Amazon's Flip Flop and
what it means for writers and publishers
Amazon has done an about-face when it comes to small indie publishers. And it speaks volumes about the publishing industry.
Let’s briefly rehash our acrimonious relationship. When Amazon launched in 1995 publishers cheered because they thought they’d found a way out of the mega-stores dictating which books would be bestsellers and which would be consigned to the dustbins of publishing. Because publishers are idiots.
Amazon rapidly made it clear that in addition to readers bypassing the megastores, it intended writers to bypass publishing houses. It set up self-publishing, and then in 2007, brought out the kindle. Ebooks exploded and there was much doom and gloom about the death of publishing. The news abounded with stories of self-published authors, rejected by countless publishers, who were suddenly raking it in through Amazon’s self-publishing. It was difficult for small indie publishers to upload their books to Amazon, and Amazon took over 50% of the RRP. If the small publisher wanted to promote a book by reducing the price to 0.99p, then Amazon regularly raised the price higher and then took 100% of the surcharge. Small publishing houses either went bankrupt or were swallowed up by larger competitors. Reality sucks.
Here’s what happened next. Everyone self-published, from pubescents with their first novel to geriatrics with their memoirs. Typos, poor covers, cardboard characters, senseless plot twists, pornography, and volumes of such appallingly poor writing that even people who didn’t care were aghast, proliferated. What self-published writers learned was that they had to sell their books for almost nothing or give them away in order to build up a following and finally on their 5th or 6th book could charge a couple of bucks – but rarely more. Amazon begged its writers to get better covers and get edited, and improved the quality of its CreateSpace books from abysmal to lousy. It was all insufficient. Readers rebelled by not reading. Everyone learned the hard way that actually publishing houses fulfilled some purpose on this planet. Surprise, surprise.
But that’s not what changed Amazon’s attitude to small indie publishers. What changed Amazon was the good old-fashioned bottom line. When self-published writers have to give away or sell their books for almost nothing, the cut that Amazon gets is teensy-weensy. In comparison, indie publishers have to sell their books for a premium in order to stay in business. So Amazon makes much more from the small indies. It’s the economy, stupid.
So now, Amazon has changed its interface so that small indie publishers can more easily upload metadata, changed its inventory system so that small indie publishers can tell more easily when they need to resupply the warehouse, and is making the warm fuzzies with face-to-faces. The easier it is for small publishers to utilize Amazon, the better the survival of small indies. The better the survival of small indies, the more problematic self-publishing looks as an alternative. Heart capitalism.