Home » Amazon, Big Publishing, PG's Thoughts (such as they are) » Amazon: Threat or menace?

Amazon: Threat or menace?

17 January 2016

From Chris Meadows via TeleRead:

On J.A. Konrath’s Blog, Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath have a grand old time defenestrating an event announced for later this month by an organization called New America. The event is called “Amazon’s Book Monopoly: A Threat to Freedom of Expression?” which should immediately call to mind the old “Threat or menace?” headline formulation. As Eisler points out, the event title assumes Amazon has a book monopoly, as the basis for asking a question where the question mark is only rhetorical—even though Amazon has never actually been shown to have a true “monopoly.”

. . . .

What I find most interesting is where Joe Konrath chimes in at the end to point out that all the opposition’s ranting and raving about Amazon seems to have had remarkably little effect, because the vast majority of consumers simply love Amazon. Groups like the Authors Guild and Authors United attempt to stir up resentment against Amazon. But as Konrath points out:

But I don’t think this approach works when it comes to Amazon. People aren’t so ready to buy what the pinheads are selling. Today we can have the New York Times, which I believe still has the motto “All the news that’s fit to print”, show such stunning anti-Amazon bias that the public editor has called it out more than once, and the public simply doesn’t give a [darn]. Amazon still gets their approval and their business, no matter how many times David Streitfeld one-finger-types his screeds while busting out knuckle babies with his other hand.

Konrath adds that he would like to think people are too smart to buy into what Authors United and their ilk are selling, but he suspects the more likely answer is that people just like Amazon.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

As PG has mentioned before, these biblioluminaries are reflecting Big Publishing’s fear of Amazon.

One of the reasons Big Publishing is worried about Amazon is that Big Publishing has become worried about self-publishing. Perhaps he has missed it, but PG doesn’t recall anyone in Big Publishing seriously discussing what has happened over the last 9 years with indie authors (Amazon opened beta testing for KDP in late 2007).

Of course, there were some drive-by insults, but no real conversation by an industry that generally loves to talk about all sorts of topics, including bestselling authors. What do successful indie authors meant for the future of Big Publishing? It is the Subject That Must Not Be Mentioned.

Of course, Amazon never endeared itself to Tradpub by its discounting of books either. Amazon was, of course, following in Barnes & Noble’s footsteps with competitive pricing. Big Publishing hated BN before it realized that BN might go under just like Borders did. Now they don’t talk hate on BN much at all.

Suppressed fears have a habit of manifesting themselves in all sorts of strange and illogical ways. Hence Amazon Derangement Syndrome and symposia devoted to the evils of selling a lot of books.

Amazon, Big Publishing, PG's Thoughts (such as they are)

37 Comments to “Amazon: Threat or menace?”

  1. Nope!

    So hey, now that’s settled, can we try answering some real, actual, pressing questions?

    What are some effective ways we can push for better contract terms between corporate publishers and the authors who sign with them?

    How do we get better, more reliable tracking of digital reading? (See: Author Earnings reports as a good first step in this direction.)

    What are some ways we can use data, advertising, and marketing to ensure more readers can discover more authors they’ll enjoy?

    How can we better educate authors to not only avoid bad contracts but also empower them to take better control over more aspects of their business, craft, and art?

    • Now that there’s just crazy talk … and our masters don’t like crazy talk none — the sheep might hear it and go find greener pastures.

    • Authors get better contract terms when publishers are bidding for a scarce resource. Authors are not scarce. Publishers have much more supply than they need. Contract terms are simply a manifestation of downward price pressure. Contract terms will change when authors stop bidding down their price in an effort to secure a publishing slot, and publishers have to bid for authors in an effort to fill their publishing slots.

      The basic reason we see crappy contract terms is because authors are competing with each other.

      Without control over supply to publishers, nothing will happen. Just like widgets.

      One gets tracking of date by tracking it. That’s what Howey and DataGuy did. Neither Amazon nor publishers have any incentive to do it for authors.

      Author education? They have to make a decision to learn. The truth is out there, and not hard to find.

      • There is no bidding on contracts of adhesion.

        • Of course there is. The contract writer puts it out there, and bids certain conditions. Agree and that is acceptance. Pass, and that is rejection.

          But I suspect Will was addressing publishers’ contracts with authors rather than contracts of adhesion.

          • First of all, there is no NEGOTIATION in a take-it-or-leave-it deal.

            Second, publishers’ contracts with authors, historically, have effectively been contracts of adhesion. If you wanted to be published, you took what the publishers offered – take it or leave it. A few clauses could be negotiated, particularly the size of the advance; most – royalty rates, payment terms, liability clauses, a whole lot more – could not be, except (and that rarely) by the very biggest bestsellers. And even those writers did not have the power to negotiate anything when they were starting out, and were often bound by the terms of earlier and more restrictive contracts – as many of them found out to their cost.

