclose nothing. Nada. Something uncommon in traditional publishing (sure you don’t disclose intricate details of your contract, but even some things can be said. Like Dave Eggers clearly stating in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, that he got paid a $100,000 advance).
Then again, Amazon may not be paying advances to some writers either; like Laurel Saville realized when her self-published book, Unraveling Anne, was re-named and re-published by the retailer.
Perhaps this is why some authors and publishers love to hate Amazon.
It has taken only one company, to change the way in which books are sold, read and distributed. They have done it in various ways:
Amazon sells books cheaper. Heck, this drives retailers like Barnes & Noble crazy. Here they are, paying loads of taxes, employment taxes, inventory charges, storefront fees, sales taxes (that Amazon avoids in certain states) etc, just so some customers can walk through their bookstores, look up a book, and find it on Amazon for cheaper. Amazon has cheaper costs so it sells books cheaper. In fact until recently, the IRS didn’t even care about Amazon sellers—the independent business people who make such a book auction possible—or how much money they made.
Authors and publishers are afraid of losing control. Like the worldwide web, any monster can post a review on Amazon (although, Amazon does have a waiting verification period for new accounts, still doesn’t stop fake accounts from being set up). Another thing is that for books in print, Amazon could require only 1 book from an author one week and 50 books another week. Since their clients are on the worldwide web, you just never know.
Payments. Besides the high probability of no advances for self-published authors (as mentioned previously) there is the talk about royalties. In the past, Amazon kept 65% of royalties (it is possible that this has changed). Apple in comparison, took 30% of ITunes revenue; leaving some to argue that since electronic publishing is supposed to change the economic structuring for authors, that Amazon should give out more in terms of royalties. Plus, there was the issue of collections. If Amazon couldn’t collect fees from a customer who had bought a book, Amazon did not pay royalty to the author.
That damn eReader. Humph! At first, even leading authors like John Grisham and Danielle Steele, fought against the Amazon Kindle; refusing to carry their titles on it. Here was a device that cheapened the price of books, taking away from the ridiculously priced hardcovers (that usually start at $24.95).
Yet authors and publishers need Amazon. Why? For a few reasons:
Amazon recommends. All I have to do is sign in to my Amazon account and voila, I have books recommended. I get emails with books recommended (even Barnes & Noble have caught up to this in their stores, giving an email receipt of recommendations whenever you buy a book).
Amazon markets their bestsellers. Some traditional publishers (like St. Martin’s Press and Harper Collins have started to catch on with the bestseller lists, but how many publishers do you know are proactively sending out emails? Amazon does. (By the way, Barnes & Noble does a good job of marketing their bestsellers too and I plan to blog about them soon). Days before this new book from best-selling author, Immaculee Ilibagiza came out, I received an email from Amazon, recommending that I pre-order the book. Why? Amazon recognized that I once ordered Immaculee’s, Left To Tell and thought that I might like her new book. No author can say that they do not love this simple, yet effective form of marketing.
Publicity. Amazon is the largest platform for book sales. Need I say more?
Amazon gets readers to talk about books. Traditional publishers shelve books and forget about it. Some send their authors on book signings, others don’t even worry about it anymore. Amazon encourages readers to talk about authors and their book.
Vendor reviews. So I’m a vendor who advertised that I was going to mail you a new book and I sent you an old one. Shame on me as a seller. Amazon reminds you to go online and critique me. So if I promised to deliver and I didn’t, you now have the opportunity to warn other buyers about my poor habits. Book auctions are cheap but they can also be risky. This is one way Amazon tries to control the risk.
Book description. Authors and publishers know that Amazon is in the business of selling books, and that they do it well. Once someone views a book on Amazon, this is what they see:
- How people buy the book (what they buy before or after)
- Product details. The book rank, the publisher, even the shipping weight.
- Customers can browse the book. It is a known fact that most times, readers browse a book before buying.
- Products by author. Just like publishers mention “other books by author” in the back of a book, Amazon does on its website.
Back to the damn eReader! The Kindle made books sexy again. The launch of eReaders made even non-readers start reading. It made reading convenient and relevant in a fast-paced world. I just talked to a friend in Africa, who told me that he loves the idea of having all of his books with him in Africa and America (on the Kindle). Why didn’t publishers think of this?
The fact is, Amazon has studied the traditional publishing industry, taken its tactics, and delivered it in a new media format. They’ve realized that authors are entrepreneurs, that readers are consumers.
Now, Amazon might have the opportunity to monopolize the industry. And as much as we love Amazon, or hate to love Amazon, we know that monopolies should not exist in business. Book retailers, like Barnes & Noble, have started to pick up the pace and follow the trends in electronic book delivery and customer experience.
The question for thought here is: why do traditional publishers refuse to align their goals, chase their readers, sign more “underdogs,” and stop with this notion that writers are rock stars, instead of the entrepreneurs they really are?