Home » Amazon, Big Publishing » At Authors United Event, a Call to Bust Amazon ‘Monopoly’

At Authors United Event, a Call to Bust Amazon ‘Monopoly’

29 January 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

If Amazon’s business practices continue unchecked the result could be a “nuclear winter” for book publishing, said founder and CEO of Smashwords Mark Coker during a January 27 event called Amazon’s Book Monopoly—A Threat to Freedom of Expression?

Coker participated via Skype in a panel called “Amazon and the Author” at the afternoon-long event sponsored by the Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of Authors’ Representatives, and Authors United, and held at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC.

Last year the event sponsors asked the Department of Justice to examine Amazon for antitrust violations. After a meeting with the DoJ that Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger said “went very well,” the organizations planned this event to delve into antitrust concerns, as well as ways in which Amazon’s “book monopoly” affects ideas and their dissemination in a democratic society. As the invitation to the event from Authors United founder DougPreston said: “Never in the history of our country has a single corporation dominated a vital marketplace of information—until today.”

. . . .

 Foer claimed that Amazon is “destroying the culture of book publishing.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Randall and others for the tip.

Amazon, Big Publishing

79 Comments to “At Authors United Event, a Call to Bust Amazon ‘Monopoly’”

  1. Ashe Elton Parker

    If they stuff their heads any further to the other side of the world, they’ll suffocate in the vacuum of space.

  2. As a reader, author and publisher I _love_ Amazon. I buy clothing, food, gadgets, movies, music too.

  3. “Before Amazon, my publisher could make me a Star, but now I can’t even get noticed! Not with the millions of indie and self publishers on the Amazon pages — it’s not fair!” whines Foer.

    “If Amazon’s business practices continue unchecked the result could be a “nuclear winter” for my company,” whined founder and CEO of Smashwords Mark Coker”

    In other news, several members of the DoJ had to be kicked in the ribs to help them stop laughing at the AU’s whine that their masters (trad-pub) didn’t like Amazon taking away the control they used to have over what could be found by readers.

    (did I miss anything? of course I did, but I wanted to post this while we’re still in 2016 … 😉 )

    ETA, thanks for posting this PG, it was a good laugh to start the weekend!

  4. Authors United and its various co-whiners have long passed the point of self-parody. Now they’re just that crazy guy with a sandwich board screaming about how the end is nigh.

    • Dan,

      I propose that someday when you and I are really bored we both get some sandwich boards, stand a block apart outside the flatiron building, and scream whiny quotes from the Big 5 at each other. 🙂

      As long as its in the summer, I don’t do snow anymore.

      • I would fly across country and join you, but only if we can take a road trip after in order to protest with our sandwich boards at Preston’s “writer’s shack” in Maine.

    • I’m so down with this.

  5. Mice voting to bell the cat.

    I don’t think the cat is too worried! 🙂

  6. Amazon can manipulate "the flow of books across its platform,” there is an argument to be made for antitrust legislation against the company

    Google has a similar power and has used it against newspapers when they demanded compensation for excerpts in search results. Never heard a peep out of these champions at the time.

    Agggh! My eyes! The doctor said I’m not supposed to read stupidity with them…

  7. Not all cultures deserve to survive. None have a ‘right’ to exist. Some should actively be destroyed.

    • So right. In the case of publishing, the more I hear about their culture, the more I dislike it and want it to go away. Publishing contracts sound really awful for authors. Since my book buying is 99% e-books, I resent being charged more to support a medium, I don’t care about. I think print has it’s place and won’t ever go away entirely, but I don’t want to subsidize it.

  8. PG, I think I’m getting to the stage where I’d prefer that you just ignore Authors United. There’s just so much b******* I can hear before I die of boredom.

    However, they need to be called on their nonsense: it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it (and I guess you get to keep the job).

    Now if they should discover truth or logic or actually say something sensible that would be newsworthy!

  9. At another location there was a conversation about the short-falls of Amazons competitors, how they seem to spend more time cursing Amazon than fixing/improving their own platforms to compete better. It prompted a thought.

    As one of the commentators on the piece said: back in the day GM was huge, the king among the Detroit car makers. They took very careful steps to assure they stayed below the 60% level of the market out of fear they would reach monopoly levels and attract government regulation and possible breakup. Not that they could be considered a monopoly but I sometimes wonder if Amazon is worried about the same thing, only in the opposite direction. As in “If these other platforms don’t step up their game we’re going to be in danger of becoming a monopoly”.

    So is the question one of Amazon just being very good at what they do or is it more of the others being so bad?

    If the latter is true, how do you punish a company for having bad competition?

