Thursday, July 3, 2014

Amazon is not the bad guy...

I was planning a very different blog post for today. As I mentioned on Tuesday, I was planning for today's post to be a lovely, pleasant interview with A.G. Riddle, author of the Atlantis Trilogy. Yet I'm sure Mr. Riddle will forgive me for delaying that post a bit for the topic I will be covering instead. Afterall, it affects him as much as it affects me.

The Amazon vs Hachette "battle" has been covered in the news a fair bit over the past few weeks. I have posted a few articles on facebook regarding the whole mess, but haven't actually written anything here about it until now. You've probably heard something about it in the news, and you may or may not understand the details of what's happening, depending on how much attention you've been paying. You may not be paying attention because it may not seem important to you. Well, as a writer who is just trying to give this gig a full time go, it's very important to me, and if you're a reader it should be important to you. I am bringing it up today because this petition came across my virtual desk this morning.

Here's the problem in its simplest form:

Amazon and Hachette are renegotiating their contract. Hachette wants amazon to raise its prices on everything, particularly ebooks. Amazon wants to keep ebooks affordable. They are unable to reach an agreement at the moment and consequently two things have happened that are making people upset: amazon has turned off pre-order buttons on Hachette books that it now doesn't know whether or not it will be able to fulfill due to the disagreement, and amazon has stopped stocking up on Hachette books for the future because they aren't sure they will have a future agreement with Hachette. Any books that are already selling and stocked are unaffected.

This has a lot of people with their panties in a twist about amazon not playing fair and representing a monopoly, etc. etc. Which is simply not true.

Amazon is trying to protect the low cost of ebooks. As a reader, you want ebooks to be cheap. It is downright silly for ebooks to cost as much as paper books because the production costs are VASTLY lower. You should not have to pay for that.

Here is the part that might surprise you. As a writer I want ebooks to be cheap. Why? Because you sell more ebooks when they are inexpensive. You reach more new readers, and... get this... no really wait for it... you can MAKE MORE MONEY when your ebooks are cheap. How you ask? By selling it through amazon and making 35 to 70% of the list price instead of 2 to 12.5%.

Let's do some quick math. Let's say I am an author publishing via Hachette and they are selling my ebook for $15.00. Now, let's go ahead and pretend I'm a bigwig author so I'm making 12.5% of that. That means each book earns me $1.87. Now, let's say I'm selling on amazon and my ebook price is $5.00 but I've opted (yes it's an option - I'll explain more in a bit) for 70% of the list price. I'm earning $3.50 per book. You go ahead and think about that for a minute. Even if I had opted for the 35% of list price I would be making $1.75 and think of how many people more people would be buying my book for $5.00 instead of $15.00.

I'll let you think about that for a minute.

Amazon is a writer's friend, and a reader's friend, and I will add my own personal experience with this in a minute. First let's finish up with the media induced anti-amazon sentiment with a couple quick taps to the head.

Poor little Hachette is being abused by big mean amazon. Right. Sure, amazon is a huge company, but it is also a company that had to get legislative help five years ago when Hachette and the rest of the big five cornered it into raising ebook prices higher than those of paperbacks. Luckily, the Department of Justice wasn't having it (because it was ILLEGAL) and as it happens... That's why Hachette and Amazon are renegotiating their terms right now. The DOJ required them to and required each of the big five publishers to renegotiate at different times so that they couldn't pull the same stunt as before! And Hachette is going first, out of all the big five, and consequently setting the stage for how that will go. And the media said...


Yeah. When the media companies are all owned by the same parent corporations as the big publishing houses, YOU dear reader don't get to know what's going on if you don't root around on the internet for it.

If you want a really detailed explanation (from people who know even more about this than I do) of how this is going down I'll refer you to a couple of other articles. This one and the entire blog of Hugh Howey capture the issues pretty well.

Also, and importantly, there is this detailed letter of explanation attached to the petition I mentioned earlier to KEEP people from boycotting amazon and to get the word out.

