competeI have spent the last week being simply exhausted by the Amazon stuff showing up in my news feed. Every blog, every writer, every author’s group or reader’s group or publisher’s group has an opinion on the latest Amazonpocalypse, and it’s cluttering up my news feed like you would’t believe. I’ve written already about my own opinion—that we should not fool ourselves thinking Hachette is any better, that we should concentrate instead on the factors we can control ourselves. But a blog post from writer M.C.A. Hogarth, found via The Passive Voice, makes one more point that I think is important. And that point is this: if you want to compete, compete!

What do I mean by that? Well, think for a second about why Amazon has the customers it has. They must be doing something right. So, if you want to grab those customers for yourself, do a better job than Amazon is doing, at those things. If you are not doing at least as good a job as Amazon is, you lose the right to complain about the customers they are ‘stealing.’

Hogarth writes about her decision to close her Smashwords account and remove her books from that website. She liked Smashwords as an idea, but found the website clunky to use and to navigate, lacking in customer service and riddled with hard ways to do simple things. From her blog post:

“Some people have had good experiences with Smashwords. My experience with them, from the moment I started using them, has been a struggle. I have never thought ‘oh, right, I’ll just get this to Smashwords, no problem.’ It’s always ‘Oh, LORD, not the Smashwords part of this process. Why can’t it be as easy as NookPress or the Kindle dashboard??’”

That’s the long and short of it, right there. Other people are doing a better job, If Smashwords could match, or exceed, that job, they would have retained this author.

Similarly, on the reader end, I found the same struggles when using my Kobo reader. When my sister first offered me her Kindle Paperwhite, I spent two weeks pitting the two against each other. I would keep one, I decided, and sell the other. It turned out each device had a few nice features. But on cross-device synchronization, the Kindle let me do it for any file while the Kobo was limited to books I bought from them and loaded using their proprietary format (I preferred to side load so I could get clean epub). Their method for re-downloading a past purchase was unbearably clunky, and forced me to dig several menus deep into a website—meaning I could not use the reader without the aid of a computer. It was a deal-breaker for me. Amazon made this process so much easier.

I think people sometimes confuse business with emotion in these things. They assume that just because THEY are emotional—this is their livelihood, after all, and they should be—that all other parties are too. I think this is a false assumption. I don’t have any feelings, particularly, toward Amazon as a customer. I don’t often order physical objects from them because they deliver via UPS and I have to go pick that up at an inconvenient location for me. And I resent a little that features such as Unlimited and the lending library are so devoutly America-only. But using the Kindle is so easy. It’s SO EASY. I have tried every reader on the market except the Nook (it is not available in Canada) and nobody else makes it that easy. Nobody. If somebody did, I would absolutely entertain the notion of using their device instead.

So, build a better reader. Build a better bookstore. Compete! That’s the way to beat Amazon at their own game.

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  1. Features usually start off as America-only because that’s the easiest and simplest way to get the bugs out and make sure everything works before venturing into the minefield of overseas jurisdictions. I know that Australian commercial law is insanely complicated, for instance, and I suspect the same goes for many other nations. I’m so profoundly grateful when Amazon (and Google, and the others) plan to tackle it at all that I’m happy to wait a little while so they can do it right.

  2. Initially, I found the idea of being tied to Amazon via the Kindle as being onerous. I’ve come to not mind it so much. That’s because I’ve found my consumer experience with Amazon to be far above average.

    My first Kindle had a problem, and it was out of warranty, but they replaced it anyway. My third Kindle also had a problem with the light, out of warranty, and they replaced it.

    Nothing is perfect & I judge a company not by whether all items are perfect, but how the company resolves the problem & I’ve been a pretty satisfied customer for several years.

  3. I checked Hatchette again the other day. I still can’t buy an ebook from them. Amazon still gets my money.

    Jack Tingle

  4. Two passages from one of my new books (not yet published) that kinda relate to your article:

    “This world is divided into individuals who talk big
    about getting things done and those who actually
    do things in a big way. Try, if you can,
    to belong to the latter. There’s far less
    competition and the payoffs are much greater.”
    — from “Life’s Secret Handbook”

    “Competition is good for you in a Divine way.
    Your competitors are your spiritual friends.
    You learn best and most when you play
    with those who are much better
    and more successful than you.”
    — from “Life’s Secret Handbook”

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