    And why is the competition so clueless as to what to do!?! Its not like the blueprint isn’t right in front of them! Fill a frickin boardroom with your best people and say this: “Everybody on the left side, I want us doing everything that Amazon is doing by the next quarter, everybody on the right, come up with things they arn’t doing yet that we can do. If I catch one of you b*tching about Amazon or talking to that a$$ Preston you’re out of here! Go!”

    And they wonder why authors go exclusive to Amazon? The answer is in the mirror.

    • They don’t have the best track record. They’d start out by saying ‘Lets get the best and brightest working on matching what Amazon does.”
      A hand goes up. “Actually, the best and brightest are just gonna laugh when we post the intern positions. They can work for actual money, more than you make, as a matter of fact.”
      Sigh… “OK, I’ll swing by the Home Depot parking lot on the way home and pick some folks up.”

      Next thing you know, they have a page on WIX with cat pictures all over it…

      OK, to be fair, there are a few with a clue…

      • They are, as the saying goes, not even wrong. They are still at “the Internets are a series of tubes” level, so understanding what Amazon does with data and search optimization is like a hamster attempting quantum mechanics.

        Further, what they *want* is a way to make people buy the stuff they produce, vs. Amazon’s philosophy of “if the customer wants low-sugar squid jam, we will provide low-sugar squid jam”. Bezos may well think that low-sugar squid jam aficionados have no taste (or sense of smell) but he doesn’t judge.

      • Strange that publishers aren’t awash in traumatized discarded Amazon ex-minions begging to be fed, patched up, equipped and sent back out to wreck revenge, vengeance, and justice on Amazon…

    • The problem for Amazon’s competitors is that what Amazon does is much more difficult than it looks, Randall.

      Everybody is trying to copy Amazon, but the copiers start off way behind a system that Amazon has spent billions building and is improving every day. By the time a competitor with a huge amount of money builds a copy of Amazon’s digital and physical infrastructure, Amazon will have progressed completely beyond its current state.

      Plus, for years, Amazon has been able to sell its stock without making a profit in order to fund this growth. Bezos’ unique mind control over investors has been key to this. People have been willing to place big bets that Bezos would figure out how to make Amazon a success for a long, long time.

      The most critical event in Amazon’s future happens when Bezos decides he doesn’t want to run the company any more. Finding Bezos’ successor is the most important thing Amazon will do. If Amazon executes a Gates to Balmer disaster with Bezos’ successor, that’s the only chance anyone will have to catch Amazon for a while.

      • This, times 10^99.

        And PG, you are spot on about this:

        “The most critical event in Amazon’s future happens when Bezos decides he doesn’t want to run the company any more. Finding Bezos’ successor is the most important thing Amazon will do.”

        • Agree, if I had the choice of selling everything on earth or playing with rockets the rockets would win hands down. I’m amazed Jeff hasn’t left for Texas already.

          As for the “blueprint already there” comment PG I was referring to just the ebook portion of Amazon.

          Take Google for example. They have the deep pockets, they have the top-notch people, they even have a leg up as far as search and I’d say pretty good data to use as far as targeting/matching customers to books, yet their interface is the worst one of the bunch, their sales reporting is terrible, it takes a cheat-sheet and half a day to load a file and then you have to go to the store itself to see if it worked. They discount without warning and screw you when others price-match. Customer support expects everyone to be a programmer. Its a cluster. Its so bad that many authors I know just give up and refuse to use them and that’s giving up a world-wide market.

          Then its a cascade effect, the numbers start telling you that if you’re not using Google Play its now much harder to justify staying with B&N, Kobo and Apple. This is why people go all in with Amazon, its not always that Amazon is so great (they are) but its also that the others are just bad.

          • Google’s so stupid, they tried to price-match my friend’s book (it was selling for like $3.99), but they were paying her a royalty of like $57.00 per book because their stuff was messed up. She pointed it out to them REPEATEDLY, but they just said that’s how it was and they’d get around to fixing it eventually. Meanwhile, she sold a ton of books, and Google paid her the exorbitant royalty that it somehow managed to miscalculate. They did fix the error, probably because they lost a crapload of money on it. I can’t imagine Amazon ever doing the same thing.

            And it’s made me reluctant to ever do business with them – in that one situation it was to the author’s benefit, but what happens when it’s to your detriment and Google is screwing you out of money? There won’t be any way to fix it and no one on their end cares.

          • Agreed, Randall.

            Amazon’s ebook sales benefit tremendously from the zillions of people who come to Amazon to buy other things. And their other things sales benefit from the people who come to Amazon to buy ebooks.

            Even if you started off with an exact replica of the website, you’d have the problem of building trust and traffic while competing against the most-admired brand in the US.

            • Totally agree, PG. The store that comes with the ebook portion is a tremendous boost. But the competition can’t seem to replicate the tiny part that is the author interface well.

