gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

Amazon and us

My world has just been rocked. Not in a good way.

You all know that most of my writing isn't seen as suitable for mass market. I depend on editors who love my voice and peculiar style and most of these have so far been with small publishers. In fact, all to date have been small publishers. Small press has very specific visions and publishes stuff that's seriously cool. Like my writing.

Amazon have just done something which - if they don't back down – will lose me my next book (the morris dancing one) and any chance of other small US presses taking me on. Most of the smallest presses will either have to go back to the same model as Aussie small presses (traditional print runs only available to people in the know or at the right convention) or will go out of business entirely.

How did this happen?

First of all, BookSurge is part of Amazon. Amazon has decided to 'persuade' small press that they should be the only printers of POD books. Before you look at POD and say 'hah, amateur stuff,' the position of POD has changed as the technology has changed. A vast number of small presses use POD delivery and are not and never have been vanity presses. It means they can do a smaller print run and have lower overheads and take on more books. It means that publishing doesn't have to run at a loss until you hit the 20 books a year mark.

By making a just-about-compulsory link with BookSurge (Amazon will continue to list books, apparently, but will turn off the 'buy' button), Amazon ensures that small publishers can't go elsewhere. On top of this, they already demand (and apparently have no intention of changing their demand for) 48% of the published price for any small press books they sell, and they also apparently want small press to pay delivery charges. If publishers don't do all this, they won't see their books sold on Amazon. For books not currently listed, publishers will also have to pay a flat fee of $50 a book, just for processing.

The biggest losers are writers. Small press is such an important component of the path to publishing for so many of us.

No, I take that back. The biggest losers are readers. One of the most popular historical fiction books recently has been Within the Fetterlock by Brian Wainwright – it was brought out by small press. Some of the most exciting recent speccy fic has been brought out by small presses. Prime is another (not quite so small) press that heavily uses POD technology – it will either have to cave in to Amazon or change its business model entirely. Or do what my publisher is faced with (boutique presses will be the worst hit) and go out of business.

And if publishers decide to move and get printed by Amazon and BookSurge? Well, the US's biggest distributor – Ingram's – is just as closely linked to Lightning Source, the other POD printer (for the record, Lightning Source is not nearly as dictatorial in its conditions to small press – I can possibly find out more detail if you need to know). And Amazon has no arrangement with Ingrams for its BookSurge books. This means that other bookshops have no easy way to order your books through Ingrams if Amazon prints them.

In other words, whatever small press does, it loses a large part of its tiny markets.

I guess a publisher could print with both places, but doesn't that entirely get rid of the cost advantage of POD? Maintaining two files and two contractual arrangements and two sets of costs and… I honestly can't see many publishers who would be willing to do this, especially the tiny ones. They might as well give up now rather than be leached out of business through the slow torture of that many expenses and that much paperwork.

Amazon claim to have writers in mind so that we have a way of getting listed if our publishers can't take the plunge (and all this is word of mouth, but fairly reliable word of mouth): if writers pay $29.95 per year per book and are prepared to take a discount of 55% from the list price, plus pay all our own shipping to Amazon, then apparently we can still have our books sold by that remarkable retailer.

The more I think about Amazon, the more I like Powells. Powells is in the business of selling books and does it very well. I have no idea what business Amazon thinks it's in, though it looks as if it includes the business of killing my next book (what Hurricane Rita started, Amazon finishes?).

Really, the biggest losers are readers. There is no way that many of the titles we love are going to remain in print. And many more of the books we want to see will not make professional publication. And lots of those gorgeous reprints of older books won't see light of day. Everyone loses. (Even Amazon, long term.)

What can we do? Amazon 's prosperity depends on its selling power. It's vulnerable to market forces. So I reckon we all talk about it on our blogs and make Amazon aware that one bookseller isn't nearly as important as all our favourite small press publishers and writers. US readers – write to Amazon. Let them know that your custom depends on the books you want being there and easy to buy and that small press is important to you.

PS Sorry about the size of this post. Except really, I'm not that sorry. I'm raging angry.

ETA: A 'watch this space' place for people who want to follow what's happening closely and be certain of accuracy. Despite the title ('Use BookSurge or Die?') they're not known for scaremongering.
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