After careful consideration, I’ve removed my collection from Smashwords and enrolled all my books in Amazon’s new KDP Select program. I did it for both professional and moral reasons that disagree with most everything else people say about Amazon, so I thought I’d tell you about why, but first I wanted to mention that one benefit of doing so means that, for a very limited time (until December 27th, in fact, so just five days including today), all my short stories, essays, and collections will be available free.
Totally free. No catch. No caveat. You don’t have to be a Prime member.
You can find them all right here.
Now. Why am I going Amazon exclusive (if only for 90 days at a shot), when most people in the publishing industry are decrying the evil of the Seattle corporation–even though that’s kind of ironic, given that pretty much everyone who’s called them an evil corporation is either a corporation or deeply associated with one (or many)?
Because I don’t see them as evil. I’m a reader, first–I write because some of the books I want to read haven’t been written yet–and Amazon has done more for me as a reader than anyone else ever. It’s also done more for me as a writer than anyone save my editrix.
But let’s talk about Amazon. And evil. And corporations.
I don’t think Amazon is evil. They created a kerfuffle the other week with a questionable discount based on customers using their price-check app; a lot of independent bookstores and independent authors were highly upset, but looking at it from a business side of things, I’d argue saying Amazon is competing with your local independent store is like saying the Kindle competes with the iPad. Those are two different product categories–digital reader and tablet computer, respectively–and the competition Amazon’s app and discount attacked hardest were places like Best Buy and Walmart and Target.
I can see why people might think the tactic was underhanded. I don’t, really, but only because I see it as one tactic among many in a war mainly between corporations. It was like Amazon’s unmanned aerial drones, or remote-controlled missiles, or something. Ain’t pretty, perhaps, but business ain’t always about pretty.
But overall? I think, overall, Amazon is aiming to provide its customers the very best shopping experience it possibly can, and demonstrating to potential customers that it offers the lowest possible prices is arguably part of that.
But here’s the thing for me, as a reader and a writer: when I compare Amazon against the other corporations involved, in whatever way, in publishing, I see them as decidedly more beneficial in more ways. That’s in terms of both digital and print publishing. If you consider the simple act of making more products available to more consumers both conveniently and inexpensively . . . well, Amazon might well be a retail savior. Walmart and others probably don’t want you to realize that, but they’re, well, Walmart.
I know independent bookstores are vehemently against Amazon. I can’t say that’s misguided. But I can say I can’t count the number of independent bookstores who bolted their doors after Barnes & Noble mega-stores opened nearby. There were far too many. And now, in an age of more people on more screens, when digital reading is exploding while sales of paper books are a bit more slowly declining?
I do fear that more bookstores will ultimately close, in much the same way media stores like Tower Records and Virgin Megastore and all the little strip-mall used-CD stores closed back before iTunes was the number one store for retail music distribution. But then again, the thing is that, while the megastores like Tower and Virgin have basically gone extinct, a lot of independent music stores thrived by finding a niche. Maybe it was in vinyl, or selling concert tickets and memorabilia and stuff that you can’t download, but whatever, opportunities exist.
But the thing that catches me up is the question of corporations. Richard Russo got a lot of attention for writing a huge long screed against Amazon because it’s an evil corporation, but guess who publishes his books and signs his paychecks? Random House. One of the biggest corporate publishers in the world.
A lot of independent bookstores gnashed their teeth about Amazon’s tactic, but guess whose books independent bookstores sell? A lot of books, for sure, but the vast majority are those published by corporations, and in fact, this past year, I saw more and more independent bookstores set themselves vehemently against independent authors, too, though they stock Hachette and Harper Collins without any mention at all.
I get that, too. Mainly because independent authors don’t really get access to the sort of retail distribution system that corporations and retail bookstores have set up, with returns and invoices and such. Then again, from a business standpoint, that retail distribution doesn’t really make much sense, anyway, even if it is what’s been traditionally used.
I like to think I’m ultimately both a reader and a writer, equally both, neither first. I just want stories. I just want to read and write stories, tell and be told them. So what, I wonder, best serves that desire? What is the best means to that end?
I have mixed feelings about Barnes & Noble. I shopped there all the time when they were the only bookstore in my town after they gobbled up or drove away B. Dalton and Walden, and then I moved to New York, where I bought all my books from The Strand but went to Barnes & Noble to see Nick Hornby read. Like I said, so far as I remember, Barnes & Noble’s openings meant a lot of bookstores closing. Corporate publishers like Random House gave them huge discounts on their books they didn’t in turn offer to smaller, independent bookstores who didn’t order as much. Further, I don’t like Nook; I think the e-ink reader is an awkward size with mushy buttons while LCDs are okay for magazines and the internet but totally fucking useless for reading anything substantive beyond a few pages long.