              I would think that if a competitor didn’t have the ability to replicate the Amazon store in its entirety they would at least do their best to copy things that both work well and that the authors want. Things like the author interface, sales reporting, look inside, also bought, etc.

              These are the things that those very authors are telling them repeatedly that they need from Amazons competition. Yet, they haven’t made much progress, and I am having a hard time figuring out why. Some are trying. Kobo has a nice dashboard. B&N isn’t too bad. Both need better search. As I mentioned before Google is a nightmare. Smashwords looks ten years behind. Apple still has walls around it everywhere you look.

              Their collected failures work to drive authors into the arms of Amazon Select. So while Amazon may not have a monopoly on the publishing world they have several million tiny monopoly’s in the form of authors being exclusive to them and them alone.

              I would wager that number increases every day. Is it the authors fault or the competitors? I don’t know, but its not hard to see where it is heading.

              • to be fair, a good quality ‘also bought’ is one of those things that is much harder to do than it looks.

                But I agree with most of the other items.

              • Sometimes it just seems as if their competitors aren’t even trying.
                Back when Rakuten bought Kobo they had about an 8% share of the US market and all the talk was about how Rakuten’s deep pockets would give Amazon a run for their money.
                What actually happened was… nothing…
                Rakuten’s US website (a rebranded buy.com which used to he a serious competitor to Amazon in the early days) can’t even be bothered to give Kobo a single link on their home page.

                Last time I did a search there for “ebook”, the top result was a book on how to self-publish…
                …on Kindle.

                With that kind of “support” it hardly matters how much better the Kindle store is. Visibility isn’t just about the authors and books; the visibility of the store also matters and people can’t buy from a store they don’t even know exists.

      • I’m afraid that the anti-zons will succeed on some factor other than the merits of their case — which, I concede, are non-existent — i.e., politically. I remember the Great Microsoft Persecution of 2000 in which a bunch of Clinton cronies conspired with the Justice Department to attack MS on similarly specious grounds. You might remember this, too. It effectively burst the Tech Bubble and destroyed trillions in wealth, including a lot of people’s retirement savings. It forced MS from a quasi-libertarian, not-getting-involved political animal into a full-court machine, with all the negative baggage that comes along. Picture all that happening to Amazon. Would you be hurt by it?

        M

        • In fairness, the tech bubble was bound to burst anyway. That’s what bubbles do.

          • Bubbles don’t always burst catastrophically. Sometimes they slowly deflate smoothly. Rarely, though, if governments get involved.

            Right now the media-consumption tablet bubble has been deflating for three years with nary a hint of panic.

            (Except maybe at B&N, where thry are under contract to move a million premium priced Samsung tablets at a time the market has a diminishing appetite for Samsung tablets and phones. They should start panicking ASAP.)

  10. Perhaps authors and other consumers from the real world should get together and form Reality United.

    Write up a letter, get THOUSANDS upon thousands to sign it, and send it digitally (not via horse and carriage) to the DOJ. It could explain the many benefits of Amazon to our culture, to authors, and to consumers.

    Then, start a Kickstarter (or other means of fund gathering) … and put up a full page ad in the NYT and WSJ with a printed copy of said letter (just to rub it in).

    • No need. At least not the DoJ bit, as Amazon’s doing nothing wrong …

      Now if you want to start the group to have the DoJ going after the pig5 and their lapdogs (AG/AU/ABA), then you might do some good.

      • You’re right Allen, although I was going more for a reality-based mirror image of what AU was doing before … should have ended with an [END SARCASM] tag 🙂

  11. Eh, what was it my mother-in-law used to say?
    If you can’t stand the heat, get outta the damn kitchen…

  12. Two things:

    One) My respect for Mark Coker drops another few points every time he goes on a tear about Amazon. 90% of my clients ignore Smashwords — either they are going KDP Select or using D2D. Smashword’s PITA factor has become unbearable for many self-publishers. I don’t know if he’s forgotten who his customers are or if he’s never figured it out, but his site is suffering. I truly wish he’d get off the “I hate Amazon and you should too!” kick and put his energy into cleaning his own house.

    Two) I am astonished that so many otherwise intelligent people have not or cannot figure out that Amazon’S supremacy is a RESULT of publishing industry incompetence and not the CAUSE. Consolidating distributors CAUSED the rise of big bookstore chains and drove small, independent booksellers out of business (my town lost all its indie bookstores long before Amazon had any real effect on paper book sales). Publishers priced a huge percentage of readers out of the new book market long before Amazon introduced the Kindle. Publishers went nuts over the Blockbuster model of producing books and turned off countless readers long before Amazon welcomed self-publishers and recreated diversity in the marketplace. If Amazon is guilty of anything it’s that they are so good at exploiting the stupidity of NY publishing.

