Monday, 15 May 2017

Shocking news from Amazon? Why we shouldn’t be shocked – by Rowena House

Amazon was in the news last week, and not in a good way for traditionally-published authors.

Both Publishers’ Weekly in the USA and The Bookseller in the UK reported concerns about Amazon’s decision to let ‘third parties’ control their ‘buy box’ for brand new books.

Rather than recap all the arguments, here are a couple of links:

The issues were detailed last month in an article by Brooke Warner in the Huffington Post:

Amazon’s decision, taken on March 1st according to Ms Warner, will allow discount retailers to become the highest-profile sellers of mint-condition books on Amazon, potentially under-cutting publishers’ list prices by considerable margins.

For writers with traditional publishing deals, the crux of the matter is that these third-party sales don’t generate royalties. Amazon’s decision could therefore hit already low author earnings.

As the Society of Authors put it, ‘The SoA joins the Authors Guild of America in expressing our concerns that traditional sales – the ones that pay authors a royalty – would be heavily undermined by such a change, significantly damaging the incomes of publishers, booksellers and authors.’

A lot of last week’s discussion focused on how – and how quickly – discount retailers are getting hold of cheap new books, including via bulk ‘special sales’ from publishers.

What struck me, too, was Amazon’s reply to the Society of Authors, as reported in The Bookseller. In it Amazon made clear that for them, the customer is king.

Amazon’s attitude shouldn’t surprise us. They’re in business to sell stuff online, which is all about stimulating and satisfying demand. The needs of the supply side – in this case the people who write stories and the publishers who turn them into products – don’t really enter the picture.

This is true in other retail supply chains, too. Take supermarkets, for example, which forced down the price of milk below the cost of production for many small dairy farmers, driving them out of business.

As Nicola Morgan – among many others – has pointed out, it’s the reading public’s decision to buy from Amazon rather than book shops which makes these shocks possible. 

There are, of course, important differences between Amazon and supermarkets, not least Amazon’s ability to put the smallest producer – the individual – in touch with millions of potential customers: a kind of global, e-version of the good old days when (here in rural Devon at least) you could walk to a local farm and buy a pint of milk at the kitchen door. Cut out the shop. Cut out the supermarket. Win-win. Let’s all be indie authors.

So why not self-publish on Kindle? Especially now Amazon’s reach is so great? For me, it’s still a matter of quality control.

After years spent learning the craft, I know my writing is much, much better for having to meet the professional standards set by a highly-experienced editor and the publishing team behind her. With Walker, I’ve done a structural edit, a line edit & now I’m waiting for copy edits. Yes it’s taking forever; yes it’s worth the wait.

On the other hand, I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to call Amazon’s indie sector ‘the Great Slushpile’ as some people do. Many readers are huge fans of indie authors, with price – rather than the reputation of publishers – reportedly the major driver behind their buying decisions.

I also think we have to be cautious about claims that e-books sales have peaked here in Britain. The Bookseller was adamant that the UK Publishers’ Association had ignored swathes of e-sales when it announced the latest data last month. Had all e-books been included, the UK landscape for fiction would have looked very different from the one painted by the PA’s annual report, and recycled by several newspapers, The Guardian included.

Now I promise I’m not advocating that e-books should replace physical books, any more than I welcome Amazon wiping out book shops. Nor is apathy the right response when the decisions of a corporate behemoth threaten livelihoods. But, equally, we can’t ignore the seismic shifts that have already taken place in the world of books, and will continue to happen.

In order to survive (and maybe even thrive) I believe all authors have to learn to ride the Amazon tiger. In this regard, it seems to me that indie authors can teach the traditional sector an awful lot about digital marketing, reader magnets, Amazon metadata, Kindle promotions etc. etc.

In addition, anyone with a traditional publishing contract needs to get a grip on clauses which (even if unintentionally) could result in our lovingly-crafted, meticulously-edited books being flogged off on Amazon by retailers who owe us nothing.

Twitter: @HouseRowena





Anne Booth said...

I'd missed this news and I AM shocked. They don't exactly support authors, do they?

Rowena House said...

Indeed not. We live in interesting times.

Heather Dyer said...

Interesting, if you have a new book ready to submit it really is getting difficult to know whether to try traditional publishers or self publish, now.

Rowena House said...

I agree! The boundaries between the two seem to blur more and more. Good luck with taking your decision.