Amazon’s PR piece was an excellent appeal to both emotion and reason

amazonThis started out as a comment on Nate’s recent post on Amazon Infatuation Syndrome. While I don’t agree with some of his conclusions, it did get the wheels turning.

Nate makes the point that Amazon isn’t our friend. I completely agree with that (and wrote that same point myself), but I think that’s too narrow a way of looking at the recent Amazon release. The more I thought about it, the more impressed I was with this calculated bit of PR. I think this release was intended to do at least three things. Let’s take them one by one.

1. Point out the bad business practices of Hachette and other publishers

Keep in mind throughout this article that the audience for this release was authors, not readers or publishers. This statement was one of the best examples of this.

For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99.

John Scalzi in his recent post asks an excellent question: why $14.99? (By the way, my reasons and his for why it’s a good question are probably not the same.) However, the answer is simple. It made the best case. Amazon was going for an appeal to both emotion and reason and did it well. Why $14.99? I’m guessing it was the intersection between believability ($19.99 probably made a better spread but could be ignored as unreasonable) and gut punch ($10.99 probably had a much smaller spread). So yes, Amazon was being selective with the data they released. They were trying to make a point after all, and they were countering Hachette’s purely emotional PR with data.

This one data point makes the case that the Big 5 are hurting everyone: readers, authors and themselves. It’s stronger than the emotion-laden but false points Hachette authors are making (like saying Amazon is boycotting Hachette books).

2. Amazon is trying to drive a wedge between authors and traditional publishing

This statement was priceless:

Any author who’s trying to get on one of the national bestseller lists should insist to their publisher that their e-book be priced at $9.99 or lower.

That’s a wedge if I’ve ever seen one. And I’m not going to call “foul” on Amazon for it. Hachette and their authors have been trying hard to drive a wedge between self-published authors and Amazon. I think Amazon created the better wedge. They’d like more authors publishing with them, and this could be the tipping point for some authors who are on the fence with deciding to leave their publishers.

3. Amazon is trying to calm the doomsayers

For me, the most interesting point was this one:

We believe 35% should go to the author, 35% to the publisher and 30% to Amazon. Is 30% reasonable? Yes.

Ignore the red herring of the 35% to authors. The real message here is to self-publishers: that 30% is reasonable, which implies Amazon has no current or immediate plans to change the KDP royalty structure. It crumbles the biggest piece of the wedge being driven between self-publishers and Amazon. And between legacy authors who are considering a switch to self publishing and Amazon.

Do I conclude from this release that Amazon is my friend? Nope.

Do I think Barry and Joe went overboard in proclaiming that Amazon is the new Author’s Guild? Yes and no. “Yes” in that I don’t think Amazon is motivated by author’s interests, which they would need to be if they were going to be my guild. (Nor do I think the AG is motivated by author’s interests, so maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way.) “No” in that I think at this point a bit of hyperbole is needed and appropriate.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of the piece is based on “did it make a difference in any author perceptions?” The answer to that is a resounding “Yes!” Several authors in the thread on Passive Voice said this announcement got them on Amazon’s side and to sign Hugh Howey’s letter. (Disclaimer, I signed the letter the first day I saw it.) Hugh has said he received numerous emails from authors saying the same thing.

Love them or hate them, Amazon is doing a better job in the PR battle than Hachette, at least in the minds of the people Amazon wants to influence. Does that make them evil? Or our friend? No, it just means they continue to prove they are a savvy business. I’d rather work with a savvy business than one stuck in the mire of “the way it’s always been.”

8 Comments on Amazon’s PR piece was an excellent appeal to both emotion and reason

  1. I just want to know why it’s necessary that those people who enjoy the benefits Amazon provides and disdain the practices of the publishers such as Hachette must perforce consider Amazon their friend.

    I don’t think Amazon’s my friend. I think they’re a corporation with the goal of making money. (Though in some ways they seem to be kind of laid-back about it, given their tendency to have profit numbers that make stock market analysts blanch.)

