Online superstore Amazon.com is under attack. The Huffington Post just published an article about Amazon’s gradual takeover of the publishing industry. And this is certainly not the first alarm bell we’ve heard: in 2014 the New Yorker published a similar article.
Amazon has been pressuring publishers to change their pricing practices (to Amazon’s advantage, of course). In digital publishing, Amazon has been pushing prices downward, so that many ebooks sell for only a dollar or two. As its influence keeps growing, some industry watchers are warning that Amazon could become a monopoly that controls the content we read as well as the prices we pay.
But there’s another way to look at this picture: Amazon makes money when writers sell books. Therefore it’s to Amazon’s advantage to make books cheap and inviting to readers. And that’s good news for writers who self-publish (something I keep urging visitors to this blog to do).
The times, they are a-changing!
I was startled recently by a news item in the world of scholarly publishing. A friend of mine is one of the world’s most prominent authorities on Bernard Shaw. He recently self-published a collection of Shaw’s letters. In the past, that kind of book would have gone to an academic publisher because that’s where the prestige lies.
But my friend already has a sterling reputation and plenty of friends to write endorsements. Self-publishing is easier and faster, and – here’s the big advantage – royalties are more generous.
The catch, of course, will be to spread the news about his book. Big publishers distribute catalogs that feature new books. I’ll be heading for a Shaw conference in July, and you can be sure I’ll ask my friend how he’s promoting his book – and I’ll pass on his answers in this blog.
I was startled a second time when I began seeing online advertisements for my own book about police reports. I’m 100% sure that I haven’t paid for them. (I rely on a blog and a newsletter to get the word out about that book.)
So who’s financing those ads?
It makes sense when you think about it. When authors make money, Amazon does too. If sales of a book reach a certain threshold (the exact numbers are a well-kept secret, of course), Amazon realizes that readers are buying. It then will give the book an additional boost with some free advertising. (I’ll have more to say about partnering with Amazon in a future post.)
Because I’ve had experience with both do-it-yourself and commercial publishing, I have my own take on the “Amazon is bad – Amazon is good” controversy. Some writers – and some books – do very well with commercial publishing. Others don’t. Sometimes you – the writer tapping away at your home computer – can do a better job with various tasks than your publisher will do for you.
It’s all about empowerment, commitment, and savvy. Stay tuned! (I’ve provided some resources at this link.)