Diversify Your Publishing: Why Amazon’s ACX Royalty Change Matters

I know, I said I wouldn’t talk publishing. BUT IT’S MY BLOG AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT HA HA HA HA *noisily eats a Hot Pocket, turns the TV on real loud, opens the chimpazee cage, hands the chimpanzee a beer and a power drill*

Ahem.

Let’s see, here.

Amazon has reduced the royalty rate on ACX audio for self-published authors.

So, let’s just clear this up:

Amazon is not your friend, author person.

Amazon is a giant corporation. It serves itself. You might think, It serves its customers, which is only true in that to serve itself it generally has to serve its customers. And this is entirely fine and normal. To reiterate: Amazon is not your friend. Its job is not to be your friend. Amazon is a great disruptor. Amazon is a powerful business. Amazon has done wonderful things for the World Of Books. Hell, I love Amazon Prime. I love that I can order chimpanzee chow, 9mm ammo, and drill bits at 3AM in the morning and have them in two days (though, hey, Amazon — your Prime shipping times are slipping, just between you and me). Amazon is also the publisher of some of my young adult books through its imprint, Skyscape. My experience there has been wonderful. Great editors, great attention, strong promotion, and they give me input and allow me to have control over the work and input over things like the cover. Amazon does a lot of cool things.

Amazon is still not my friend. Nor is it yours.

Amazon is actually a many-headed creature. Some of those heads do awesome things. Some of those heads might run Draconian warehouses that feel a little like working in the belly of some kind of giant-sized prison robot.

None of these Amazon heads are your friends.

The attachment the self-publishing community has long held to Amazon is understandable — Amazon somewhat single-handedly delivered value and opportunity to that community. That community bought all the way in, and one could argue that the robust creative and intellectual investment has created a kind of momentum that has led to more self-publishers finding that space and joining it (sometimes exclusively) and has led to more people buying Kindles.

But for a while now, some folks (including myself) have been saying all along, “Amazon might change your royalties” (which are of course not really royalties at all, but that’s a semantic issue). And those warnings were often thought of as doomsaying. When I caution, “don’t put your eggs in one basket,” you might reasonably respond with, “Hey, if Amazon starts acting up and casting shenanigans about like an alcoholic chimpanzee with power-tools, I can just go somewhere else.”

And that’s true. Totally true.

But here’s the problem. Amazon isn’t the chimpanzee. It’s the 8-million-pound gorilla. And it didn’t get that big on its own. It got that way by people investing so completely in that ecosystem.

That’s true for folks who do all their shopping there.

It’s true for folks who buy all their e-books there.

It’s true for folks who publish all their e-books there.

So. Let’s say Amazon decides to limit advantages to self-publishers.

Sure, you can jump to B&N or Kobo or iBooks.

But we all know that Nook is shitting the bed. For now, at least.

And getting on iBooks is a lot harder than getting on Amazon.

I have heard of late a lot of people finding success at Kobo, which is nice.

But anybody who has a Kindle cannot use those platforms. And a whole lotta people have Kindles.

And we helped make that happen.

It is often the mode to chastise what The Big Five Publishers do, and understandably — they are sometimes very good for authors and sometimes not so good for authors. And the reason they can be sometimes not so good for authors is because they do not have a great deal of competition.

That should sound familiar.

Because that’s Amazon.

Amazon has very little competition in the e-reader space.

And what competition it has is dwindling.

We’ve said: “Big publishers are bad because they do not care about their authors but Amazon is good because it does. And so here, Amazon will surely handle all our eggs much better than those naughty publishers — with great love and care. So we should give all of our eggs to them.” And then we gave our eggs to them and watched as other egg-carriers started to wander around, confused, starving where they were standing (because remember, they have no eggs) and then now Amazon’s starting to teeter and totter and drop some of our goddamn eggs. And we’re like, “Yo, that’s not cool,” and Amazon’s like, shrug, “Whatevs, take your eggs elsewhere, it’s no skin of my GNASHING ROBOT GORILLA TEETH,” and then you realize — uh-oh. Nobody else is really around to carry those eggs anymore. Our eggs don’t go anywhere else.

See, when you concentrate a great deal of power in the hands of a single company, that company will maximize its profits and start taking more of its share.

It does this because, say it with me:

Amazon is not your friend.

Think about how you seduce readers with a lower price point.

Then, when they’re invested: you increase the price on that book or its sequels.

Smart business. The “drug dealer” trick — first taste is cheap or free.

And that’s what Amazon is doing here.

A good deal now. You get invested. Then a not-as-good deal later.

Maybe not a terrible deal. Maybe still better than what you’d get elsewhere.

But maybe not.

You don’t know because:

*screams it from the rooftops*

Amazon is not your friend.

The things you think Big Publishing does to hurt authors? Amazon will do it, too, soon as it can.

Because that tends to be how big businesses work.

Small businesses? Not so much. Because it’s harder to be a dick when you’re four guys in a room. It’s a lot easier when you’re a faceless Borg Cube with thousands of employees.

The bigger you are, the less human you become.

The takeaway?

Amazon has not yet decreased your take from self-published works.

They have done some things that suggest they might, however. Decreasing ACX payments, for one. Increasing Prime, for two (and increasing the threshhold for free shipping). Talking very publicly about increasing their profit margins, for three. (It’s important to note here that Amazon, despite being big as it is, has not been making much actual profit over the years, which is a trend that ostensibly will need to change.) Given that there may be a backlash against the Prime increase, Amazon may look to find other ways to secure greater profits. I assure you, they’d be more comfortable dinging self-publishers than the entirety of the Prime subscription base.

Further, indicators exist outside the purely economic. We can all pretend that Amazon isn’t a gatekeeper, but like I said before, Amazon doesn’t want to be eBay. They want to be Netflix, not YouTube. It lets most folks through the gate, but when it feels the need, it’ll remove Monster Erotica or Baboon Fart Story from its ranks without the courtesy of a complimentary reach-around. That fist may tighten. Either in terms of restricting content or gouging author-publishers (through royalty reduction, most likely, though possibly also through increased fees).

They’ll do this because:

Amazon no es tu amigo.

So. What do you do?

You diversify.

Spread those eggs around, man. Give some to B&N. To Kobo. To iBooks. Sell your works directly! (If you’re so keen to remove all barriers between you and a reader, there’s your way forward, by the way.) But it’s also worth considering publishing your work with a publisher, too — big, small, medium-sized, short story, novella, whatever. Point being, to protect your career, cleave toward a diversification of efforts. You have many eggs — so find for them many baskets. That way, to play out this metaphor to its ludicrous (and not to mention obvious) conclusion: if one basket falls on the sidewalk and breaks, you still have other, unbroken eggs.

Amazon isn’t your friend. It also isn’t your enemy. Big publishers aren’t, either. I love Amazon for what it’s done for books. I love big publishers for what they’ve done, too. But remember: these are companies. Corporations. Business entities. They’re like bacteria, or rabbits, or grass — they’ll grow wherever they can and if they suffer no competition they’ll invade and take over an area. And then it gets a lot, lot, lot harder to dig out an entrenched species. If you’re really an independent author — then be truly independent. Don’t be dependent on a single company for your livelihood. Just as an ecosystem thrives on diversity, so should you, as an author and a publisher.