Thinking on Amazon…

There has been a lot of brouhaha on the Web about lately, and the entire Amazon vs. B&N thing. I’ll likely elaborate more on this later on, but now’s a good time for a quick sound-off.

Best post on the subject so far is from J.A. Konrath, who is a self-published powerhouse, and whose posts I find particularly insightful.

Amazon isn’t eliminating the competition. Just the opposite, it’s encouraging it. The only problem is, the competition is a little bit more stalwart about changing with the times. Amazon had rolled out one innovation after another, and so far, they had a smashing success with it. Go ahead, call it a monopoly, but let me ask you this: how quickly did the Kindle go from a Netbook-sized monochrome e-ink screen to the Fire version? Within three years. So effectively, just as soon as it came out, Amazon was already on the case of how to improve it.

Look: self-publishing and e-publishing is the new future of books. One way or another, that is the case. Take it or leave it. You can have the paper copies, they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, but this is the new revolution in the readership medium. The Big 6 publishing companies are either slow to acknowledge this fact, or are playing ostrich by sticking their heads into a mountain of manuscripts in their slush piles, and their business practices and accounting alike are stuck in the same phase that they in were thirty years ago. Since advertising for books had gone online and social media-oriented, the publishing house sees no incentive to advertise the books, because they figure that hey, the author is already on the Internet and socializing, so they can do the work. There is a growing lack of follow-through with advertising and marketing on the trad-pub end, which both the author and publisher rely on for sales.

Also, let me just say that if a publisher can afford to get an office on 6th avenue and 49th Street (Simon & Schuster, I’m looking at you here) across from Radio City Music Hall, then believe me, they can afford to give their authors an advance that is above the $15K threshold. Why are the advances so pitiful for authors? Is it because the publisher already knows that the book they’re issuing an advance for is probably never going to sell past their expectations unless it might get a movie adaptation? Or is it because the publisher thinks that the author’s cut is less important?

Also, why is it so damn long to release a book in traditional publication? Up to a year, year and a half? Two years? Come the hell on. Formatting to template, sending the files to the printers, getting the cover art on – all of those are one-time jobs. Altogether, from start to finish, it took me maybe three hours to get the entire book formatting to the way I wanted it to appear, upload it to CreateSpace, and let them print it. Three hours. I know that the bulk of the publication process is editing, but I cannot think of any reason that it would take this long, unless the publisher’s idea of what the book should be greatly differs from the author’s vision, which is a whole other post altogether. My editor is a pro, and despite other obligations, she and I bang out a full-scale book edit in six months at the longest.

So. Lackluster advances. Delays on publication. Lack of marketing. And some won’t even offer an e-book version until there have been some sales of the paperbacks. What, exactly, in this day and age, is the benefit of traditional publication?

The thing is, Amazon had offered a very real, very viable alternative with Kindle and publishing through KDP. B&N followed suit with Nook and PubIt. Borders followed through with Kobo. Smashwords offered a one-stop self-pub shop for all other e-book versions. Moreover, though, Amazon has CreateSpace, which is a print-on-demand service. Then there’s Lulu, also a POD. Then there’s iUniverse, which is an expensive but worth-its-money vanity press. Why do I say it’s worth the money? Because it spends a lot of time on developing the author as a brand and as a businessperson, as opposed to just taking the money, printing the books, grabbing the distribution rights, and having done. In other words? Amazon embraced self-publishers with open arms, and gave them a much-needed medium for book distribution.

Borders didn’t do the same. Their e-reader popularity was lackluster compared to that of the Kindle and Nook. Borders went bankrupt.

B&N introduced PubIt!, which opens up the door to a self-publishing medium, but would not carry paperbacks from self-pubs. Then it dug in the heels and said that if there is an Amazon impression on the cover, it wouldn’t be stocked in stores, which is a nice way of saying that CreateSpace-printed POD books aren’t welcome.

That decision was a massive screw-up on B&N’s part. Why? Because they have just alienated a source of revenue.

Self-published authors want one thing above all: distribution. Small bookstores are that much more likely to stock self-pubs, especially local self-pubs, but B&N had driven a lot of those small bookstores out of business. In other words, they shrunk the distrib options for self-pubs, from whom they could’ve otherwise gotten a very healthy cut of revenue. Self-pub authors are only continuing to grow in numbers, and more trad-pub authors are finding it more profitable to either self-publish or change to a small, independent press, which does not follow the same model of operations as a Big 6. Why in the world would B&N not work with the very people who are, effectively, responsible for the revenue of both the publisher and the distributor? From a purely business standpoint, what they’re doing makes no sense. Amazon, however, is only opening their doors to the self-pubs and saying, “Thank you very much.”

What else is Amazon doing? Rolling out an e-book library. Its sister company, CreateSpace, killed the Pro plan and only charges for expanded distribution, while giving all the authors working with them the perks of the Pro plan. Improving the Kindle further, to where the Fire may be an alternative to Apple’s iPad. Hell, there are Kindle apps for pretty much every mobile device that you have. In other words, Amazon is taking their distribution platform and improving it, and most of all, they do not alienate the people who may bring them more revenue, that is to say, self-pubs. In fact, Amazon is the first stop for self-pubs.

Whose fault is it, really, that B&N is more concerned with staying within the same comfort zone of trad-pub-first? Definitely not Amazon’s. They’re thinking like innovators, and they’re reaping those results first.


Frankly, I’m sticking with them. Not quite sure about KDP Select, still, but I’m willing to give it a shot.



6 thoughts on “Thinking on Amazon…

  1. I can actually explain in detail why it takes 18 months to get a book out, but I will save that for a post of my own. Short version: If you self-pub, you’re working with maybe three or four people max. If you’re trad pubbing, you’re dealing with whole departments of people making decisions as a group before pushing forward.

    But, like I said, a post for me a little later.

  2. I like your take, and it’s refreshing to see a point of view that isn’t, “It’s the END OF THE WORLD!” I love your thoughts; it’s a refreshing view to the world.

    1. Thanks. I had to come back to this post again, because I’m now finding myself enrolling my e-books in KDP Select, because I think that would lead to a bigger pan-out than just letting them stay as-is. While I am not a fan of monopolies, if the competition is laying down and saying forfeit, as B&N is now seeming to do, I can’t help but say, “I’m going for the gold!” Amazon will continue to innovate for self-pubs and independents, and that’s where I will be.

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