The “Amazon Is Bad For Authors” Meme

Amazon bought Goodreads.

You probably already knew that if you’re even marginally connected to social media and have any friends at all who read books. You probably also know it because lots of folks were in quite a tizzy about the whole thing. Hair on fire. Pants exploding. Blood pouring from their eyes as if from the elevators in The Shining. Quite the sight to see.

This isn’t a post about that, not really.

I think Goodreads is okay. It’s a good community but a clumsy site. Hard to use, funky sort, web 1.5 design. They’ve had some issues with reviews and reviewers and moderation in the past. Though they also provide some nice data to authors and the Goodreads giveaways are a plus… so, on the whole, it’s a positive, it was just kludgey enough and had enough issues where I never really got deep into using them. So, Amazon buying them is a good move for Amazon (obviously), and reportedly Goodreads is going to remain independent at least for now.

I’m going to assume that Amazon buying Goodreads is complicated. A mix of good things and not-so-good things. And that it’s probably also not one of the Seven Wax Seals that breaks and signals the Bookpocalypse, where Jeff Bezos spears the angels Barnes and Noble with his sword made of melted Kindle Fires, where all our Amazon rankings suddenly become 666.

It is not the End Times for publishing.

Anyway, whatever.

Whenever this sort of thing happens — whenever Amazon so much as sneeze-farts — social media lights up with frothy condemnations. Which are, at times, deserved. Hey, remember when Amazon removed Buy buttons from people’s books? Or when they instituted that non-policy policy about authors not reviewing authors? OR WHEN THEY ATE YOUR BABY?

Maybe not that last part. Point is, Amazon’s hands are not soft, innocent lambskin unsullied by the dirt of capitalist digging. Sometimes they get downright muddy.

Just the same, there exists a component of the meme that seems to suggest Amazon is categorically bad for authors (and to an extent, for readers). And I don’t agree.

First, Amazon sells books. They do so pretty well. It ain’t perfect. I’m not fond of how they handle discoverability which felt much better five years ago than it does today. (I’ve seen memes that suggest discoverability is more for publishers than for readers, to which I make a trumpeting poop noise. I want with online procurement what I used to get by walking into a bookstore — that languid curious kind of magic where I wander the stacks and find books and authors I’d never heard of before. That works at bookstores. It doesn’t work at Amazon.) Just the same, Amazon pushes a great many books into a great many hands both physical and with the Kindle and while I’m a bit daft at times, it’s hard to see how that’s a negative for authors.

Second, KDP. We can all pretend that self-publishing is equally as awesome on B&N or Smashwords or iTunes, but it isn’t. KDP with the power of the Kindle has added a whole new option for authors that was only marginally feasible before. This isn’t always great for readers (flooding the marketplace with books is now an option, which stands in the way of that discoverability thing I was talking about), but it’s pretty rad for authors.

Third, Bookscan. Amazon gives authors access to Nielsen Bookscan numbers. Without cost. It’s a valuable tool that puts some data in the hands of authors — imperfect data, but here I think that’s better than no data at all — and that wasn’t generally available before. (At least, not immediately.) (Puzzling, though, to me, is why Amazon doesn’t make available Kindle sales numbers. Seems an easy transparency to provide?)

Fourth, their publishing arms. Now, to make it clear — I have books coming out with Amazon’s YA imprint, Skyscape. And that will limit those books in some fashion (though how big or small remains to be seen). Just the same, as publishers, they pay competitive advances while offering clear monthly royalty statements (other pubs tend to offer them quarterly). As an author, they’ve been great to work with. A strategic partnership through and through.

Again: Amazon is by no means perfect.

But I think it’s becoming increasingly easy and popular to take potshots.

Worse, it’s easy to say that they’re bad for authors when they do quite a bit of good, as well.

As always, this is all just one silly author’s opinion.

You may return now to your regularly-scheduled blood-pouring-from-eyes.