I love digital distribution (I founded a publishing company to focus on it). I think more readers are going to find more books via screens than shelves. I think Facebook and Twitter are just the beginning in terms of connecting people to other people by way of computers and phones and tablets and etc.
I think Amazon gets it. They’re making it possible for more readers to find more writers, and vice versa, in ways other methods are not. They’re making it possible for authors (and publishers) to sell stories for substantially less than used to be possible. Their entry-level Kindle–the small one that’s not touch-enabled–is far and away the best digital reading device on the market. After handling it for even a minute, I can’t imagine why someone would want to use anything else to read on–including paper.
I know that’s exceptional. I know not everyone feels that way. I know there are a lot of people who still prefer “real” books, bound paper with words on pages, and I know a lot of people prefer Nook or Kobo or Sony because they want ePub files, or because they think Barnes & Noble or–er. Kobo?–or Sony are somehow more ethical, as corporations go, than Amazon is. (I also look at that competition and wonder how long it’s going to last. B&N was desperately seeking a buyer last year, for example. When I looked at the Nook Simple Touch at Best Buy, for example, general consensus between me and sales associates was: “What do we do with the Nook when Barnes & Noble meets the same fate as Borders?” It might not happen, but it’s not at all unlikely.)
I know all that. That’s why I don’t recommend it for everyone.
As always, it’s a personal choice, and personal choices come with myriad decisions and factors that influence them. For me, Amazon and Kindle have felt like the one that makes the most sense (here I will note only a small fraction of my sales over a year have come from Barnes & Noble), but it’s a choice authors and readers need to make for themselves. Ultimately, I think the market will reflect those choices, and the nicest part of the arrangement is that it’s only for 90 days. Who knows what might happen in the meantime? Heck, Apple might buy Barnes & Noble.
I think I would, if I were them.
December 23, 2011 at 10:16 am
This means you’ve lost me as a reader.
Not because I’m angry at you or disagree with your decision or anything like that, but because I already own two Nooks, and do the vast majority of my reading on a Nook, and Amazon won’t let me get your content onto my eReader.
*That* is why Amazon scares me, personally. Because reading should be platform agnostic. Like you, I want stories, and I want stories to be read. I *don’t* want stories to be read … as long as it’s on Amazon’s hardware, or in Amazon’s software, or in some other Amazon-approved manner.
And this isn’t really about Amazon, either. It’s about *any* corporation owning our knowledge and our stories. It’s about having to ask someone else for permission to read. The files I have on my Nook are in a widely supported format, and the DRM is fairly trivial to remove. The same isn’t true of Amazon. If B&N folds tomorrow, I can move those files over to a Kindle, or a Kobo, or whatever. The same isn’t true of Amazon.
Right now, if I want a Will Entrekin or a Joe Konrath or one of the several hundreds of children’s novels that Amazon bought the rights to, I have to have a Kindle. As more and more people sign exclusive agreements, competing eReaders aren’t going to be usable anymore, because the stories I want are going to be hidden in a walled garden. Amazon already owns something like 70% of the digital book market … and they’re doing everything in their power to own the other 30%. And this terrifies me.
As an author, Amazon treats me better than any other company. If someone was going to buy my stories, it would be better for *me* if they did it through Amazon. But it might not be better for them. And I am worried about what will happen a few years down the line, when B&N isn’t around to compete any more and Apple has moved on to the next shiny thing … is Amazon still going to treat me as well as they do today? Or will they start treating me like they’re already treating traditional publishers? Will they slowly start to squeeze more and more out of me, just because there’s nowhere else to go?
Maybe this won’t happen. But human nature says it will. Monopolies aren’t good for anyone except the monopolist.
December 23, 2011 at 7:31 pm
Hi, Thomas. Thanks for the thoughts there, and I’m sorry it means you will no longer be reading my work. Yeah, I know it will mean some people won’t be able to read my work (though, you can if you root your Nook. Or on a phone. Or on the computer, if you wrote your comment from one). Which is why your “Right now, if I want a Will Entrekin or a Joe Konrath or one of the several hundreds of children’s novels that Amazon bought the rights to, I have to have a Kindle” is not totally correct. Certainly, the Kindle is probably the most optimal device to read it on, but now . . . I mean, if you’re reading my site, you’re online, which means you can easily enough use the Kindle Cloud Reader, which is pretty remarkable.
I get that fear. It’s interesting you mention “If Amazon folds tomorrow,” because that’s what I most worry about on the Nook–that Barnes & Noble will fold tomorrow. It’s already failed to attract a buyer–for a bookstore, is that like when a writer fails to find a publisher for his or her manuscript? Kobo, too, considering its largest shareholder is a bookstore. Sony . . . well, Sony’s probably going to flail at electronics for years to come.
