Amazon’s Battle Might Hurt Indie Authors

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the latest book news, Amazon is in deep doodoo with the publisher Hatchette. Even Stephen Colbert has jumped in the fight and plenty of booksellers have declared war on Amazon. A publisher’s woes may not seem like it would affect indie authors, but the whole situation may have negative effects on those of us who have decided to steer clear of the realm of publishing houses.

A Little Background

(This is a very basic summary of the dispute. For a more detailed report, please see this original article from Publisher’s Weekly.)

The whole fiasco is over Amazon wanting to change the terms of Hatchette’s contract by requiring Hatchette to sell their books to Amazon for a larger discount than in the previous contract. Now, discounts are nothing new in the publisher-book seller relationship. This allows retailers to offer books at a “special” price to customers while the distributor (and therefore the publisher and eventually the author) make a bit of pocket change too.

The trouble was that Amazon wanted more than the “usual” discount. When Hatchette dithered, Amazon pulled some of Hatchette’s upcoming titles from their listings.

And that’s when the poo hit the fan.

Hatchette declared Amazon was bullying them into accepting the discount. So why not just pull out and cut the whole deal with Amazon? Because Amazon is a BIG book seller, commanding over 60% of all book sales. So, if you want to sell books, you want to have your book on Amazon. (You want it elsewhere too, of course; there’s still that other 40% after all.)

The way the media portrays it, Hatchette is a little guy being squeezed out by the big nasty entity that is Amazon. I’m not saying everything Amazon does is right, but Hatchette is no mom and pop shop. According to Smashwords’s founder Mark Coker, Hatchette is the fourth largest trade book publisher in the U.S. So keep that in mind when everything starts to sound like “poor little Hatchette.”

And why did Stephen Colbert (who I love!) jump into this debate? Because he has a book published by Hatchette coming out soon. And he likes to rile things up.

Who is Bullying Whom?

Hatchette claims Amazon is bullying them. Amazon has repeatedly kept quiet and made no claims or statements for or against Hatchette. So what happens? The American Booksellers Association creates stickers and signs saying “Thanks Amazon” and “Not purchased at Amazon” for book stores to put on their books.

To me this smacks of reverse bullying and, I’m sorry, seems a little immature. An attitude like that would actually steer me away from a book store that carried these stickers and banners. I want a bookstore that has a sense of dignity, not one that acts like a child on the playground.

The Effect on Indie Authors

Another effect of this situation that should only be between Amazon and Hatchette will next take a hit at indie authors who use Amazon’s CreateSpace.

In retaliation of the Amazon vs. Hatchette issue, some independent book stores have already issued statements saying they will not carry any book with an Amazon imprint (sorry, I can’t find the original article). This includes books self-published through CreateSpace.

This is remarkably unfair and a bit hypocritical. An independent book store wants to show how horrible the big corporations are by not carrying books produced by independent authors who are also trying to make it in a world where the corporate world of publishing doesn’t favor the little guy, but yet they will carry books by the so-called Big Five publishers. This is ridiculous logic and only makes these book stores seem like bullies to those of us who self-publish.

Yes, authors can pay $10 and simply make up a publishing name to “hide” the fact that CreateSpace is the publisher…if you have the money to set up a business name with your state, county, and/or city. Or you can publish through a company like Lightning Source…if you have the money for the set up, ISBN, etc…

So What’s an Indie To Do?

I personally don’t buy new books through Amazon; I prefer to browse the shelves of a physical store. I do buy used books from Amazon on occasion because you can get terrific discounts from third party sellers (some of whom support charity causes). I’m addicted bookstores (as you can see from the stack of books I brought back from the U.K.) and will shop through them as much as possible just because that is my own personal preference.

As a self-published author, don’t believe the hype that is Amazon and don’t believe the horror stories that bookstores won’t carry self-pubbed books. With persistence and good communication skills, you can get your books (yes, even CreateSpace-published books) onto the shelves of bookstores. Some bookstores like Powell’s and Waterstones have information on their websites on how to get your book on their shelves. In other cases, you’ll need to talk to a manager directly. Regardless, Amazon isn’t your only option (although it is one you should NEVER disregard).

Also, avoid allowing Amazon to monopolize you. The KDP Select program is the best way to turn Amazon into the monopoly that people threaten it is. The Select program requires you to make your book for sale ONLY on Amazon for three months. I know many people tout this as the best way to get noticed and boost numbers on Amazon, but you are essentially giving your book over to Amazon and giving away your right to sell it elsewhere for 90 days – this is equivalent to forever with a new release. KDP Select is a monopoly and, in my opinion, encourages poor self-publishing business habits.

If you’re considering KDP Select to gain reviews, consider something else. For example, a Goodreads giveaway works wonders for getting reviews. Giveaway one print copy, but offer an electronic copy to anyone who adds it to their “To-Read” shelf (these people are the ones truly interested, not just entering to enter) in exchange for an honest review. Most people who accept will review the book and will post to Goodreads and to Amazon if you ask nicely.

An Indie Hope…

I truly hope this Hatchette thing blows over and everyone stops the Amazon bashing. Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster went through a similar (and much less publicized) row recently, leaving them none the worse for wear.

In the scheme of things, publishers need to rethink their business models and bookstores need to understand that Amazon isn’t the devil (maybe demonic sometimes, but not Lucifer himself).

Just as indie authors need to work hard to attract readers, indie bookstores need to work hard to attract buyers. And both indie authors and indie booksellers need to work together to promote one another. Indie booksellers should encourage local (and distant) indie authors to add their books to the shelves, and indie authors should never allow themselves to think that Amazon is the only answer. And of course, indie authors need to put out quality books to reduce the perception that self-published books are full of crappy, unedited, poorly formatted writing.

And some good news for everyone who thinks bookstores are on the way out…

Since 2009, when they hit their lowest point, the number of independent bookstores in the U.S. have jumped over 19%. Warms my little print-book loving heart!

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