So, now, here's my personal take on amazon.

Some people don't like amazon because they think it's bringing about the end of paper books. That's kind of silly. The end of paperbooks has been writ in the stars since the day the computer was invented. It was only ever a matter of time. Does it make me sad? A little, yes. I LOVE paper books! I hope to publish many of them while paper books are still a thing and I surround myself with paper books at home.

And while all those books are a pain in the ass to move (more than half our boxes in this last move were, in fact, books) I will probably always keep them around. Why? Because I love them. I love the smell of paper. I love the feel of a book in my hand, and I love the physical manifestation of the written word. It feels more substantial.

Still, I also now purchase 99% of my books on this:

And I can carry thousands of books around with me in my backpack or purse without putting any undue strain on my body. The truth is, I ALSO love my e-reader (and yes, it happens to be a kindle - did I mention that Amazon is my friend?).  My kindle allows me as a reader to enjoy hundreds of books that I wouldn't normally drop money on for a very low (sometimes free) price. The reason I wouldn't normally spend money on them is not because they're not good, but more because I wouldn't ever have had a chance to read the first 10% of the book at my leisure and consequently decide to buy them.

As a writer, I love amazon (and the kindle) for the same reason. Next week I will be releasing my first e-book ever on amazon and I will be making 35% of the list price on every single copy I sell. I won't be making 70% only because I CHOSE not to. Why, you ask? Because in order to set your royalty to 70% you have to sell your ebook for at least $2.99. I decided that $2.99 was more than I wanted to charge people for this particular endeavor for a variety of reasons (not least of which is encouraging new readers to try me out) and consequently I opted for the 35% royalty.

You can argue that once you take into account the time and money I spend on marketing I won't be making half that. You might be right but even half of that will still be greater than 12.5% (a number I would never be making on my first ANYTHING in the world of the big five) and I would like to point out: I will be selling a collection of short stories to people I have never met (probably only a handful, but still, people I have NEVER met) only because amazon exists and works very hard to make its readers AND its writers happy and to expand the opportunities for the two to find each other. It considers both sides to be its customers, and it has great customer service. No brick and mortar publisher would ever sell an unknown author's collection of short stories.

Big publishers are angry because they are being made obsolete and are clinging so fiercely to their old price modeling and distribution methods that they refuse to adapt to the times. They are upset because they've been trying to bully amazon into joining their anti-writer, anti-reader business model for years and amazon has finally called their bluff.

This mini-play really nails it.

So, I'm here to ask that you consider this whole debate from my perspective for a moment. Do you like my work? Are you one of the people who has ever said to me (or any of your other writer friends) "This is really good, you should get this published." Well it never used to be that simple. It never used to be, "Hey my friends and family think I'm pretty good so I'm just going to publish this." But now they can (hopefully after getting some copy editing done, and making sure they have a nice cover and such, but that's really up to them). And you might say: "But what about all of the crap that people can publish now?" To which I say two things: 1. Seriously? Have you seen the crap you can buy in bookstores? and 2. Since when have you ever needed a publishing house to tell you what's crap or not? Do you read every book that is on sale in a brick and mortar shop right now? You are just as much in charge of what you read now as you were ten years ago. Actually, more so.

Ten years ago you couldn't search around for obscure authors who happen to be exactly what you were looking for. Ten years ago you couldn't let those authors know that you supported them by writing a glowing review for their work and sharing it on facebook. Not only can you affect what you read, you can also strongly influence what others read. Amazon is all about customer reviews, for books more than anything.

The power lies in your hands.

So I'm going to post the link to that petition again, and I hope you'll join me in supporting amazon. Not because they are the little guy (they're not, they're huge) but because even though they're huge, they still treat the little guy right, and that, in my opinion, speaks volumes.

Support reader, authors, and the people who work to treat them both well.

Thanks for reading!

**Gets off of soap box**

**Goes back to normal business**


  1. RIGHT ON! I AGREE WITH YOU 100%! Thanks for these thoughts. I hope many many people read and heed!