Indie publisher: Amazon not to blame for publishers’ woes

PrintShould we learn to stop worrying and love the Amazon? That’s the position espoused by writer/publisher Bob Mayer in a post to his blog “Write It Forward”. Mayer co-founded independent publishing house Who Dares Wins Publishing in January 2011, and “went from selling a few hundred eBooks that month to earning seven figures.” He doesn’t see a threat in Amazon, but instead sees opportunity.

Mayer has some books in the Kindle Select program, but he is also providing exclusives to Barnes & Noble and doing business with Kobo and others as well.

I’m not playing Amazon against B&N against Kobo against Smashwords against the Ewoks or the Little 17 although I am done with the Weird 55.  I’m working with all of them because I run a business.  It’s called being an author.  In order to successfully continue to do that, I must sell books.  To readers.  They want to help me do that.  I want to help them do that.  Let me help you.  Help me.  Help you.  Help me.  Help you.  (Give me a call?  Drop me an email?)

And that’s my point.  This is a business.  Not a slap on the back, happy go lucky, fellowship of the book.  Because all these middle people screaming about Amazon would shove the door shut in my face in a heart beat if my books didn’t help their P&L statement and many have done so over the last 25 years.

Mayer places blame squarely on the publishers for not preparing for the digital revolution in spite of ample warning signs (such as what happened to the music industry), and estimates that many of the publishers who spoke at Digital Book World are still a year behind the digital explosion. “I saw presenters stumbling to remember terms and programs that should be second nature to a digital publisher,” he writes.

One way or another, the market forces led by Amazon are going to change the publishing industry irrevocably in the next few years. It should be interesting to see whether the change is for the better or the worse.

5 Comments on Indie publisher: Amazon not to blame for publishers’ woes

  1. The article’s a red herring. The issue isn’t so much what Amazon is doing now as what it’s likely to do if it acquires even higher level of market dominance. And to judge what Amazon’s likely to do then, we need only look at what they’ve attempted to do in the past, including a move a few years back that attempted to force all small POD authors and publishers to print their books through Amazon’s own CreateSpace or have their “Buy Now” button removed. A friend took them to federal court on that one, and Amazon bailed out, paying her legal fees, before they’d have lost based on well-established laws against ‘bundling.’ Sadly, Amazon doesn’t behave like they want to do the right thing in every circumstance. They behave like they intend to do whatever they can get away with. Their attitude toward sales taxes illustrates that. “Make us pay,” is what they’ve been saying as states have been struggling to meet basic services. “Jerks” is what I say to that.

    Nor does this author’s apparent financial success negate that danger. In fact, in the initial stages, a would-be monopolist is often very generous with those who play the game by his rules. He desperately needs them to either get out of the way or fall under his power. J. R. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil paid very good prices as it began its move to take over the oil industry.

    The key issue lies the distribution of power. A healthy system has a wide distribution of power. An unhealthy system concentrates power in a few hands. Unless they’re famous, authors don’t have much inherent power. They’re easily screwed. All they’ve got is their manuscript, one that may not be that different from tens of thousands of others. To stand a chance of making it, they need a myriad of publishers and a healthy and varied wholesale and retail distribution system.

    Of course, Amazon isn’t alone in behaving badly. Apple’s behavior is also less than impressive. Neither wants a healthy, competitive market. Both want proprietary standards. Both want to control prices and distribution. Worst of all, as best I can tell, both seem afflicted with the same geeky inability to understand anything that’s not top-down and machine-like. It’s the same reason why geeks like computers games in preference to real life.

    If you want to see books done right, look at the behavior of Ingram in book wholesale field or O’Reilly, a publisher of technical books. Both recognize that they’re only a part of a system that’s only healthy if all the parts are healthy. Amazon and, to a lesser extent, Apple, want to be the entire system except the unfortunate little author, necessary but not necessarily respected.

    And in the end that will leave you and I as authors standing naked before a giant corporation that holds our destiny in its hands. That’s not good, no matter how profitable it might seem to be in 2012.

  2. Michael, as you pointed out yourself, Amazon’s POD bid was flattened in court. They may want to do everything they can get away with, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get away with it.

    However, authors do have more power than you’d suggest, because all of them can publish through their own website (as I do). They can avoid Amazon completely if they wish; and if they have any visibility in the marketing world, they might be able to sell more books through their own site than amidst the millions of books in Amazon’s castle. Amazon makes the process simpler for the author… at a price. Authors are still free to opt out of Amazon and go on their own. In fact, all publishers can do the same.

    And when authors and publishers realize they have that power, Amazon loses the leverage against us that we ourselves gave them.

  3. Bob Mayer is absolutely right. Amazon are in business to compete. They success by giving the customer what they want. The don’t do anything illegal, just try to leverage their own business presence. No different than any other business in the world.
    The publishers and competitors should shut up and start competing and satisfying customers instead of whining.

  4. Thanks for the mention.

    As far as a red herring, the key is that Authors create the product. I’ve seen shrill cries that somehow Amazon is going to lock a thousand monkeys in a room to produce content. Right. Amazon wants to sell product. If they get a monopoly, which I doubt, they might change terms, chiseling the royalty rate down. Perhaps.

    Have you ever dealt with the Big 6? Talk about standing naked in front of a corporation that doesn’t even run it’s business well. I prefer working with someone who is focused on selling my product to a consumer rather than focused on distributing my product to a consignment outlet that can return whatever they don’t sell.

  5. As long as they charge sales tax like everyone else, then compete away!

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