From The American Booksellers Association:
Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, talks about the organization’s support for the Authors United letter and why Amazon’s unprecedented dominance of the book retail market is harmful to authors, booksellers, and the reading public.
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BTW: Why did the Authors Guild support last week’s Authors United appeal to the Department of Justice and what has been your role in the Authors United letter?
Mary Rasenberger: We at the Authors Guild have been working closely with Doug Preston for the greater part of the past year on both the longer policy memo and the shorter letter that he is asking authors and others to sign. We sent a separate letter to the Department of Justice on this topic last summer and met with them as well. We wholeheartedly believe that Amazon deserves antitrust scrutiny. While Amazon has done a lot that has benefitted the book industry — it created an e-commerce platform that made buying books online very easy and fast; created the first really good e-reader, which dramatically increased access to e-books; and made it very easy for authors to self-publish — in recent years it has ruthlessly used, indeed abused, its unprecedented dominance of the book retail market in ways that harm the book industry as a whole, including authors and the reading public.
The fact is Amazon now virtually controls an important marketplace of information. That is not good for bookstores or for authors, and it is not good for democracy. We now have a single, corporate entity that exerts a dangerous amount of control over the channels of free expression that sustain our democracy. A corporation has never before in American history been allowed to monopolize an information or communications channel. The courts and the government never let that happen before, precisely because democracy relies on the free flow of expression and that requires a broad, diverse array of information sources. When the Associated Press, Turner Broadcasting, or Barnes & Noble threatened to dominate a single marketplace of information, the courts or a government agency intervened. It’s important to see the big picture here, because this situation can easily be trivialized. We’re not just talking about the price of an e-book. We’re talking about interference with the marketplace of information and ideas, which is the engine of any democracy.
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I want to be clear on one thing, even after everything I just said: We’re not anti-Amazon. We don’t oppose everything the company does.
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BTW: According to some news reports, self-published authors who once thought of Amazon as their ally are now feeling victimized. Why is that?
MR: As we’ve seen time and time again, at the end of the day, Amazon is only interested in one thing — its own welfare and obscene growth. That became clear to a lot of the self-published authors who used to be on Team Amazon right when Amazon began pulling the rug out from under them on their royalty payments. When Amazon rolled out its subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, last year, it automatically enrolled most of the self-published authors who published with the KDP Select program in the subscription service, where readers got unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of books for $9.99 a month. So, all of a sudden, a lot of these indie authors’ royalty checks just plummeted. And there were some misgivings in the indie community; many of these writers thought they had a partner in Amazon.
Worse, though, Amazon treats its indie authors as second-class citizens. Traditionally published books in Kindle Unlimited were paid for as if sold every time a reader read beyond a certain portion. Indie authors, on the other hand, are paid pro rata out of a pool, which pits indie authors against each other in a competition for readers: One author’s gain is another’s loss. And how does Amazon calculate the amount of money that goes into the pool? No one knows but Amazon. There is a complete lack of transparency in how it determines what the pool is and, so, what any author’s royalties are. They expect authors to just trust them? It is shocking when you think about it. Imagine if a publisher said, “Don’t worry, we’ll pay you something out of our profits; just trust us.” Not exactly a model for professional authors to rely on.
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Our biggest problem with Amazon vis-à-vis indie authors is that they do not treat their authors as professionals. They provide a take it or leave it contract. Yes, we have lots of problems with the standard contracts of traditional publishers — but at least they allow authors to individually negotiate terms. The KDP authors don’t even have that luxury — they are forced to accept Amazon’s terms and its unknowable royalties, or go somewhere else. Whoops, the problem is that Amazon has so dominated the market there is nowhere else to go if you want any reasonably sized potential audience.
Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association