I agree monopolies aren’t good. But for me, I see Barnes & Noble as basically a monopoly (pretty much the only large-scale book chain anymore. Books-a-Who? !ndigo what now?). I also think the cartel owned and operated by corporate publishers is arguably more detrimental. Doesn’t News Corp own a lot of authors’ knowledge and stories? Same with any other.
How much of the digital media market does Apple own?
December 23, 2011 at 8:24 pm
A lot of your points are very true. In my first comment, I tried to simplify things a bit, and speak from the point of view of an “average” user. I’m a computer guy, and I have plugins for Calibre that will strip DRM from B&N or Amazon and convert them into pretty much whatever format I want. But the average user doesn’t have that knowledge or that option. Meets Girl has been on my TBR pile for a while, and if I’m honest with myself, your being Amazon-only isn’t likely to kill my curiosity about that story. But for a lot of people who already own Nooks, and want to read on their Nook … it’s a different story.
I actually said “if B&N folds”, not Amazon, and you’re right … B&N is in trouble. But here’s my worry: let’s say B&N is killed off, and Amazon is the only game in town. Essentially everyone has to publish through them, and everyone has to buy from them. What could go wrong?
Well, they could decide that the margin on eBooks isn’t high enough, and start cutting royalty rates. Now, instead of 70%, authors are seeing a more traditional 30%, or 15%, or whatever Amazon decides to allow us to keep. It’s not like we can go anywhere else, right? Sure, we could sell directly from our web sites… enjoy the 100% royalties on those few dozen sales. And no, we’re not going to let you get those unapproved books on our hardware; why would we do that?
Or maybe Amazon decides to become more politically active. We’ve already seen remove copies of *1984* from users’ Kindles, and mark Gay & Lesbian literature as “Adult Only.” Maybe that was a mistake, or maybe it was a fluke of their algorithm, or maybe it was Focus on the Family gaming Amazon’s complaint process, but the fact remains: if Amazon doesn’t like your content, they can make it unavailable, or even take it away from you. Let’s say Jeff Bezos finds Jesus. Suddenly, Gay & Lesbian literature disappears from Amazon’s virtual shelves. Memoirs from Occupy Wall Street are mysteriously deleted from user’s Kindles. Pro-Democrat books are oddly buried in the search results.
That’s a bit far-fetched, but only a bit. If Amazon is the only game in town, Amazon will, to an unacceptable extent, control our cultural conversation.
Or maybe Amazon just decides that it doesn’t want to be in the book business any more. Maybe in a decade or so, after Jeff Bezos retires, Amazon makes a series of huge missteps and gets split up, cannibalized by a dozen other companies, and none of them want to deal with this “Kindle” thing. A couple of years ago Wal Mart decided to exit the digital music business and shut down their DRM servers … nuking their customers’ music collection in the process. What assurance do we have that the same thing won’t happen with Amazon? What if they decide to shut down Kindle Cloud Reader, and stop manufacturing Kindles, and stop verifying DRM? These stories that we love and want read will, for all intents and purposes, simply vanish.
I agree that Amazon is the best thing happening in publishing right now, as an author and as a reader. On both fronts, they treat me very well. They single-handedly made both self-publishing and digital publishing mainstream ideas, and I don’t want to overlook or trivialize their contribution. And I don’t hold a lot of love for traditional publishers, either. You’re right … they do own far too much of our collective culture. But I don’t think we should let that fact blind us to what Amazon *could* become. Because as much fun as it is to watch Amazon flex its muscle against the Big Six … I’m painfully aware that it could just as easily start flexing its muscle against me, too.
A proprietary format, with proprietary DRM, and these exclusive deals, are the tools Amazon is using to become the only publishing entity worth talking about. I understand that it’s a good deal for you, or at least a worthwhile experiment. I just hope we don’t look back at this moment and regret what we created.
December 23, 2011 at 10:10 pm
I get all that, Thomas. But as you point out, you’re talking about a lot of things that could happen, maybe, down the line. Possibly. It’s all “a bit far-fetched,” as you point out. There are several “maybes” you mentioned.
I do hope you get to Meets Girl ultimately. You might well be one of a couple of people who picked it up for Nook–which is one of the reasons I’ve personally decided to go with Amazon for now.
You agree that Amazon is the best thing happening in publishing right now. And I’m willing to hitch with them for the next 90 days.
It’s only 90 days of exclusivity, after all. The free promotion made possible by doing so has already prompted hundreds of downloads–which I hope will introduce my work to new readers. That’s my main goal, after all.
I’m not sure why what corporate publishers and retail bookstores are should make us wary of what Amazon could become; after all, Barnes & Noble and the Big 6 already are those things, and while there is a possibility Amazon might become all the things you fear, there must be a possibility it will become an honest, viable, empowering company as well.
Of course, one could make the argument it’s already more honest, viable, and empowering than the big 6 or B&N, too.