    • Agree completely.

      Also, as an aside, about the only purpose Smashwords serves is to remind us what web sites looked like in 1995.

    • Agreed, Jaye.

      Smashwords has had infrastructure problems as long as I’ve had any knowledge of them. Plus their site looks like they put it up in 1998 and haven’t changed it since.

    • @Jaye– everything you said.

    • I’ve been thinking for some time that Mark Coker’s dream real end game is to have Smashwords bought out by a big publisher. So, even when it makes no sense in terms of serving his own customers and suppliers, he’ll parrot what he thinks the big publishing congloms want to hear.

      • I dunno.
        Why would they spend money to buy an honest service provider when they can partner with the scammers at Author Solutions and get paid for referring victims?

  13. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill: “Never in history have so many potential drinkers of the Kool-Aid been so almost led astray by so few AU boneheads.”

    Or, in an unrelated fisk: “After a meeting with the DoJ that Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger said ‘went very well,’” — this means only that “bullshing” was not said at the conference room table.

  14. In five short years independent authors have gone from resenting traditional authors’ attacks to laughing at them.

    • Smart Debut Author

      Ain’t that the truth, brother…

      Most of us have gone from being offended by these sadsack morons to laughing at them to pitying them to feeling embarrassed for them.

      Ok, I’ll be honest.

      We never really stopped laughing at them… 😀

      • Like how Benny Hill and the 3 Stooges never stops being funny to certain guys-the incessant, whiny, entitled temper tantrums of legacy snowflakes never stops being funny to indies.

  15. I have a lot of respect for Mark Coker and what he’s trying to do with his own site, but for crissakes, Mark, can you just acknowledge that you are a competitor of Amazon, you’re trying like hell with roughly the same business model as Amazon, and it’s just not working out for you?

    Jeez, as some point, it just turns into whining.

    I would like Mary Rasenberger to give a fuller report to her members on exactly “went very well” means.

    Who said what?

    • Hi Pete, it’s unfortunate that every time I speak about the implications of exclusivity, people feel the urge to accuse me of whining. It’s comically predictable in certain quarters. It deflects from the issue at hand, which is the opportunity to have an open and honest discussion about how a great retailer can do better.

      The New America event asked some great questions, all with an eye toward creating a level playing field upon which authors, publishers and retailers can innovate and thrive.

      It’s unfortunate that Amazon views my company and any non-exclusive publisher or author as a competitor. They’re the only retailer with that attitude. What does this say about their long term priorities?

      Amazon is the only retailer that practices draconian price matching. Or threatens to kick you out of a program for someone else’s error. They’ll essentially steal your earnings if some retailer out there (witness Flipkart or the pricing problems Sony or others had in years past) makes a pricing or listing error. If you refuse to go exclusive, they’ll punish you – they’ll make your book less visible and less desirable to their customers. If you think such an authoritarian caste system is fair and desirable, then no problem.

      I’m trying to create a level playing field for the benefit of all indie authors. A playing field that puts authors in the drivers seat. It’s what I’ve fought for from day one of Smashwords eight years ago. If you agree that a thriving ecosystem of multiple competitive retailers and publishing options is in your long term best interest, then you might consider joining me in this effort. No harm will come to Amazon or Amazon authors to the extent I’m successful.

      Authors would do well to consider what’s already happening. Once Amazon gains control of a market, they dictate pricing and compensation terms. Witness the royalty purge at Audible, or the launch of KU which is the largest single force driving book devaluation (devaluation reader perceptions of what a book is worth; and devaluation for what you deserve to be paid for your work).

      If you believe Amazon is entirely benevolent and that your best interests are always aligned with Amazon’s, then by all means feel free to object against those of us who are willing to speak out.

      • It’s unfortunate that Amazon views my company and any non-exclusive publisher or author as a competitor. They’re the only retailer with that attitude. What does this say about their long term priorities?

        I don’t know. What does it say?

      • Any retailer that doesn’t view other retailers that sell the same thing as their competition is a fool.

        The price matching (most favored nation clause) is also there on google books and iBooks, so you can hardly blame them for that one. They may enforce the rules more efficiently than the others, but they didn’t invent it.

        Even if you price your stuff outside Amazon’s guidelines, they still pay better royalties than anyone else, so I don’t see how they are dictating the prices and terms the way you claim they are.

        If you want to compete, then work to compete, don’t keep claiming that your competition is the most evil company ever.

