A lot of people have been talking about Amazon and Hachette. It started as a simple reporting of what was going on between the two. It was a juicy story, I can’t blame the news outlets for going after it. Amazon is the Biggest of Fish and their relationship with Apple and publishers has been newsworthy since the price fixing thing first hit the internet.
What it quickly became, first through innuendo from those that broke the story, then in attack pieces from TradPub voiceboxes (the Guadian, Slate, etc.) is a debate on whether or not Amazon is in the right. Are they bullying Hachette, a big company owned by bigger companies, still smaller than Amazon? By default, does that also mean they are bullying publishing? Going even farther, are they getting a headlock on the market so they can enact a nefarious scheme to extort authors, demolish indie bookstores, do away with publishers, and destroy literature as a whole?
Are they evil?
No, they’re not.
First of all, you want evil, take a look at this.
What you are seeing, is a contract negotiation. Perhaps one that has gone a bit awry, but that’s not unusual. What is unusual is that we know about it. We see the impact. People are reporting a company going after better terms as if they are a conquering nation, raping and pillaging a helpless neighbor across the border, when really companies do this every day. The ones that don’t are the ones that go under, the ones that are used as business cases for failing to evolve.
Of course, it is more than just a simple, run of the mill contract negotiation. Maybe that’s what confuses so many. This is a strategic negotiation, one that allows Amazon to practice before they take a whack at the bigger, better funded publishers. Even that is happenstance, Hachette was the first to settle and the first to be up to bat for renegotiation. They, and all of publishing, know this will set the precedent for things to come.
But what about authors? Like I said above, they could just be doing this so they can drop our royalties, to change our terms and conditions to be more in their favor. And you know what, that could happen. Yep. And as soon as it does, I’ll be on this blog and my author site, ready to discuss it. If it doesn’t make sense, is abusive, manipulative, or is a bad business practice, I will carve it up. And I’ll be sharing the posts from the rest of the self pub community who’ll do the same. Even if it makes sense and from a business standpoint I agree with the move, I’ll still bitch about the inconvenience.
But until that happens, yeah, I’m going to stick with the company that made my authorial pursuits possible. You think Amazon is evil? They’re no more evil than the publishing companies, the ones who built a system that saw authors run through their system like it was a meat grinder, filling their coffers with copyrights they could sit on until they became convenient to exploit due to happenstance, luck, or the author’s other successes. The publishing companies that treated self publishing like something you have to wipe off your shoe before you come inside. Then, when it became reputable through the hard work and ingenuity of Amazon and the authors who exploited that opportunity, they bought and used the company most notorious for doing the form of vanity publishing they railed against.
Hugh Howey has a great post, in which he discusses why he’d rather just have faith that Amazon. It makes sense. But it’s also kinda sentimental.
I am a bit of a cynic, so let me give you a cynic’s point of view:
At least Amazon is good at what they do.
If someone was backing your play, would you want it to be Lex Luthor or Mirror Man. See, unless you’re a Flash fan, you don’t even know who the fuck that is. Of course, there is the risk of inevitable betrayal, but there’s the benefit that they have empowered you to survive that betrayal. Amazon will do what is in their best interests. In the case of publishers, they want to control price to drive it down to gain market share. In our case, they don’t need to drive down price because we’re so eager to do it ourselves. If anything, they broke the systems we so loved, nerfing the power of free and offering a 35% discount on .99 titles, to drive up price. Unless they took away our power to control our own prices, if they lowered the royalty they would drive up prices as authors tried to adapt.
I’ve said before that we’re more an Amazon Supplier than a Customer, but that’s not entirely accurate. We’re actually more like their third party sellers, which is Amazon’s favorite group of people. All they have to do is list the item and make the transaction. They take a small cut and don’t have to do a fucking thing! Yes, at certain levels where Amazon handles the fulfillment, they become more difficult to work with but that’s because they have to do more work.
What work do they have to do with us?
That’s right. The only thing they have to do is manage KDP as a program, a heavy investment sure, but one that pays rich dividends as there are no incremental costs with each unit sold, other that whatever it costs them to handle the transaction and store the good.
That’s why Amazon, even if they’re evil (which is debatable) isn’t worried about you.
And it’s why Big Publishing, who doesn’t find themselves in that particular spot, needs to worry a lot.