No, not from me. I’m not going to bash Amazon. Like I said in my last post, if it wasn’t for Amazon and their Kindle Store, I would never have published. But after a weekend of no blog reading, I came back and checked some of my usual spots and found that there was plenty of Amazon bashing, and Amazon supporting, going on. The latest is Konrath and Howey vs. Chuck Wendig.
I’ve been thinking about Amazon in terms of the “letter” that Douglas Preston posted, which has been signed by something like 400 major authors, including personal hero Stephen King, and the rebuttal, written by Joe Konrath and Hugh Howey and “edited” by Barry Eisler and others. It seems that people (read: trad-published writers) want to frame the rebuttal as an Amazon-love fest, and others (read: self-publishers) want to frame the Preston letter as a big-publishing apology. When I read the quotes that Konrath put on his blog, I couldn’t help but agree that Preston’s letter is pro-Hachette AND anti-Amazon, but when I read Konrath’s and Howey’s “reader thank-you”, I saw a piece that mostly tried to excuse Amazon for any of the harm done to Hachette authors (like Preston, I assume, and many others).
I don’t for a minute think that Amazon and Hachette really care about the authors, any more than I think Walmart cares about Green Giant brand vegetables. With respect to Walmart, if a producer of one of the products they sell goes under, they simply shift their sales to another similar product. Amazon, like Walmart, is a retailer, and in the end, they don’t care about me as an author EXCEPT in terms of how much money they can make by retailing my products. I’m a supplier to them, definitely part of the (very!) long tail because I only sell a couple units a month. But even at that, they aren’t losing money on me. In fact, they’re making a small amount every time my mom buys a book by me. (I’m kidding. My mom doesn’t buy any of my books.) If things change and Amazon begins losing money on me and those like me, they’ll dump me like a hot potato, only faster.
On the other hand, Hachette is not a retailer. They’re a supplier. To them, writers are the growers of the corn and green beans that they package and ship to many retailers, not just Amazon, but Walmart, Barnes and Noble, Costco and Sam’s Club, Target, and thousands of mom-and-pop bookstores across the country. Should they be concerned with the well-being of their suppliers? Well, maybe not. If farmer A fails to provide quality corn to them, they can go to farmers B and C and D.
I’m reminded of health care providers’ relationships with the insurance companies that pay them for most of the services they provide. We have a love/hate relationship with those companies. The best ones, the ones we most like to work with, do not try to place themselves between the doctor and the patient aside from reimbursement. They don’t try to determine the necessity of treatments and reimburse fairly for services rendered. Patients don’t sign up with an insurance company to get a health-care costs manager, but usually that is exactly what they get.
In my practice, we breath easier when we see patients listing certain insurance companies, and we clench our teeth when we see patients listing others that we know are hard to work with. I hate it when an insurance company questions me as to necessity of a particular treatment. I’d like to think I don’t recommend treatments that are not necessary. It is just extra work for me to explain to them why its necessary. This is always something I’ve already done with the patient.
How does this relate to Amazon and Hachette? Well, in both cases we have to realize that the companies are primarily interested in one thing – their own bottom line. But we also have to look at what they are providing in return for our production of the products that they sell. And how much are they getting in the middle of the only relationship that matters – that between the writer and the reader. It’s very similar to insurance companies in medicine. The less they get in between the doctor/patient relationship, the more we like them. We as doctors (and patients, possibly to a lesser extent) would be happiest if they would just shut up and pay as we believe they’ve agreed to do. But they, in the interest of their bottom line, would prefer to monitor those out-going expenditures and make them as small as possible while collecting every last premium dollar. We depend on insurance companies; without them few of our patients would be able to afford high level care. But we hate them anyway.
Same with Amazon and Hachette. We’d love it if they’d just shut up and sell our products and send the checks. Amazon does this, for the most part, if you’re an independent publisher. You see how many units sold, and they cut a check based on that number. They’re pretty clear up front on the amount they’re going to pay, and you can see exactly what you’re getting. But then again they’re a retailer. They’re simply taking their cut out of your sale and passing on the rest to you. (What’s the cut for? It’s for making the distribution process simple.)
Does Hachette do this? Most of us will never know, because Hachette isn’t interested in using us as suppliers. Maybe their authors are happy with all of their contract terms. Or maybe they aren’t.
But what does any of that have to do with Amazon? Simply because Amazon isn’t pre-selling their products while they’re in negotiations with Hachette, and authors are losing sales? Because Amazon is stating as fact that it may take longer than expected for Amazon to ship a Hachette product, because they aren’t stocking them in huge numbers because of this dispute?
Amazon’s just the retailer, or so it appears to me. Understand that Amazon, like those health insurance companies and like Hachette, only wants to make as much money as possible and believes that the way to do so is to honor their promises to their customers, so without assurance that they can get Hachette products in the near- or more-distant future they won’t commit to advance ordering. Just like Hachette wants terms from Amazon that will allow Hachette (not Hachette authors) to make as much money as possible. Is Hachette changing their contract terms based on whatever happens with Amazon? Somehow I doubt it.
It appears to me that authors’ ire should be directed at Hachette, not at Amazon. Amazon’s ONLY the retailer. Okay, it’s the biggest retailer, but still – there are still other online outlets for their works. iBooks and Barnes and Noble and Kobo can still sell their works, and you can side load a Nook app on a Kindle Fire (though not on the Paperwhite – has to be an Android OS, I guess).
If Walmart stops selling your merchandise, hopefully you have a few other ways to get your stuff to your customers . Target, maybe? Or Jewel? Or even K-mart or Old Navy or whatever. Do you direct your customers elsewhere? “AVAILABLE AT TARGET STORES NATIONWIDE!!!”
Or do you start suggesting that Amazon is evil, their founder is the devil, etc etc, and insisting that HE and THEY cut their profits for your benefit? Because they’re not evil…and the chances of them cutting their profit margins are about the same as Hell freezing over…