While Amazon directly threatens traditional publishers with its new imprint, it continues to undermine the ecosystem on which book publishers, and most new authors, depend.
Joe Konrath spoke up eloquently and bluntly for Amazon: If you don’t like apex predators, get the hell out of the food chain.
I’ve linked to the full text of each argument. Go read, if you haven’t, then come back here. The digital sphere is rife with writers taking sides. Many feel pity for the weeping and wailing publishers and booksellers. Poor babies, they can’t fight big bad Amazon, so Author’s Guild is right to say that Amazon is changing the game to try to control the world.
I call BS. Right here. Right now.
First, I’m not a spring chicken. I remember when indie bookstores were crying foul on Borders and Barnes & Noble for doing the exact same thing that everyone is accusing Amazon of doing (undercutting the competition to drive them out of business). Anyone see the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks classic “You’ve Got Mail?” Look past the outdated clothes and clunky computers and — hello — the big box bookstore completely swallowed the tiny, full-of-heart bookstore. I’m sure I wasn’t the only writer whose eyes narrowed at the supposedly happy ending (the big box store made a tiny corner for bookselling with heart). Hah. I watched Borders come into my town and decimate my favorite full-of-heart bookstore (Meg Ryan would have been proud of this very customer-centered, book-loving business model; I felt at home the minute I stepped through he door). This one-floor bookstore could not compete with Borders buying and stocking clout (hint: publishers and distributors gave these stores better deals than the indie stores got). It was out of business in less than a year.
I watched my local Borders go from a store that welcomed local writers for signings with an employee dedicated to working to bring in talent to the store for signings and talks and workshops, to a store where the manager didn’t even want to order local books (apparently, it became a hassle when the ordering went from local stores to the national buyer level for increased efficiency).
I live in a town that has a lot of indie bookstores. I remember vowing to patronize them. Yeah. Didn’t happen. Borders was convenient, and it had lots of my beloved books for 25% – 50% off. Plus it had a good coffee shop, with comfy chairs where I could hang out and write. Until it got rid of the comfy chairs, and then the coffee shop shrank down to nothing. And then Borders, finally, went buh-bye.
My town still has more indie bookstores than most, but it certainly isn’t thanks to my shopping habits. If I were a dedicated one-genre kind of person, I could have been happy patronizing indies. But I like to read everything, and I want to find it all in one place. Borders did that for a while. Amazon does it now — better than Borders ever could.
But this diatribe is about writing in the digital age, not reading in the digital age, so how does all this look from my writer’s perspective? Pretty darned good — but that’s only because I was lucky enough to be left high and dry by my publisher. Lucky? Yeah, three years ago I would not have used that word. Three years ago I was still trying to find an agent, still trying to sell a new idea to my publisher. This year? I’m making money bringing my out-of-print backlist out in ebook form. I’m experimenting with promotion and social media. I’m writing new material — finishing some books that got killed by my publisher at proposal stage; revising some that need work according to my demanding new publisher (aka me); combing through my drawerful of ideas in various stages of development for the ones I feel are marketable and that *I* want to write (after decades in the traditional publishing grind, I had forgotten that was why I started writing in the first place).
I don’t see writers sitting back and thinking Amazon is our savior. Instead, I see writers who have escaped the tyranny of big publishing (you know, the big corporations that own all the publishing houses because they bought up all the little full-of-heart publishers?). Every writer I know realizes that Amazon could turn into a tyrant if they eat the world and all their competition. But some of us don’t see traditional publishing as the way to stop Amazon any more than they stopped the big box bookstores from gobbling up the full-of-heart indie bookstores).
So what are we doing? First, as Joe Konrath says bluntly — we’re talking to Amazon. Right now we’re a customer Amazon wants to please. If history doesn’t repeat itself for the first time ever, that could last forever. But, I’m a history buff, so I’m not putting my eggs in one basket if I don’t have to (btw, going through the traditional publishing process is exactly that: putting your eggs in one basket…and then having that basket lock the eggs away from your control for a minimum of 35 years). This is the best time to create a writer-centric culture on Amazon (i.e. the best international marketplace for writers EVER).
But I’ve got eggs in other baskets, too. I’ve joined forces with other writers to share information, support, and promotional efforts. Take Book View Cafe. Book View Cafe is run on a co-op model. We sell our own books on a non-exclusive basis (recognizing multiple baskets are a good thing). I am beyond thrilled to finally have my first book up for sale here (the downside of co-op models is that it takes time to learn the ropes and get into the flow, but in contrast my first traditional published book contract offer was made in May of 1999, and the book — already written and not much revised when it came out — was not published until October of 2000). It is worth it to take the time to do the job right, after all.
I distribute my books to as many venues as I can reach. I have experimented with Kindle Select and next week I will experiment with NookFirst. But, most of all, I’m writing the books I want to write, and doing what I need to do to make sure they are books my readers will enjoy reading. And, because of Amazon–directly, and by the scramble of competition and innovation it has spurred– I am able to get a several monthly checks and two payments each quarter. Money from writing! Traditional publishing had almost convinced me I didn’t deserve it. Amazon gave me a chance to see traditional publishers were wrong about that. And, ummm, that’s what scares the weeping publishers and booksellers. Not only has Amazon captured the customer base who likes ordering goods for home delivery from the comfort of their computer — it has captured the base of writers who have a drawerful of manuscripts that were not quite good enough for NY, but do have a readership out there for the writer to discover.
It may be hard-hearted of me, but when the publishers and booksellers start crying, I open my umbrella. I have books to write. And — thanks to Amazon, B&N PubIt, Apple, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, Smashwords, and Book View Cafe — to sell to my readers. I’ll do the same if Amazon stops listening to customers (consumers, writers, and providers) and starts to cry when it loses marketshare to an upstart who dares to listen to the customers. Because, frankly, that’s all we really care about — someone to listen to us as customers/writers/merchants/readers and make our transactions easier, more profitable, and more efficient. Traditional publishers did that for writers for a very long time (for 50% of the profit). Booksellers have done that for much longer (the big box bookstores for only a small part of that time). Amazon is nailing it on both sides of the equation — and scrambling the competition to try to do the same (at least, the ones who aren’t too busy crying into their dirty martinis). For now.
Kelly McClymer is an opinionated new member of Book View Cafe, and a secret geek. You can read more than you ever want to know about her by Googling her name (opinions on everything from reading to writing to ‘rithmetic). You can visit her on her desperately-in-need-of-update website; Follow her on Twitter, hang with her on Google+, Like her on FaceBook, and share Pinterests with her. Oh, and she’s on Goodreads, too (once a reader, always a reader).