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The Amazon Agenda

26 August 2015

From Joe Konrath:

Amazon was recently the subject of world news when the ever intrepid David Streitfeld, the NYT reporter that gave us the wonder of whale math, did a hit piece on Amazon corporate culture that came to the startling and controversial conclusion; Amazon employees work really, really hard.

. . . .

Streitfeld, too, has a book available on Amazon, though his dismal 700,000 rank may be part of the reason he dislikes Zon so much.

Last I checked, the five hundred plus signatories of the latest Authors United bullshit letter also all had their titles available on Amazon. That letter recently arrived at the DOJ, and I’d bet it wasn’t a coincidence that it was on the heels of Streitfeld’s anti-Zon piece. I can imagine their delicious, mutual self-gratification as Preston and Streitfeld exchanged super-important emails about how to best coordinate their Anti-Amazon efforts for maximum impact, and about how Suzie in Algebra is dating Brad now because he dumped Melissa after she gained weight, and OMG doesn’t gym class suck this year 4 realz?!?

. . . .

Here we have all of this vocal, public author disapproval of Amazon, yet no one has the guts to actually pull their books.

. . . .

Amazon has allowed more writers to reach more readers than any other company in history. They’ve done this by innovating, giving readers what they want, and working with authors to offer us much better terms than any publisher ever has, in the past, or the present.

The Big 5 are a price-fixing cartel who want to charge readers high prices. That’s why the DOJ went after them and Apple, and that’s why they lost the suit. They had an oligopoly over paper distribution for decades (the only way to reach readers was through bookstores, the only way to get into a bookstore was through those publishing gatekeepers). Because they controlled who got published, they could get away with giving authors take-it-or-leave-it unconscionable contract terms.

Amazon has broken that oligopoly by allowing readers to reach readers via ebooks.

Because of this, the Big 5 can no longer control book pricing—and independent author can undercut them—and as a result the Big 5 are losing marketshare to Amazon and to indies.

. . . .

This isn’t altruism on Authors United’s part. It’s greed. It’s wanting to return to the old ways, where top authors got seven figure advances. Great for that 1%, not great for the 99% that Big Publishing ignored, harmed, and/or took advantage of.

Because Authors United is a bunch of entitled rich and famous authors (who should be celebrating the luck they’ve had in life rather than whining like babies about Amazon), they’ve been wooing their media contacts to wage a public opinion war against Amazon by painting Zon as a bully.

. . . .

Authors United are a bunch of greedy whiners who don’t want the status quo to keep shrinking; and it is shrinking, for the good of all readers and the vast majority of writers. So they beat their chests and flail about, trying to spin media, hoping public opinion will make big bad Amazon stop disintermediating the publishers who have made them rich.

It won’t work. Authors United knows this. Their argument doesn’t hold up to US antitrust law, logic, or majority opinion. But they are seeing their livelihoods slip away because their corporate masters don’t control the book world anymore, so they’re throwing a public tantrum.

. . . .

I’m pretty tied into the indie community, and the thousands of writers I’ve encountered are smart, and aware. Sometimes they draw incorrect conclusions, or feel persecuted, but the difference between dealing with Amazon and dealing with the Big 5 is like the difference between and honest, open, friendly relationship, and being beaten up by a group of muggers.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath and thanks to James for the tip.

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Amazon, Big Publishing, Joe Konrath

22 Comments to “The Amazon Agenda”

  1. “Here we have all of this vocal, public author disapproval of Amazon, yet no one has the guts to actually pull their books.”

    Most of them are trad-pub, meaning they can’t pull their books, nor set the price, nor in some cases what the title or cover ended up looking like. 😉

    “This isn’t altruism on Authors United’s part. It’s greed. It’s wanting to return to the old ways, where top authors got seven figure advances. Great for that 1%, not great for the 99% that Big Publishing ignored, harmed, and/or took advantage of.”

