This 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.”