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.
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.