    That doesn’t mean I can’t be happy about what they’re doing.

    If I enjoy reading a book or watching a TV show or movie and rave about it, does it mean I think the authors or creators of that TV show or movie are my friends? They knew what I wanted to see and created it just to please me?

    If I’m happy it’s a cool day, perfect for getting out and bicycling, does that mean I think whoever controls the weather is my “friend” and was doing it to make me happy?

    Is there really anyone that solipsistic living in the real world today?

    Let’s get real here. I haven’t seen one self-publishing writer claim Amazon is their “friend.” Or even that Amazon wants what’s best for them. They’ve said that what Amazon does want seems to be in their own best interests, but that doesn’t speak to why Amazon is doing it.

    People can be happy about something without ascribing benevolent motives to it, you know.

  2. @Chris, I definitely know that people can be happy without ascribing benevolent motives. I think the whole anti-Amazon screed of “Amazon isn’t your friend” is something akin to a straw man argument, although I know that’s not the right term, and if someone wants to give me the correct one I’d appreciate it.

    I admire Amazon for their PR piece. I think it was brilliant both tactically and strategically, and I love me a good piece of business communication. I also believe my current best interests are aligned with Amazon (though not to the point of exclusivity), and I think I made that obvious in my conclusion.

    Since you’ve posted exactly the same comment on at least three different blog posts, one of which was definitely anti-Amazon, I’m not quite sure if you’re agreeing with me, taking me to task or something in the middle?

  3. I’m just expressing my opinion in as many places as possible. :)

    And yes, “straw man” (setting up an extreme position in order to be able to knock it down, without actually having much relevance to the actual opposing position) is probably what you mean.

  4. @Chris, thanks. Wasn’t sure if straw man could only apply to setting up a person to knock him down.

  5. Your point #3 is actually most problematic for me because of that red herring. I don’t think Amazon should be suggesting/setting prices and splits for a supplier any more than I think a supplier should be dictating prices and splits for Amazon. I wish they had discarded that whole paragraph.* I hope people can see through to the rest of your point which I think does have merit.

    I suspect Amazon’s goal with the last two releases was to point out that they are working without a contract and how difficult Hachette is being or your point #1.

    *I base this simply on my own business. I can’t imagine my suppliers telling me what I can sell product for nor me telling my customers what they can do. Amazon is not my friend; they are a vendor and one that I currently enjoy doing business with both personally and professionally.

  6. @Anne, I agree that Amazon shouldn’t be suggesting splits, and I don’t think they meant it to be taken seriously. I’m suspecting someone at Amazon was so disgusted at the constant anti-Amazon message “Amazon is being soooo cruel to authors!” that they couldn’t resist the snark and took the shot at Hachette.

  7. And let’s not forget a few points that Amazon knows and omitted.

    Publishers have large direct fixed costs to preparing an edition, and even larger variable, non-print-related costs. Therefore, when publishers are looking to maximize profits, they may be looking at something very different than pure revenue maximization.

    Amazon isn’t stupid, but they’re assuming you’re not going to notice this fact. And so far, most people haven’t.

    Since the public is not, in general, stupid, and many of the commentators have to be aware of the facts just as Amazon is, I conclude that people are seeing what they want to see, and looking past inconvenient realities.

  8. It seems to me, as an author, that neither Hachette, nor Amazon are anyone’s friend. They are both capitalist enterprises that exist to maximize their short term profirts. In the past hachette and other traditional publishers had their monopoly on pricing, now Amazon is positioning itself to eventually have the same monopoly over content pricing. Writers would be best served by an actual trade uion – which the Authors Guild is not. The problem being of course that writers generally do not see themselves as a part of a collective of similar workers, thus they have no impetus to act/bargain collectively. Until we do, writers have no leverage with either traditional publishers, nor Amazon.

    I think it is clear that once Amazon has crused or assimilated/destroyed the last of their competitors and opponents they will then be able to purse complete control over content pricing. This seems to me the nature of capitalism.

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