Anybody who thought Amazon wasn’t a ‘real’ publisher – or who thought they were going to save the publishing business, bringing an indie sensibility and an openness to innovation that leaves behind the old stodgy traditional booksellers – should know better now.
Now, I’m not saying James Franco is a bad writer – he’s a talented guy so he might be very good. I’m just saying that we all know that’s not why he’s getting published.
Writers need Amazon right now. Indie writers like me, especially, need Amazon now. It’s where the action is. I’ve sold 95% of my books there since I first published them. Amazon is, for indies, just about the only game in town.
And therein lies the rub, dear reader. Right now, Amazon is a useful and positive place for writers, generally, at the moment. Note the qualifiers. Writers will remember (and tell you at length) about the hostile attitude Amazon’s own forums took to its own indie writers last year. Amazon plays games with prices (to its own benefit), gives us no information about who is buying our books and generally conducts itself like a business.
You can’t blame them for that and you can’t expect anything else. If Amazon offers me a contract and there’s something to be gained, I’ll sign it. Right now, three of my ebooks are exclusive to Amazon and that relationship is helping me gain far more sales and visibility than I had previously. So I like Amazon very much – at the moment.
But capitalism is based on competition and clearly, Amazon’s moves are designed to cripple or eliminate traditional book publishing companies and eventually to control that business entirely. To put Amazon in the position of dominating every segment of our careers that makes money – distribution, sales, publicity, you name it.
They’re going at this task with their usual efficiency and creativity. They’ve innovated and opened doors. There are a lot of writers who will rightfully feel that Amazon has been far more helpful to and open to creative solutions and new writers who didn’t fit the mold than the old system.
But once they’re the only game in town, the game changes – it’s just part of business. Historically, monopolies raise prices and narrow access, because their main goal changes from the desire to win everyone over to the desire to shut out any challenge to their control. We have only to look around at the fifty markets controlled by two or three companies – insurance, oil, cable television – to see the results. What have those guys ever done for anybody? As John Erlichman, one of Richard Nixon’s lieutenants, once said, ‘When you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.’
So all I’m saying is that writers should actively seek new venues- smart, well-run, creative alternatives – for publishing in this new age. Not to put Amazon out of business but just to give it a little healthy competition. When you start looking for an alternative to Amazon, you start realizing just how big and overpowering it already is.
For if we’re not careful, we’ll wake up and find that this refreshing little garden we’ve helped build for ourselves has turned into a huge and highly efficient prison.