        Argue against their exclusivity requirements, but don’t claim that they are preventing people from publishing, destroying the industry, or all the other things that are being said. If you attack a narrow point (especially one that even authors who publish with Amazon are complaining about), you have a chance of being part of a change. When you attack everything, and are part of a group making statements that others see as demonstratively false (like the claim that Amazon is preventing authors from making a living while indie authors are posting how they are able to quit their day jobs because of their Amazon sales), the good that you say will be dismissed along with the nonsense.

      • I’m trying to create a level playing field for the benefit of all indie authors. A playing field that puts authors in the drivers seat. It’s what I’ve fought for from day one of Smashwords eight years ago. If you agree that a thriving ecosystem of multiple competitive retailers and publishing options is in your long term best interest, then you might consider joining me in this effort. No harm will come to Amazon or Amazon authors to the extent I’m successful.

        Well there’s the problem.

        Readers first.

        Amazon gets this. Nobody else seems to.

        I’d love to see multiple competitive retailers. Where are they? Nook?

        I don’t care either way about your success, or anyone else’s. I care about my success to the extent that I can provide the best possible experience for readers — and so far, Amazon isn’t just the only game in town that provides that but even the only one with a ball in the first place. Amazon has come to dominate the marketplace because every other digital retailer who had a shot basically shrugged and threw some half-a$$ed website together powered by some kludgy engine that delivered inferior file formats to busted-a$$ devices they got from third-parties anyway — and that’s when they weren’t letting five corporations collude to raise ebook prices while simultaneously shorting the very authors they worked with.

        And that includes Smashwords. I remember when it started, at a time when the site design could be forgiven, overlooked because of the total innovation it provided. I was never a fan that the grinder was based on Word, but hell, Mark, you created something completely genius and accessible. No code involved. No esoteric formats. That’s brilliant, and it was genuinely great.

        It’s not your fault everyone else shrugged, but it’s left Smashwords as a distributor to a whole bunch of dead ends and no access to the only market that really counts in the first place — and you haven’t changed anything. All anyone’s really done is demonstrate that they don’t have a dictionary to look “monopoly” up in.

        It’s totally obvious that you care, and ultimately about the right thing, but it’s like it’s the wrong way. It’s like that scene in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang where RDJ has electrodes strapped to his naughty bits and Val Kilmer is taunting Aurelio, except I’m not convinced you actually have a gun that’s going to help the situation.

      • “all with an eye toward creating a level playing field upon which authors, publishers and retailers can innovate and thrive.”

        Innovate? Name something that the traditional publishing has been at the forefront of the past thirty years. Other than big box stores and driving independents out of business, what? Remaindering? Basket accounting?

        Every innovation that’s come their way, they have done one or more of the following, sometimes at the same time:

        A) Run away from it screaming in abject terror, and when that doesn’t work,
        B) Doing their best to ignore or demean it, or sometimes they’ve
        C) Tried playing catchup, and failing miserably.

        When those options have failed, they’ve colluded to try and keep the status quo, and were caught. Fact is, Amazon is where they are because traditional publishing had no interest in innovating.

        And they certainly have no interest in a level playing field. They like the field they have. You know it, at the country club, behind the high walls and thick gates, where you need a membership to get in, but even that may not be enough to let you stay.

        “I’m trying to create a level playing field for the benefit of all indie authors”

        That field is an awful lot more level and accessible than it was five years ago. And a whole lot more than it was ten, twenty years ago. And Traditional publishing has had nothing to do with that leveling, other than opposing it at every turn. Traditional publishing has become the angry, upset 5 year old dragged to the new field against its will. It’s currents actions strike me as the equivalent of holding its breath until it gets its way, but I suspect they’ll have as much success with that tactic as my nephews do.

        “and devaluation for what you deserve to be paid for your work.”

        When what Amazon pays me is equal to or less than a traditional publisher, I’d by that argument.

        But honestly, Why exactly should your opinion of how much I make of my work matter to me? I don’t want or need your advocacy, and frankly, if I did have a say in who’s voice should be heard loudest and paid attention to when it comes to voicing the concerns of the indie author, you’re not at the top of the list, or even the middle. I don’t want or need your efforts in that area. I’d rather you direct them towards improving your website and it’s services, lest your competitors overtake you by doing what you do better than you do it.

        Hey, that’s not a familiar theme at all around these parts, is it?

        • The big box store was invented by Borders, not the publishers.

          Pretty much every innovation in book retail was opposed or resented, from department stores selling books a century ago to the mall chains to ebooks. A more reactionary crowd of “businessmen” would be hard to find.

          • Smart Debut Author

            Almost every individual I’ve met who works in publishing has been nice, genuinely passionate about books, and easy to get along with.

            But as a business, it would be hard to find any industry that adds so little value, exploits its suppliers so obliviously, and clings so desperately and fearfully to a free-money arbitrage opportunity it lucked into seventy years ago, refusing to innovate… or even acknowledge that that world has now gone away.