    More like 1% of those that ever got a contract, the other 99% mid/low listers help support that 1%. The number that got rejection slips would be larger than the 100% signed on with a trad-pub …

    “they’re throwing a public tantrum”

    Yup, and I still wish Amazon would rise to the bait and publicly ‘ask’ them if they’d like to be de-listed from Amazon. Or maybe they’d like Amazon to redirect the ‘buy’ button to their trad-pub’s website? Then you’ll see them really start whining on how the big bully Amazon is telling them to put up or shut up (which no doubt they’ll spin into another crime against the nurturing trad-pubs …)

    • Great for that 1%

      A little bit sideways . . .

      I used to know one of the associate or assistant editors at Analog. He told me they received 800 unsolicited manuscripts a month. Of that, they kept four for a second reading. Maybe one of those made it to print. (And it ain’t a novella.)

      You do the math. It is a lot less than 1%.

      Those were short stories. Now, do you think the numbers are better for full-length works?

  2. I think he’s entirely correct to call out the A-listers that purport to speak for the mid-listers. These AU authors claim to speak for the rest because they are relatively safe and untouchable.

    Surely they get many accommodations in their contracts. Imagine how the NYT would herald the bravery of a Patterson or King that announces his next contract specifies “no Amazon”. In fact, it would probably even be a fairly successful action – garnering enough press to make up for any loss in sales.

    • I said it last year during the Hachette flap and I’ll say it again: Preston & Co. need to put their money where their mouth is and pull their books from Amazon. Maybe they can claim it would be too complicated to pull titles that are already for sale — but why not create an “Independent Bookstores Only” campaign for their upcoming releases? Make those titles available exclusively at the small, independent bookstores that Authors United claims to value so much. Show don’t tell, boys.

      AU is really good at generating publicity. Why haven’t they put that skill to work for those struggling ABA member stores? If they want to sell ebook editions, make them exclusive to Kobo, which has a distribution deal with independent bookstores. The NYT would fall all over themselves to give such a campaign glowing press coverage. C’mon, AU, what are you waiting for?

      Unless of course this isn’t really about “culture” at all, but about Preston & Co. wanting to get even richer than they already are. If money is really what matters to them, then they’ll have to continue selling at Amazon.

      • As has been said elsewhere nearby, Preston cannot “pull [his] books from Amazon”, because he doesn’t own his books. He sold them to his publisher. What happens to them is up to the publisher, not to him. In effect, he’s an empty suit.

        • Top 1% authors like Preston have a LOT of clout with their BPH overlords. They are, in fact, the ONLY authors the BPH care about. If some midlister tried a campaign like this, sure, he’d be shown the door. But Preston, his AU cronies, and the Big 5 can absolutely put their collusive little heads together and create a publicity stunt (their specialty) offering their 2016 releases exclusively at small independent bookstores. My suggestion stands: put up or shut up, Mr. Preston.

          • Exactly. Hell, even just do it for one book.

            They could write a dystopian fantasy about a society living under a culture monopoly. They’ve had enough practice. Perhaps an anthology.

            Make it available only to the deserving retailers.

        • I suspect if all these authors who move lots of copies demand the BPHs not put their works on Amazon, they’d have enough force to get something done. They could demand it in their contract for upcoming books: No offerings on Amazon.

          But then they’d get much smaller advances, since their publishers know that without Zon, they’d lose significant sales. So, are they willing to take smaller advances to add that clause to their contracts? No Zon sales?

          Let’s see if they are all talk or just full of hot air.

          • If they did pull them, most readers wouldn’t notice. They don’t go looking for books from their favorite authors and their favorite publishers. They browse Amazon. If they don’t see something new from their favorite author, they assume that author hasn’t written anything new.

            Amazon now controls discoverability. That’s what publishers can’t stand. Readers might discover a book that isn’t theirs, and there’s no way to pay for that coop space they’re used to.

            • “most readers wouldn’t notice. They don’t go looking for books from their favorite authors and their favorite publishers.”

              Most readers don’t go looking for book by their favourite authors? How do you know this?