            When one side has no power except to refuse the terms offered, and the other will not alter the terms offered, that is not a negotiation. Period.

            • First, The contract writers bids terms. The other party hits the bid or passes. It happens everyday in lots of markets.

              Second, negotiation is not necessary for a bid. That also happens everyday in lots of markets.

              Third, period.

          • First of all, there is no NEGOTIATION in a take-it-or-leave-it deal.

            Second, publishers’ contracts with authors, historically, have effectively been contracts of adhesion. If you wanted to be published, you took what the publishers offered – take it or leave it. A few clauses could be negotiated, particularly the size of the advance; most – royalty rates, payment terms, liability clauses, a whole lot more – could not be, except (and that rarely) by the very biggest bestsellers. And even those writers did not have the power to negotiate anything when they were starting out, and were often bound by the terms of earlier and more restrictive contracts – as many of them found out to their cost.

            When one side has no power except to refuse the terms offered, and the other will not alter the terms offered, that is not a negotiation. Period.

      • Authors aren’t scarse but they are not all the same. We’re already seeing a shortage of true blockbuster level sellers on the tradpub side–three years and counting since 50 Shades–and we’re seeing complaints about having to go to 7 figures more often for the “more promising” titles.

        Even their tame press is admitting Indies aren’t flocking to sign when they are offered contracts.

        They can still fill the slots (for now) but what they fill them with is not what it used to be. Or worse, it is exactly what it used to be.

        It’ll come back to haunt them soon enough.

        • While some of us are quietly writing what we believe will be indie blockbusters, and wondering how to make them take off.

          We’ll get there.

          Okay, maybe not so quietly.

          • As the supply of available books increases, the day of the blockbuster may be gone. Paper used to be pulled off the shelf, and supply was limited by shelf space.

            With eBooks editions, supply keeps increasing with each new book. In the past, available supply over time was relatively flat. Now it is upward sloping. So each new book faces more competition than the last new book.

    • A+

  2. Konrath adds that he would like to think people are too smart to buy into what Authors United and their ilk are selling, but he suspects the more likely answer is that people just like Amazon.

    People don’t care enough about the issue to even think about it. When Preston wrote his first letter, he told us that he and some of the finest writers in the English language would lead the public in challenging Amazon.

    The public looked up and said, “Douglas Who?”

  3. P.G.

    I’ve just had an experience with iTunes customer no service that reminds me that arrogant outfit couldn’t give a cuss about it’s customers. It regards customers as a lower form of life.

    If I’d had a similar problem with Amazon, I’m more than aware that the slightest concern of mine would have been dealt with in two clicks.

    Stuff goes wrong with things, it always does. It’s how they fix it that makes the difference. Amazon have always treated me MORE than fairly, as a customer. I don’t write or sell anything there, so I don’t know that interface, maybe they’re tough, most big business is.

    But customer wise-give me Amazon every dang day. They’re the boss dog.

    brendan

    • From 6th December last year, till 7th January this year, dozens of us wasted hours of our time on Vodafone, who left our village and outlying areas without a mobile signal. Their customer service was truly beyond atrocious. Eventually, we had to involve our MP to get any sense out of them. It wasn’t the outage that infuriated us (things go wrong) so much as the weeks of misinformation, lies, prevarication and wasted time on calls that timed out, or led to yet more misinformation and prevarication. I found myself constantly comparing them unfavourably to Amazon. Things still go wrong – but whenever they have, Amazon has handled the problem for me, and done it efficiently and quickly. As a writer, I find that they also pay me monthly, on the nail. Nobody else has ever done that for me. What’s not to like?

      • And that’s the threat to the publishers and all other businesses — how much better Amazon treats its customers.

        And even as an ‘uncaring for their suppliers’ business, Amazon still treats writers better than the publishers ever had.

        Amazon is a still growing menace as more and more writers ‘give it a spin’ and don’t even bother waiting for trad-pub to reject them. True, trad-pub still has plenty of hopefuls begging for a chance, but even more are ‘publishing’ themselves on Amazon, and trad-pub is losing control of what’s available to the reading public.

        “Amazon’s Book Monopoly: A Threat to Freedom of Expression?”
        from yesterday would be better titled:

        “Amazon’s Book and eBook Sales: A Threat to Traditional Publishing’s Control over Expression?”

        • My Amazon Fire stick stopped delivering the free Prime offerings, so I wrote an email to the help desk. They replied they can’t fix it via email, so would I mind calling them. I haven’t called yet, but they have sent two emails reminding me they are happy to take my call at my convenience, 24/7.

    • I agree regarding the comments on Amazon’s customer service. We had a kindle (paperwhite) which failed (it tried to update itself and got irreparably stuck).

      Amazon customer service (no waiting on the phone – click a button on the website and they call you within about two minutes) tried valiantly and then said “return it to us – here s a shipping label – we’ll post a replacement now – if your old one is no good, no charge. If the old one is actually OK, or doesn’t turn up, we’ll bill you for the new one”. And that is with international shipping to/from Australia.

