In Which Amazon Calls You To Defend The Realm

Listen, I don’t know what the fuck is going on, because our toddler was awake until approximately blarp o’clock last night and I can barely see through the sleep still desperately clinging to my eyeballs, but I’m pretty sure — though it may be a hallucination! — that last night Amazon wrote me, a KDP author-publisher, to get me to… I think ding-dong-ditch Hachette? Maybe prank phone call them? Pull down Hachette authors’ pants? Give them a swirly?

They have posted this at readersunited.com.

We’re at a point in this struggle where things just got really goofy.

Okay, more seriously, what Amazon is basically saying is, “We think e-book prices are crummy at $14.99 and make money at $9.99, and we’re probably not going to show you all our data like how well books sell at $10.39 or $11.99 or $12.49 or any of that, and big publishers are enemies of e-books and hey! You’re a self-published author, so you have e-books for sale, so this concerns you, so we’re gonna ask you to email the Hachette CEO and oh, also copy us on the email. P.S. Something-something WWII and out-of-context George Orwell.”

Then they set up that Readers United page.

I continue to want to believe this is a joke.

Like maybe they got hacked?

Because this feels particularly cuckoo bananapants.

No. You know what? I’m gonna upgrade this to ludicrous coyote-pants.

That’s how bewildered I am by this mail.

Okay, so.

First and most importantly, is anybody else tired of this? The Amazon-Hachette shit-show? It’s like watching two trucks crash into each other from in the middle of the collision. It’s like a game of chicken where nobody wins. (If anybody thinks I don’t have enough ‘balance’ here, I also think the NYT “900 Authors Are Standing Sadly By Their Sad Shacks Because Amazon Keeps Stealing Their Juice Boxes” article is half-a-bag-of-nonsense, too. It reads like an advertisement written for or at least paid for by Authors United, which is a group that I’m pretty sure hasn’t united for most authors and hasn’t yet fought for anything — far as I can tell — that affects me, an author. Amazon has every right to not sell their books, just as bookstores have every right to not sell my Amazon imprint books. It’s unfortunate, and I hate that authors are ever used as leverage, but it’s not a boycott, not illegal, not bullying. It’s a giant company being a giant company. And taking out big giant anti-Amazon ads? GOD PLEASE STOP. End of rant.)

The bigger issue here is, for Amazon, this looks embarrassing. It’s a cheapy tactic meant to drum up support from a group of people who don’t really have a huge dog in this fight — this is a fight with traditional publishing about traditional publishing. The only thing KDP authors know is that they’re artificially wrangled into a price box ($2.99 to $9.99) and don’t have access to a whole lot of levers and buttons and data inside Amazon. And yet, King Amazon is asking the serfs to pick up sharpened shovels and become knights for the realm. Which is weird, right? Am I wrongheaded in thinking that’s weird? I’m happy to hear your thoughts.

God, maybe the Amazon Books Team is a sentient AI.

Maybe it’s like SkyNet, but instead of destroying the world it just wants to rant about e-books.

I think I’d rather SkyNet as long as our destruction means we can stop talking about this.

I mean, emailing a CEO and then… copying them? That’s a tactic your crummy middle manager boss would use when trying to bully a supplier. “Okay, okay. You email Dave over at Office World, and you tell him we have noticed your illegal collusion on paper clips, Daaaaave, and tell him we don’t care for it one bit, no sir. You know what? You copy me on that email. Yeah, yeah, copy me. He’ll know. He’ll know what he did when he sees you copied me.”

Ugh.

So.

*blink blink blink*

I haven’t even had my coffee yet, Amazon, jeez.

Some individual point-by-point, poke-by-poke:

We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market — e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Okay. Great. I’m half with you. But really, let’s see all the data. And let’s also remember that there are still costs sunk into e-books. They’re not made of unicorn dreams. Further, can somebody confirm that there’s really nothing else on the table here besides e-book pricing? Nothing about POD out-of-print? Nothing about other services?

If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

This already happens with KDP. Amazon seems to continue to think KDP authors are lesser, because it’s basically ignoring their presence in the marketplace while at the same time asking them to turn plowshares to swords against Hachette.

KDP author-publishers are filling that low-cost paperback realm.

They should get a parade, not propaganda to hand out at Book Prom.

For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

We already talked about this. Go read Scalzi.

Also, let me echo: I wanna see data across all the price points.

I want to make an informed decision, not one based on cherry-picked data.

Then, I will price my own books accordingly, and not care one whit how Hachette prices theirs.

Again: this is an email to KDP authors. So how does this help them?

Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store.

Fine! So stop selling them, already. Just shut up about it and pull the trigger. Be mercenary.

Don’t ask me to be your mercenary. It covers me in an oily uncomfortable film.

(Though that may just be my body’s natural morning unguent.)

Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle.

Translation: we have made three separate offers that entrenched Hachette authors right in the uncomfortable middle. Here’s an offer: “If you pay me fifty dollars, I will give this puppy a popsicle. If you don’t pay me the fifty dollars, I will punch this puppy and eat the popsicle noisily in front of it.” The offers were basically — dear publishers, cut your own hamstrings and your authors will be happy. But you can’t, so they won’t, so now they’ll hate you MOO HOO HA HA.” *strokes hairless cat in a sinister fashion*

If Amazon wants to make friendy-friends with Hachette authors: return their books to sale.

