For those of you who follow publishing news, or who are KDP authors, you know that on August 9, Amazon sent a very bizarre email to all of its KDP customers, which has been dissected best, in my opinion, here and here.
You can read the full email here, but this post is really about why I canceled my Amazon Prime account the next day.
There is no question in my mind that without Amazon, self-publishing would not exist in the way it does today. Amazon has truly given authors a gift in creating an easy platform to create books (CreateSpace), a simple ebook portal (Kindle Direct Publishing), and a marketplace in which to sell (Amazon.com). There is a reason Amazon has its loyal followers.
I have long been in the camp of people who love to hate Amazon. It's a "can't live with them, can't live without them" kind of attitude we who profess to not love big imposing corporations looking to take over the world seem to adopt. I feel this way about Google. I feel this way about Apple (except I'm one of those crazy Mac people and I actually don't hate them at all). I do not feel this way about Walmart. I've quasi-defended Amazon even as they create problems for me as a publisher. They would much rather cater to my authors directly than solve my publisher problems with me directly, or even through our distributor. It might be a little bit paranoid to think that they actually have a motivation to put me out of business because they cater to authors, and they make money off of authors, but yeah, my mind goes there sometimes when I'm barred from doing a simple transaction and my authors email me to tell me they were able to solve their own problem by emailing Amazon directly. Thanks, Amazon.
So it was not without amazement at the size of their cajones that I read Amazon's August 9 letter in which they botched a whole bunch of historical facts, but also compared the "struggle" that they're having to control the way Hachette prices its e-books with the mid-twentieth century resistance to the paperback. (Yeah, not at all the same, I assure you.)
[I]t's the e-book's turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette - a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate - are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. 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.
I got some emails, and some forwarded emails, on August 9 and 10 from readers (and loyal Amazon customers) whose messages were along the lines of: Hell yeah--I should not have to pay more than $9.99 for ebooks. Go Amazon!
But here are a few important points to consider:
1. Why should Amazon get to decide how a publisher prices its e-books? In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, consumers will decide with their spending dollars. Chuck Wendig makes this point much more brilliantly and hilariously than I do.
2. Books are not a one-size-fits-all kind of product. If you believe that books are works of art, then not all e-books should be priced, by mandate, at $9.99. Though Amazon lists all the costs e-books avoid -- printing, over-printing, returns, warehousing costs, etc. -- there are many other costs that e-books carry, from editorial to design to conversion. If we want to continue to see high-quality books available in e-book format, we need to be able to make an exception to this rule for some, not all, books.
3. More than 80 percent of Hachette's e-books are priced at $9.99 or lower. Most publishers want to price their books at $9.99 or less. But Amazon is seeing the world through a KDP lens, where authors are e-book publishers and not print/digital publishers with a much broader, deeper, and more historical understanding of their investment. Even though Amazon has its own traditional imprints and should have this broader understanding too, they're also a company that undercuts its own profits to remain the top competitor across all industries, but especially books.
4. As authors, we should be concerned about the devaluing of intellectual property. Amazon is telling us first that our books are products only worth what they deem appropriate (what the reader will pay). But readers have been trained, in no small part by Amazon, to expect to get our books for ridiculously low prices. Yes, there's more competition out there and so the market responds to competition by price adjustment and lower prices, but Amazon has set this in motion by creating a huge incentive for its KDP authors to price their books between $2.99 and $9.99. It gives 70 percent royalties to authors who price their books within this range, and 30 percent to those who price outside of it. I've maintained for a while that this seems an awful lot like price colluding to me.
There's more, but I'll leave it at these points for now. I promise I don't hate Amazon. I'm just sort of peeved at them right now. And that's why on August 10 I canceled my Amazon Prime account. I decided that I'm not going to reward arrogant behavior, and I wanted to see how it would be to order stuff from other sites. On August 11 I ordered a pillow from Bed Bath & Beyond and an ashtray from Global Industrial. So it's the 19th and they haven't arrived yet. That's okay. I got free shipping and I'm practicing delayed gratification.
I also don't want to live in a world where the place I choose to shop gives me a bullet-pointed list of talking points to sway one of their vendors to set their prices a certain way. I'm pretty sure this is what the government does with food, but those corn and milk farmers are subsidized. And since Amazon is not the government (yet), I want its politics out of my inbox. I also want authors to know that while Amazon is obviously going to remain the primary retail outlet for your book, it's not the only game in town. Educate yourself on the options. Don't be exclusive to Amazon. Like your grandma (maybe) always said, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."