      I don’t know any other company that would send out a replacement before seeing the failed unit, even if they did have the billing info.

      • Apple did for me, and it was exactly the same deal. After a lengthy online troubleshooting session they said, “We’re sending you a new unit. Send us the old unit. If the old unit is not defective or doesn’t show up, we’ll bill you for the new unit.”

        But, yeah, it’s very, very rare to find that level of service.

  4. It’s sad how little it takes for Amazon to treat writers better than the Big 5 publishers are wont to do.

  5. I see PG was too modest to quote the part of the article in which I mentioned him. 🙂

  6. I would one of these times like to see a quantification–if possible–of the differences between trad-pub and Apub in terms of how authors are treated.

    • What’s Apub?

    • I would like to think that most traditional publishers would treat authors with respect. If you’re talking about KDP versus Amazon Publishing you’re talking about two different entities. The publishing group should treat you like a publisher would. KDP would treat you like a self publishing platform. Your major difference is primarily going to be the advance and the print distribution that you can get when you’re published by Amanzon. You also have loads of people to help you at the publisher versus having to do it yourself with KDP.

    • Smart Debut Author

      I would one of these times like to see a quantification–if possible–of the differences between trad-pub and Apub in terms of how authors are treated.

      A-pub gives authors 50% of net on ebooks, but that’s not the main thing. The biggest advantage is that A-pub can leverage far more powerful Amazon promotions than any outside publisher ever gets — even the Big Five.

      The 2,000 or so A-pub authors between them sell 10%-15% of all ebooks Amazon sells — at least 40-50 million A-pub ebooks a year.

      To put that into perspective, Penguin Random House barely sells twice as many ebooks as Apub… and has to pay 20x as many authors as A-pub does.

      So the answer to your question is:

      “Better. A heck of a lot better.”

      🙂

      • do you know, Smart Debut Author, does a-pub for print, also demand e rights? Just wondering.

        I wonder too, if it is a print only deal, does amazon dictate on how much the ebook ought be priced at, even though they dont contract it… as a hedge against whatever their print price is?

        • Smart Debut Author

          A-pub generally will want e-rights — A-pub dominates in digital, but faces bookstore hostility and shutouts in print, thus digital is where they truly shine.

          With that said, they often guarantee reversion of rights to the author if author earnings (!) fall below a certain level. And I know A-pub authors who were able to negotiate limited-term deals, 5 years or 7 years, etc., with guaranteed reversion of rights afterward.

          I haven’t said yes to A-pub yet, but I might one day…. unlike traditional publishers, whose clueless and bumbling approaches aren’t even worth following up on nowadays.

          • Thank you SDA, much clearer now. And: I wish you very well. How wonderful to be invited. That is a nice add to nourish the spirit.

        • The kindle scout terms (somewhat different from the confidential APub terms) are public knowledge:

          – digital only, no non-compete on alternate formats
          – 35-35-30 revenue distribution, which amounts to 50% of net but with no room for accounting hijinks
          – 5 year renewing contract term, with author opt-out if earnings do not meet the specified minimum
          – modest advance of $1500.

          Hardly KDP terms yet it still laps the eternal “industry standard” contracts the AG is softly whining about.

          This is likely the floor for Apub negotiated deals so those won’t be any worse and most likely be better depending on the author’s leverage.

          • Smart Debut Author

            The advances A-pub offered me were significantly better than that, but still fairly pedestrian — I’ve had two-week periods when my self-published earnings on those books were higher than A-pub’s offered advance (and being Amazon, they obviously know that).

            When I made a point of that, they were quick to point out that their model is more about higher ROYALTIES from the greater sales they can generate, rather than an advance. Which contrasts with traditional publishers, who are basically in the payday-loan business at 75% loanshark rates.

            Oh, and also unlike traditional publishers, A-pub pays authors royalties monthly…

          • Thanks Felix. We’d read that some authors in the program had agents do their deals for them with amz, and wondered how that all worked out, as agents take their commissions usually for life of contract. That was puzzling, even though their choice. The shorter period seems helpful if one uses an agent. THe modest advance seems ok, given that you have pointed out before here the reach of amz and its sales bubbling away in service of pub and au. Makes sense

      • Thank you. 🙂

  7. Jesus Christ, they’ve got a second year law student on there to discuss “Amazon and data discrimination,” and that Foer idiot, who’s busy on a book about “Amazon and other online monopolists.”

    I am also struck by the irony of this “Open Markets Initiative,” which desribes its missions thusly:

    “[the] ultimate aim of the Initiative is to promote the idea that real resilience in the real world––be it economic, social, political, or environmental––requires that we structure our political economy around a vision of competition that prevents any small group of citizens from consolidating power over any political institution, industrial or financial system, resource, or idea.”

    Like Big Publishing?

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