  3. This smells so much like a political disinformation campaign, where glaring untruths that the politicians themselves have no belief in, are repeated over and over, simply to make these memes the ones ordinary people think of when a particular name is mentioned.

    I’ve seen articles repeating the “Amazon is a monopoly” statement as if it is a no-brainer, already proven fact.

    Isn’t this the way advertising works? It’s not necessary to show commercials that are smart or funny or tells a prospective buyer anything substantive about it, if just repeating the name of your product works as well to sell it.

    Authors United is just trying to stay in the news so as many people as possible will assume they have something real to say.

  4. I’m confused. Aren’t the BPH folks setting their own prices via the agency model?

  5. The authors are not setting the prices. The BPHs themselves are doing, agency or no agency. I sell to small presses, and I have never had contractual terms that allow me any input on pricing.

    I’m in the other 1% — the one on the bottom. (Snicker)

    • This is what confused me:

      “Because of this, the Big 5 can no longer control book pricing—and independent author can undercut them—and as a result the Big 5 are losing marketshare to Amazon and to indies.”

      On product pages, I keep seeing a note that the publisher set the price.

      • Maybe the point is that they can’t control the majority of book prices as they could when indie books were essentially a non-factor.

        • And we have a winner! 😉

          Their own prices they’re happy about, Amazon makes them money.

          It’s those blast-dern indies! Books trad-pub had rejected and still more self-pubs that trad-pub never got a chance to reject, sitting on Amazon right next to theirs — and usually at half the cost or less!

          They can’t stop them, can’t control them, can’t block them — and aren’t getting a cut of the money they’re making!

          This is what upsets the pig-five and the critters currently locked in their pens, less slop coming their way, and the younger/newer critters not yet caught and branded are learning there’s no greener pasture inside that fence before they get roped in. No extra nurturing unless the pig-five think the story’s a real barn burner — heck, some have found little or no editing, just a contract from heck itself.

          But of course trad-pub can’t admit that all this whining is over a lack of control issue — it would only serve to keep still more writers from offering up submissions …

          • During the conspiracy, not only did the Price Fixers raise prices, they *all* raised them to the same price.

            They don’t like competition. Not among themselves. Not from others. And Indies not only dare compete, they compete at lower price points. Doubly galling.

          • The question I have is – how do they think they combat this? I mean, if Amazon was split up or even disappeared entirely, indies can still produce books that compete with them on any other site.

            • Their only real hope is to get Amazon out of the ebook business (no legal way to do this) and then hope they can control whatever comes next (also not going to happen because the internet makes most things just a search away — if you know what you’re looking for!)

              Amazon’s big thing is that people go to it for all sorts of things — e/books are just a small part of it. People know/trust Amazon so it’s a great place to be ‘found’.

              Even if the pig-five and their Authors Unedited could stop all self-publishing, Amazon now has its own ‘publishing’ arm (with better contracts/deals as I understand it.)

              Then there are writers that are ‘not’ writing just to make money off it, they were out there before self-pub and they’ll be there long after trad-pub is dead and just a bad memory. They just want to be found/discovered and enjoyed.

              The biggest thing stopping most writers of all types is being discovered by the readers that like their types of stories. Amazon is just easier/better at it than the others right now, and the pig-five want to have their cake and eat it too.

              Trad-pub/AU/AG/ABA can’t fight Amazon and win (but even trying to start a fight could cause them to lose), so while Amazon is making them money they sit there whining that Amazon is ‘cheating’ in some way. (They may fear that if they don’t keep whining others will think they really don’t matter any more …)

            • This. What would a “win” for AU and the 1% actually look like? If we hybrid/indie authors just slink away? If Amazon does the apologetic foot-shuffle and say, “Aw, shucks, we’re sorry, we didn’t mean to…”?

              I’m not holding my breath waiting for either of these scenarios, thank you very much.

  6. They tell us our entire society will be damaged if Preston’s 575 authors don’t get more money.

    I’m willing to take the chance. Let them go.

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