Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Is Amazon Evil, With a Plan to Destroy the Universe?

Elizabeth K. Burton commented on a previous post.
Thank you for weighing in- good food for thought, because authors really need to think this through.
It's truly a battle of mega-monsters, who will no doubt trample a lot of us little folk underfoot, whoever wins. And it may well result in the outcome Elizabeth brings up.
There's some pretty big stakes for us all here- future selling capability. There's a few more places to check out for commentary, the wonderful Hugh Howey and the irascible Chuck Wendig. Different slants here, but good to get a broad picture, and fair input from pretty savvy people with skin in the game.

My words in the last post were inadequate to the whole picture. And Elizabeth caught me mixing my metaphors, when I should have explained in more detail. Let's explore some more.

The previous title reflects the real battle-- between two giant corporations, rather than big old bully Amazon is picking on a poor little Mom-and-Pop shop, as has been the slant in a number of pieces by media apologists for Hachette's side. The big publishing house and their parent corporation have an immense amount of resources at their call, and have been pushing for hearts and minds in the media.

The weakling vs the sumo image comes in when we see Hachette try to push Amazon into doing things the Hachette way, instead of how Amazon wants to do it.

Big Publishing has had at least five years to adjust to the new world, but it seems all they can do is keep blaming Amazon for unfairly taking away their divine right of massive profits. They keep making it too damn easy for Amazon to beat them senseless, and hand Bezos ever-bigger clubs to do it with.

Amazon is just way better at this game, much more versatile, and craftier, thinking long-game, while the Big Pub moves seem clumsy, short-sighted, and ill-intentioned. See how Amazon completely and easily disemboweled the argument about hurting individual writers with their offer of loss compensation to be matched by Hachette.  Hachette grumpily refused (at least seemed to), in typical, ham-handed fashion. Low-hanging fruit with a huge PR win, and all Big Pub does is reload and shoot their other foot.

First, let's accept one thing- any extra money Hachette gets from any deal is not likely to go into author pockets, but rather to Hachette profits. Ditto for higher book prices. Many commentators are rightly pointing out that Hachette, as part of the Big Publishing conglomerates, is currently taking unfair advantage of authors. Heck, we have the public confession by several of their writers that working for that cartel is like grubbing for change, and if the current author Hachette book doesn’t sell properly, they’re screwed, no matter how successful they’ve been in the past.
Ouch. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a business partner…

Okay, it’s not a holy war, it’s not the Fellowship against Mordor, it’s big monsters contending for how much pie they’ll eat in the future. But one group is doing bad stuff RIGHT NOW, and the other side is… currently treating us pretty decently…

Amazon has made it possible for hundreds, or thousands of authors to get paid (at much higher wages) for their work on their terms. We are approaching a time (if we haven’t made it there already) when more authors can make a living outside of Big Pub than inside.

And that, my friends, is what has Big Pub scared shirtless. They have to fight this idea tooth and nail. Because when the smart authors figure out they can make more money over the long run and be treated better by NOT rushing to Big Pub, Big Pub not only loses profits, but is in grave danger. That’s why they froth over the Author Earnings reports from Hugh Howey and Data Guy, who are extrapolating the data, and showing that now there are two very viable options, and one has much higher odds of success.

But, as many have counseled- diversify! Don’t put all your author eggs into any one basket, Big Pub or Amazon. Use multiple outlets to distribute and sell books. Mark Coker of Smashwords must be loving this dust-up, because he’s going to be a clear winner, as many authors realize he offers a terrific place to sell ebooks.

As for Barnes and Noble, why is it so hard for them to get decent customer service and a website that doesn’t suck? With millions at stake, they look like they just don’t care. Maybe they’ve just given up, which would be a shame. It’s good to have market alternatives.

So suppose Amazon gains even bigger control of the market, and pulls off their mask to reveal the Face of Evil underneath. Suppose they give a giant F-U to the writing and reading world. Could they get away with reducing author ebook share to 50-50, or even less, if they were the only game in town? Maybe. Note that it would still be more than Big Pub! But you’d hear thundering hooves as many left the fold. They reduced the author share on ACX by a few percent, and the resulting firestorm would have made you think they ate babies. Many would continue with them, but alternatives would spring up fast, and people would split as soon as it was viable.
Not saying it may not happen, just not happening today.

Neither company is your friend. Neither is a religion. As a writer today, you view distributors and publishers as business partners who are temporary, as long as they benefit you. Last night, someone at the writing group was asking who to publish with. We told them “depends on the contract terms.” Right now, Amazon is treating authors as more of a partner, while Hachette is treating authors as serfs.

You have a choice on who to deal with. Make yours wisely, and plan for today and the future.

1 comment:

  1. To settle this, the best thing is for everybody to go buy one or more of my books on Smashwords. Or Barnes and Noble. Or any other non-Amazon pay site you can find, just to be fair.