Thursday, July 24, 2014

Please Shut Up

Jeff Bezos as a Hindu deity.
Wouldn't it be grand to go back to the day when Amazon was just trying to become the world's largest bookstore instead of these modern times when it has morphed into an unwieldy, oversized monstrosity? Before it turned into Godzilla...or perhaps Lord Shiva, the destroyer of worlds.

Companies must grow to survive. Not unlike rats that must continuously gnaw lest their teeth grow to fatal lengths.

So Amazon grew itself, bigger and bigger, but as it grew it also developed greater power over the book industry. The bookstore that Jeff Bezos started has grown to such an extent that it is able to dictate terms to its suppliers, who know that Amazon is their primary market and to lose that market would be to seriously damage the bottom line.

The conflict between Amazon and Hachette Book Group is part of that growth strategy, in which Amazon can squeeze a little more profit out of its dealings with publishers. The publishers are pushing back, however, and the authors published by those publishers are very vocal about their personal displeasure with Amazon's tactics.

To which Amazon says, Authors, please shut up.

Those unhappy authors have formed a group called Authors United to provide a unified front intended to protect the authors whose books are not being pre-sold or quickly shipped by Amazon in Amazon's bid to bring Hachette Book Group, and then all the rest, to heel.

To make those united authors nervous about their future sales, there are some solid statistics to show them how very powerful Amazon really is. The numbers are something to think over when considering the influence that best seller lists have on book buyers and how many copies an author might sell.

Amazon introduced a book-borrowing service called Kindle Unlimited which allows subscribers (paying Amazon for the privilege) to download an unlimited number of books to their Kindles. The author gets paid after 10% of the book gets read, but they don't get their $9.99 or $2.99 list price. They get some portion of a pot of money that Amazon controls. The pot is as big or small as Amazon makes it, and all the authors who participate in the program get a share. Which, again, is as much as Amazon wishes to give.

Not a great deal for authors, but what of the best seller list that drives more eyeballs to your book? It is clear that Amazon is merrily manipulating the figures so that the books available via the Kindle Unlimited scheme are suddenly shooting to the top of the league tables. Not only are those who sell their souls to Amazon made to look good, but those who do not are getting left behind. In a way, Amazon is promoting those who stand to benefit the corporation the most, while those titles from publishers large and small who do not participate in Kindle Unlimited will be left behind.

Still the authors are barking about Amazon's tactics that smell just a little like censorship and book banning. Not cowed by the Kindle Unlimited maneuver, the authors have not gone quietly and now Amazon has taken yet another stab at quieting the masses.

Douglas Preston, who started the Authors United project, has reported recent contact with one of Amazon's executives.

What if, the suit from the corner office posits, what if Amazon went back to stocking Hachette books just like before, and Amazon would go back to paying the e-book royalties like before? But, and it's a big but, the profits that Amazon would normally turn over to Hachette as e-book royalties would not go to Hachette. No, all that money would go to a literacy charity. Grand, so? Charity? Literacy? Isn't it a beautiful thing altogether?

That way, the authors get theirs and Hachette gets nothing, and it won't survive long without money coming in to pay the editors and the assistants and the publicists and the people who clean the offices. Then they'll have to do what Amazon wants them to do, and isn't that all to everyone's benefit.

Everyone being only Amazon, however, and the authors aren't quite so stupid that they don't see that.

Please shut up, authors, Amazon says, and we'll turn these stones into bread for you.

And the authors response? Begone, Amazon. For it is written, you shall worship your publisher who took a chance on you and got your book out there to be read, and the publisher only shall you serve."

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