Thursday, February 2, 2012

Amazon: Savior or Devil in Disguise?

ALERT: Authors must read!

This Author's Guild article, Publishing's Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory, explains the publishing industry's current status in clearer terms than any I've read and it's pretty alarming. I now "get it", but what I don't get is what anybody can do about it. Amazon and self-publishing seemed like a Godsend to authors and AMZ was our savior, but now I'm worried.

I read the Bloomberg Businessweek article, Amazon Wants to Burn The Book Business, and was alarmed. It scares me enough that I feel like just writing books and forget about getting published until all the dust settles. Also, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth and a desire to boycott Amazon. I really hate bullies.

What I haven't read in these articles, is what can be done to reign in Amazon. Should Amazon be reigned in? If we can't beat 'em, should we simply join them? That seems a defeatist attitude. Where does this leave agents?

What do you guys think?


Kaki said...

I agree that Amazon is slowly eating the industry, one bite at a time. B&N is their next target. And Amazon's plan for a free e-book lending library (now available free with Amazon Prime) really worries me. How many sales will the author lose if their books are being loaned out for free? With the current e-book craze of offering books for $.99 or even for free, why would anyone actually pay for a book, either e-book or print? Sales of print books are WAAAY down across the board. And e-book sales are WAAAY up because of the glut of low priced or free offerings. Soon the reader will expect that. Where does that leave the author then?

Theresa said...

What happens if Amazon becomes the world's largest library? Sure, THEY have deep pockets and can afford to take losses, but we authors do not.

And it's easy to say, go self publish and point to the successes--but self publishing works best for best sellers and those who have already established a solid readership--in general.

As the Author's Guild article pointed out, we authors NEED physical stores. We NEED that browsing factor. Lower advances and less sales now . . . what's the future hold?


Leslie Ann aka LA said...

Well, you have to pay for Amazon's Prime, so it's not free really, and from what I understand you can only check out one book a month, so it's not like a revolving lending library, and Amazon's deep pockets currently pay the author, a tiny bit, but can add up for the both the author in income and Amazon as an expense.

Yet I hate the thought of no more libraries!

Also I don't think self publishing works best for best sellers. I know plenty of a indie pubs who are making decent money from their books. It all depends on what one's expectations are. More on that in future posts from moi.

I think there is room and need for both, the brick and mortar and the digital platform. For instance, it is very difficult for my 88 year-old mother who once haunted bookstores, to stand long enough to get from one end to the other of a store. Buying digital works for her. I live in a fairly large house and I'm out of room to store more books. I have hundreds.

But I will not buy text books or manuals digitally. It's too hard to use them.

I think giving your digital book away for free unless it's a short, and I mean SHORT term promotion devalues the book. Even 99 cents is too cheap. I know there will be people who completely disagree with me on this score of free/devaluing the work, but as I'm shortly to digitally publish, I've been studying this industry fairly extensively. In fact I plan to blog shortly on what I've learned and continue to learn, the processes and the ups and downs.

Anyway, my 2 cents :)

LA of the scribes

Donnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen Hardt said...

I'll just say ditto to everything Leslie said.

Theresa said...

Good point about the paying for AMZ Prime, Leslie.
I agree about the need for both! I want both.
I also agree --though I know others won't--about selling your ebook for .99, but what if that's what AMZ decides to do? They really get to set the price of your book, not you, right?
Looking forward to your coming articles.
Interesting perspectives.

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

You get to set the price of your book!


kaki said...

Good points, all. As to the Amazon Prime--yeah, it costs about $80 a year, but that all goes to Amazon, not the author. Right now contracted authors get 40%-%50 of the selling ebook price. Doubt Amazon pays that to the authors in their lending library. But there should be room for both--I just hope the ebook craze doesn't run the print bookstores out of business. ookstores to stay in business.

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

I certainly don't want bookstores to go out of business, but it's so much more than the ebook that is causing book sellers to shutter. It's bad management, it's publishers and pricing, and sales strategy and the economy and paper costs and......

And I don't think we as writers should forget what we're doing, we're creating entertainment, in whichever format we can, for our readers/viewers.

We're a sisterhood, a brotherhood and need to stick together to make sure it all works for us, those who create the magic. For without us, there is no bookstore, no script, no downloads.

Off to bed as the snow falls...

Vince said...

Hi Teresa:

I read the article you mentioned and one thing seems evident:

The people on all sides of the argument are too close to the situation to see what is really happening. In a sense they are clueless.