            Time to sweep away the cobwebs and rebuild the indistry from the ground up. 🙂

            • Almost every individual I’ve met who works in publishing has been nice, genuinely passionate about books, and easy to get along with.

              True friends stab you in the front.

      • Witness the royalty purge at Audible, or the launch of KU which is the largest single force driving book devaluation (devaluation reader perceptions of what a book is worth; and devaluation for what you deserve to be paid for your work).

        There’s an odd notion among some folks that they deserve something from the rest of us. They don’t. They don’t deserve anything from us.

        Amazon deserves nothing from us. Smashwords deserves nothing from us. Authors deserve nothing from us. Publishers deserve nothing from us.

        This is a competitive market. Some win. Some lose. But nobody deserves.

      • To address another point Mr. Coker raised —

        I am not exclusive with Amazon, and my books are still doing quite well there. If this be “punishment”, bring on the whips! I had my very best sales month *ever* last October, and I’ve been doing this since 2011.

        Extraordinary accusations require extraordinary proof. I’m not seeing any unambiguous evidence of vindictive action on the part of Amazon.

      • Smart Debut Author

        Mark,

        For all of last year, Smashwords’ own storefront paid out at most $2M to indie authors.
        Your pass-through sales made on other retailers–yeah, the retailers who actually sell those books, and where indies distributing through Smashwords tend to conspicuously underperform indies using D2D or going direct–those generated maybe another $12M for indies…

        By contrast, Amazon paid KU indies $13.5M last month alone, just for page-reads, plus another $10-$15M in direct sales of their books. And Non-KU indies got another $15-20M.

        In other words, Amazon is paying indies north of $500M a year.
        And that number keeps growing.

        Does that help put things into perspective?

        Can you now see why you sound like such a disingenuous kook?

      • If you believe Amazon is entirely benevolent and that your best interests are always aligned with Amazon’s, then by all means feel free to object against those of us who are willing to speak out.

        But, Mark, we don’t believe that. Other than a few newbies who don’t know any better, most of us are just as worried about what happens when Amazon is the dominant retailer. We know royalties can be cut (we aren’t blind, we saw the Audible thing go down), or other terms changed to our detriment.

        I know I don’t speak for everyone, but when it comes to making money — because I’m not in this for the giggles — I have to go where I can make money. And like it or not, that’s at Amazon.

        Look, when I first started out, way back in 2011, I published on Smashwords. I’d heard some pretty scary things about Amazon, how hard it was to upload files and so on. I struggled to learn how to get through Meatgrinder, how to fill out the awkward interface you had there. I did it, and managed to eventually get into other stores.

        The thing is, since then, the site hasn’t changed at all. Okay, I can upload an epub, but I can’t use that to convert to anything else, so it’s kind of pointless. The storefront and setup of the entire site still looks like that personal site I started on Fortune City. In 1996.

        I’ve given up hope that you, or Kobo, or Apple or B&N will ever do anything to truly compete with Amazon for selling books. We’ve been asking for years for better search, author pages (you have that, so that’s good), easier uploads, better pricing interfaces (being able to quickly change prices — D2D does that), better/quicker payment options.

        What I’m afraid of is that it’s too late to stop the ebook tsunami. Amazon is riding that huge wave, and they’re going to sweep over us and what’s left won’t be pretty. I hope they won’t do anything to us like lowering royalty rates to 10%, or whatever other horror people imagine them doing, but who knows what the next CEO will decide, once they’re the only place reliably selling books.

        I want to be wide on several retailers. I really do. I think it would be better for all writers if we had the opportunity to sell books in the largest markets possible. But you guys have got to give me a reason. Spending years waiting for someone to find my books at other sites, waiting years to reach the threshold before I can get paid, worrying about how to get readers to even look at other sites because they’re so hard to use…

        That’s not my problem. It’s yours, and the heads of the other retail sites. Up your game. Give me a real reason to sell on your sites, give me the chance to be a partner with you, treat me like I’m more important than whining about somebody who has spent years building a better business.

        Or become irrelevant.

      • Mark,

        What I don’t understand is why are you and The Big 5 wasting time, energy and air talking about what is wrong with Amazon? If there is so much wrong shouldn’t that signify a great opportunity to fill a need?

        Between Smashwords and the The Big 5, there is a lot of resources, talent and ideas of how things ought to be. Why don’t you all pool your resources and the brain bank of ideas, and create a service better than Amazon? One that benefits the reader, the author and the retailer.

        Why fight the tide when you can ride the wave?

