Why Big Publishing hates Amazon, Part 2
December 8, 2013 | 9:38 am
This article is a follow-up to my earlier piece on “Why Big Publishing hates Amazon, and wants you to hate Amazon too”. As its title may suggest, it’s not exactly a withdrawal of my original conclusions. But it is an attempt to answer and counter some of the comments made on that article. And as a busy journalist with little time and fewer ideas, it saves me the strain of finding a fresh topic. So here we go.
First, kindly read that title closely. It says “Why Big Publishing hates Amazon.” It is not about how good, virtuous, or high-minded Amazon is. It is specifically about Big Publishing’s problem with Amazon, which is: Amazon makes it that much harder for the Big Five to justify their existence.
I mean, if you can’t dominate the Top 100 bestseller list in one of the most important sales channels in the business, then what are you Big for? What is the justification for your world-spanning network of fancy offices, huge payrolls, high profile in industry events, etc? Because Amazon proves that single individual authors don’t need you at all. Yes, Amazon takes its cut (more on that in a moment). But Amazon’s platform allows any solitary author to stand eye to eye with Penguin or HarperCollins. Because they are unable to do any more than he or she can do alone. Yes, this is in one highly circumscribed arena with its own mechanics that may not all be favorable to the authors at all. But Big Publishing has shown no signs of being able to crack that system, or come up with a compelling alternative.
As to the issues around Amazon’s platform: Yes, other self-publishing platforms may offer more, or give better terms. There’s no reason not to use them as well, or in preference, to Kindle Direct Publishing. Indeed, the ultimate solution for self-published authors may still be to publish their own ebooks completely by themselves and do their own sales and marketing direct from their author website. Increasingly, that could be done. But the world has its attention focused on Amazon to the extent of “Boycott Amazon” campaigns. And Amazon can surely only be a bully that abuses its power if it has something close to a monopoly. It doesn’t. People who don’t like it can still go somewhere else.
Amazon may have created a way for self-published authors to go around the Big Five and reach readers directly. It’s a way. There are other ways. Use them instead. Use them all. There is nothing stopping you. No one is being forced to do anything. You can even find a savvy independent publisher. They can work the Amazon system just as well, if they want.
And yes, we’re now at the point where we have to accuse the judges and competition authorities of being criminals in order to explain why Amazon is not in the dock for its practices. (“That’s what our Chicago-machine DOJ would be going after if it wasn’t filled with crooks.”) Because Amazon has not been found guilty of market-restrictive practices in any major case. Who has? The Big Five publishers and Apple. Or they settled out of court before the case came to trial – hardly a proof of spotless innocence.
I’m not suggesting that the Big Five hate Amazon for showing them up. But the Apple price-fixing affair was an attempt to counter Amazon. And it showed the Big Five acting in culpable collusion.
And the two that became one in that Big Five, Penguin and Random House, are still operating Author Solutions, the new byword for unprincipled gouging and milking of would-be self-published authors. Are we supposed to favor that in preference to Amazon?
Finally, if anyone has a problem with Amazon’s dominance in the ebook market, who is there to blame? None other than Big Publishing. The Big Five left that market open for Amazon by clinging on to their old model and old constraints for too long. They had Napster and iTunes as precedents for what could happen, and chose to ignore them. If Amazon is a monster, they created it. There are very good reasons, just cited, for feeling they got exactly what they deserved. It obviously hasn’t improved their behavior. Their answer to the challenge of self-publishing is Author Solutions. Say no more.
Editor’s Note: Comments being closed on this article is no doing of Paul or anything intentional on the part of me. It seems to be a glitch, albeit an unfortunate one, and I’m attempting to figure out why they are closed and how to turn them back on.
Update: Apologies for the glitch. I didn’t intentionally turn comments off, but they are on now. And, no, I still don’t know why they were off in the first place.