Comments about Amazon being psychologically offensive because they don’t exercise their power ‘lightly’ demonstrate how out of tune these people are.

The paper book is going to die. This process can’t be stopped. This will not happen because people don’t prefer paper books. It will happen when eBook Readers become so cheat that they are given away free when you buy the book.

Paper books with inventory problems, transportation, insurance, returns, overages, shortages, out-of-print problems, compounded by the cost of material and labor to fabricate the books: all this makes no sense in the long run.

The publishing industry is now in the position of the ice making industry over a century ago. The ice making industry had as big an impact on the US economy as the auto industry does today. Think how many icemen were needed to deliver ice in America?

Then came refrigeration. Within a few decades the ice industry was gone! People may have preferred naturally frozen lake ice but it made no sense to deliver ice that way any longer.

People still want ice and get it. People will still want books and they will get them. But everything is going to change. (BTW, just as some ice is still sold in stores, some books will still be printed to meet special needs.)

The real tsunami on the horizon is the glut of books and the drop in the reading population. The reading population is aging. The time available to read books does not increase. The number of books cheaply available to read is exploding.

Every day more and more authors are putting their back list on Kindle and other eBook formats. These are good books! Over one million good books, that are out of copyright, are available for free right now as eBooks!

The name of the game in the future is getting readers to buy your books because they like you and because your books offer the most rewarding reading experience. Authors will have to ‘up’ the reading experience of their books to survive.

Actually that is what I am working on right now. Please think about it.


Lia Slater said...

I also ditto everything that Leslie said. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Theresa, thank you for pointing out the Authors Guild article with link to the Bloomberg Businessweek article. I read both. I think every writer and every book lover should read these articles and be aware of what's going on in the industry. It is frightening, and most especially for writers who hope to someday be picked up by a "big six" traditional publisher and take advantage of the marketing outlet offered by bookstores.

However much writers may complain about the shortcomings of the traditional publishing industry, I would like to believe that editors and publishers still care about producing a really excellent book and seeing that the book receives the attention it deserves.

Jessica R.

Ron at CM said...

A part of this conversation that is always left out...

Sometimes we think what we need to do is switch from selling vanilla ice cream to chocolate. When everything about the future points to our audience wanting a choice between apple pie and Boston cream.

The film and music industries reinvent themselves -- at least from an independent standpoint -- every few years. Of course, there are always the milestones that come out of nowhere... MTV, Rap, those four boys from Liverpool...
78, 45, 33, 8 Track, Cassette, CD, VideoDisc

Technicolor(R), Cinerama(R), Rotoscope(R), 3D... and doesn't even count the delivery media 16mm, 35mm, 70mm, IMAX, BetaMax, VHS, DVD Blu-Ray, Streaming....

Once Gutenberg came along, the only real innovations in our field have been Meggendorfer's pop-up book, the e-Book, and the Agency model... oh, yeah, and the infamous Amazon (good -- no great -- choice of names in retrospect) who did to the BIG 6 publishers and the BIG 2 booksellers the same that they had done to thousands of independents..

Theresa said...

Good point, Ron. I think sometimes it's hard to remember that when you have a dog in the fight--so to speak. Most of us have a vested, personal, interest in this publishing evolution whereas I didn't really in the film and music revolutions.

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

Exactly. I've heard this point before and felt it really validates the changes. Change happens, it's scary and exciting.

I have a friend high up in the music biz and listening to him talk about the recording companies in many way mirrors the publishing biz.

Thanks for reminding of these comparisons. We have readers and writers on both sides, and once again I stress, we are entertainers, and sisters/brothers in that endeavor.

For the first time, I get to choose my medium in which to reach my audience.


Donnell said...

These are all valid points. I deleted my comment as I have not been pleased with one book store in particular, that as some of you have pointed out, I feel is badly managed. I don't think Amazon is putting them out of business. If it fails, it will be because it has poor customer service.

LA, I'm with you I don't want any mortar bookstore to fail, particularly if it benefits readers. Vince, I agree, we're all way too close, and Ron, great examples of the various industries that have had to reinvent themselves.

At the risk of defending Amazon, I feel I have to say they do so much right. If I order something it is either delivered instantaneously to my Kindle, or arrives on my doorstep at the specified time.

If I have a customer service problem, I not only can ask them a question, I can have them call me at that second. Their model is quite customer service oriented and user friendly.

That doesn't mean I want anyone esle to go out of business as a result, but they haven't gotten where they are by being shoddy managers.