  16. I think it’s all a sham. They are just trying to keep the anti-Amazon propaganda in the news so that ordinary consumers, who don’t understand a thing about publishing, business, or the law, will pick up on the “Amazon is evil” meme and refuse to buy from them. It’s noise. Disgusting, stupid noise, but just noise.

    This kind of thing works very well in politics, why not business?

    • If that’s their plan, it’s not working. Doesn’t look like it’s going to start working, either.

      • I personally know people who won’t buy from Amazon because they think they’re “unfair”. Not a lot, but they do exist. The trouble is, I can’t figure out any other reason for Big5, AU, etc., to be making such fools of themselves. Not anything that will work. If any of these entities actually thought they had a real legal grievance they would put their lawyers where their mouths are and sue.

  17. “Last year the event sponsors asked the Department of Justice to examine Amazon for antitrust violations. ”

    If they feel so strongly that there is a case, they should just take them to court themselves.

  18. We’ve all seen the numbers of the last year.

    Two questions:

    1- Does anybody expect readers to stop buying Indie ebooks?

    2- Does anybody expect the BPHs to treat their authors any better?

    Of course the gold-plated gang will keep on cursing Amazon. What else can they do, go Indie?! (With apologies to Warren Beatty’s BULWORTH.)

    I actually expect the whining to get cheesier around March, when the full year AAP numbers come out. 11% drop over nine months? Could get as bad as 15%, all loses shifted to the authors.

  19. Rent-seekers collude with the government to persecute a more-successful competitor for so-called “anti-trust” violations. Somebody is irony challenged.

    M

  20. We hear a lot about level playing fields. What people forget is that as soon as someone innovates, the field tilts in their favor.

    The folks who claim to be leveling the playing field to help independents simply want to stiffle innovation because they can’t compete.

  21. I’m concerned that no one has raised the free speech implications of Barnes & Noble shutting such vital marketplaces for information at 10pm every day (9pm on Sundays).

  22. None of this would be much of an issue if publishers had done their job better. If they had less odious contracts, were better ‘gatekeepers’. You run down an industry decade after decade and of course someone is going to come along who does it better–Amazon. though frankly, I don’t think anyone could do a worse job of publishing books than publishers themselves. You reap what you sow.

  23. Here’s the thing, NY publishers are running on a business model (sacrificing ebooks for paper) that is expensive to maintain and harder to justify to authors.

    It is possible for some authors to work outside that system and make far more money for themselves. I’m thinking of genre authors who know how to market, such as Michael Anderle, who is on his way to making $10K this month on a five-book series that any NY publisher would have rejected because his writing is sub-James Patterson. Or Annie Bellet, who wrote in her latest post about earning $250,000 last year on her urban fantasy series.

    Now, these writers didn’t just write books and put them out. Anderle is an experienced marketer and invested in Facebook ads (the Author Biz podcast I linked to is excellent in giving out the details; I heartily recommend subscribing if you want the low-down). I don’t know what Bellet did (Anderle mentioned her in his interview and I’m following up now).

    There are still genre authors willing to go the New York route, and maybe there always will be. But if you care about trying to make a go of it full-time, I can’t imagine why you’d want to sign a contract with them without at least trying to DIY.

    • Yep. It took me a lot longer than 90 days (more like 26 months) but this January I broke the four-figure barrier for a month’s sales, exceeding any likely advance I would have gotten for the novel in question (assuming anybody deigned to make an offer, and only after a few years playing Slush Pile Lotto instead of publishing it the day after editing was done).

      And none of it would have happened without Amazon. Over half those sales this month came from KU (and yeah, a per-page payout variation of even a couple percentage points is going to hurt, but I think I’ll live). So as far as I’m concerned, the ADS crowd can go *@&#@&. Don’t like AZ dominance? Offer a better service, but don’t expect us writers to impoverish ourselves to subsidize you.

      I cannot in good conscience recommend going traditional to anybody, unless they are in their twenties/thirties and don’t need the money, because chances are they’ll just waste several years of their lives for zero results. I’m not saying that DIY has any guarantees of success, of course, but the chances that you’ll get any kind of remuneration (even lunch money every month or so) from all your hard work are orders of magnitude greater than those in looking for an agent/publisher. And I can’t really recommend “going wide” unless you already have an audience, because the best way to build one is through Amazon. IMHO and YMMV, of course.

  24. I’m getting really, really tired of one of Amazon’s competitors doing this road and blog show about how evil Amazon is. I’ve never met him, and he’s probably a nice enough guy, but you don’t do your own business any favors by belittling the competition.

  25. Since the Microsoft Lynching party keeps coming up, do remember the end result: MS was forced to pay a few billion to losers who ran their companies into the ground, Netscape vanished within a couple years, browsers are a standard feature of every OS under the sun and moon, and Windows still runs on 90% of PCs.