WHAT WONDERFUL SORCERY THAT WOULD BE.

Their final points, from the letter, below:

We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.

OKAY, ROBOCOP. How many seconds do we have to comply?

Lowering e-book prices will help — not hurt — the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.

Great. Probably? Let Hachette price itself out of existence, then. Let the market find the proper e-book price. This is all pretty new, you’ll remember — maybe it’s not $9.99. Maybe it’s $10.99. Or $7.99, like the old paperbacks. We’ll figure it out. The e-book snakes are way, way, way out of the can. They ain’t going back in. Relax. (And again: can we confirm that this is 100% about prices? And that there’s nothing else going on here?)

Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.

Says Amazon as it loads KDP authors into the catapult and flings them against the walls of NYC publishing. Casually wiping their greasy stains off the battlements, hoping nobody will notice.

Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Authors aren’t united on anything. Why would they be? We work from home. Alone. We can maaaaaybe agree that pants are a tool of the oppressors and that we subsist on various liquids (tea, coffee, whiskey, the tears of our readers). Why do we have to be united? Can’t we all just be ronin ninja without clan? (“Will there be meetings?” “No meetings.) I’m not your army, okay? What’s with the agitprop? I’m not your proselyte. I’m not your soldier.

Listen.

I like cheaper e-books.

I think Amazon has done awesome things.

I think publishers have done awesome things.

I think Amazon and publishers have done shitty, exploitative, or sometimes just silly things.

I do not think that self-published authors have a dog in this fight (outside the fact that maybe they should start asking when they as a force get to start petitioning Amazon for changes).

I think if you want cheaper e-books you should vote with your dollar.

don’t think that emailing the CEO of a huge publisher involved in a dispute with a titanic retailer/distributor is a good way to do anything but scream noise and gibberish into the world — sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I don’t really appreciate the email KDP just sent me. I think it’s tacky. If they keep trying to involve me in this — and if they can’t be quiet about it — I’m going to take my KDP books off of Amazon and sell them through other avenues. I don’t want to do that because I make okay money there. And I got a kid to feed. But we’re swiftly approaching bridge too far territory. I honestly don’t know which dog or which pony is leading this wagon train — if all the blog posts lauding Amazon were urged by Amazon in the first place, or if Amazon has seen those and has figured out it can capitalize on that adoration, but really, it’s growing tiresome. It looks cheap and weak.

Amazon: you’re not weak.

You’re the world’s biggest retailer.

And hey! You deserve it. You owned that space.

So maybe start acting like it.

Leave your business to your business.

Stop spilling it into the laps of readers, customers, and now, KDP authors.

Meanwhile, the phrase that keeps going through my head is:

Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy.

“Not my circus. Not my monkeys.”

217 comments

  • Yep, I’ve got no dog in this fight, no elephant in this parade. I’m just a very small-time content provider to
    Amazon (as well as a few other ebook retailers). I’m feeling like the little plant between two bighorn rams facing off. No matter who wins, I’m gonna get trampled. Knock off the testosterone, guys.

  • Hey Chuck, BLT here. I would have emailed you or posted in a forum, but all I can figure out to do is comment here. I noticed an interesting link on your Twitter page:

    Amazon is now fighting publishers in Japan, too. http://www.electronista.com/articles/14/08/31/japanese.publishers.calling.amazon.to.task.for.abusing.market.position/

    This article states:

    “In addition to its fight with publisher Hachette and UK booksellers, Amazon is also battling a series of Japanese publishers. In the process of launching a new ranking system in the country, Amazon Japan is alienating publishers, giving higher rankings to sellers that pay a larger percentage of income back to Amazon, and also boosting search results of publishers that hold larger back catalogs for sale on the service.”

    Is this the case here, too? I’m pretty new to this stuff, but I find it interesting and have seen posts on your blog about it and have to wonder how this relates back to the sales performance of books on Amazon. For example, you’ll notice right now that there are four Amazon titles released through the Kindle First program.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/digital/kindle/first

    Look at the sales ranks of these books and the ranks of their authors. All of them are Amazon imprint titles and are currently all top 5 sales ranked and top 5 author rank. How is this possible that four Amazon authors dominate the book market? Is the game rigged in Amazon’s favor as a publisher? (That seems the obvious answer right now — it is their web site.) Are these Amazon titles just experiencing a massive spike because of the Kindle First promo or is Amazon manipulating sales rankings and subsequent visibility to market its own titles? This just seems weird to me. Maybe I’m trying to make sense of unconnected circumstances, but it seems to me Amazon is trying to shift the market and own all of it, everyone else be damned.

    Anyway, I saw the article, saw the Kindle First stuff, went hmm, and emailed you.

    Truck on trucker,

    BLT

  • I have taken the pledge. I will not buy any book or any other item from Amazon. One reason is this whole Hatchette controversy. But the other, not likely to be fixed any time soon, is the miserable conditions and low pay of most of Amazon’s employees. That is unacceptable to me.

    I buy books only from my local bookstore, and I have instructed them not to order via Amazon but to use other distributors. If I pay a little more, at least I know that it is going to people I have known personally for many years.

    I don’t read ebooks. I like real books.

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