    Lots of drama.
    Nothing meaningful besides the shakedown.

  26. the company that made netscape (Mozilla) is the same one making firefox, so it didn’t vanish, it’s very healthy.

    yes 90% of PCs are still running windows, but manufacturers no long have to pay for a windows license if they ship the PC with Linux.

    and browsers, (including ones from microsoft) now follow standards instead of being IE vs everything else.

    And forcing Microsoft to actually publish APIs let samba improve and work reliably.

    It also made Microsoft think twice about other abuses along those lines.

    So I actually see a bunch of good things that came out of that, At the time I was hoping for more, but after a couple changes in leadership, Microsoft is actually looking like they are turning around now.

  27. Hey Mark. You continue to have my deepest respect. And with that respect in mind I want to focus on some of the things you just wrote that I semi-agree with.

    If you refuse to go exclusive, they’ll punish you – they’ll make your book less visible and less desirable to their customers. If you think such an authoritarian caste system is fair and desirable, then no problem.

    Okay, you went from making an important point to almost evoking Godwin’s Law in the next sentence, and I think that waters down your argument. Fear mongering and alarmism can provoke a response–I’ve been intentionally provocative many times in my author activism–but in this case it’s coming off as disingenuous because you indeed to have a company that competes with Amazon.

    When I warn authors that the Big 5 will exploit them, I have nothing to gain if they listen. I’m trying to be helpful. The helpfulness of your message–that exclusiveness is problematic–gets lost when you compare Amazon with oppressive regimes that violate peoples’ rights.

    Amazon doesn’t punish authors. It has no power to. It rewards them for being exclusive, and it’s allowed to do that. Retailers have been doing that with suppliers and consumers for hundreds of years.

    Now, I don’t like exclusivity. I’ve been saying that since before KU was unveiled to the public, as one of the beta testers. But it isn’t evil. It’s business. And the conclusions you jump to are unfounded. When Walmart opens in a town and the mom and pop shops go out of business, has it ever then jacked up prices? No. Prices remain low.

    Amazon is not in business to bolster competition. It has no reason to. But as soon as Amazon begins screwing with authors, it will allow a competitor to rise up and fill that gap.

    That said, I don’t feel Amazon needs exclusivity. It can draw enough customers without it. And the overhead of constantly policing the Internet, looking for other cases of KU titles being sold, has a cost. Both a monetary cost to Amazon, and an emotional (and monetary) cost to the authors that publish on Amazon.

    But then, I also told Amazon to sell epub files so anyone with a Nook could buy from them. Turns out Amazon’s proprietary format is winning, and that moment in time where it would have been a good idea has passed; perhaps because they stuck with their proprietary format.

    I think there may come a time when KU no longer demands exclusivity. But that will be a business decision, not one based mostly on philanthropy.

    If you agree that a thriving ecosystem of multiple competitive retailers and publishing options is in your long term best interest, then you might consider joining me in this effort. No harm will come to Amazon or Amazon authors to the extent I’m successful.

    I think all authors would like a thriving ecosystem with multiple retailers. But this shouldn’t exist for its own sake.

    For the first time ever, I own my rights. You’re aligning yourself with those pinheads who exploited me. Amazon isn’t exploiting me. I can leave whenever I want. I can price how I want. And I get rewarded for going all-in.

    For competition to thrive, Amazon either has to offer authors less, or the competition has to offer authors more. Or something new.

    KU which is the largest single force driving book devaluation (devaluation reader perceptions of what a book is worth; and devaluation for what you deserve to be paid for your work).

    I can spend the rest of my life watching YouTube for free, and never have to spend another dime on cable, Netflix, or at a movie theater. But I do all of those.

    But do you know how cable, Netflix, and movie theaters are getting my money?

    Exclusivity.

    I don’t have an IMax in my living room. So I pay for that. Comcast doesn’t have Jessica Jones, so I’ll plunk down eight bucks a month for Netflix.

    This is how media works in 2016, whether we like it or not. Do you think Fox–rather than HBO–should be allowed to broadcast Game of Thrones in the interest of a level playing field?

    That said, I still don’t like Amazon’s KU exclusivity. I know why they do it. I don’t fear it. But until a competitor can woo me away from it, I’m sticking with it.

    I’m Old School. I was exploited by Big Publishing. I was never wooed. I was lucky to get the unconscionable contracts that I was able to get.

    But those days are gone. Amazon could easily make KU mandatory. They haven’t. They haven’t come close to abusing their power the same way the Big 6 have.

    Can Amazon do better by authors? Yes. And that is worth discussing. But let’s put it into historical perspective, and let’s be transparent about our motivations. Or else the good argument gets lost in the noise.

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