In the last couple of months, Amazon has cracked down on writers promoting their own books on the boards. By all accounts, there were writers who spammed promos about their work all over, in appropriate and totally inappropriate places. But lately, some writers have gotten emails from Amazon telling them they cannot put book titles in their signature lines, can mention one title only in a post and only if someone has asked them for the information. One smart writer got on a board the other day and asked a few antagonistic readers if they would hold JR Rowling to the same standard if she decided to post there. The question does a good job of showing how absurd the situation has gotten.
Writers have been herded into a ‘Meet Our Authors’ ghetto where they basically talk amongst themselves, with few readers making the trek. The writers are mystified. Don’t we make Amazon money? What sense does it make. Businesses work for their own strategic interest so they should be predictable.
Here’s my take on how this does make sense, from Amazon’s point of view:
The key move was about a year ago, when Amazon decided to offer authors 70% royalties on their ebooks if they self-published.
At the time, Apple was looking to outflank the publishing business (and the Kindle) by cutting themselves in for a piece of book royalties (the old 35% model) for anything sold on the iPad. Amazon and publishers were scared to death of something like iTunes for books. Jobs makes all the money and tells publishers (and writers) how much they can have. And kills the Kindle, which was otherwise looking like a success for Amazon.
On the other flank was Google, which, at the time, was touting it’s ‘let’s-digitize-every-public-domain-book in the world and offer writer’s royalties if they fill out the proper forms in time’ strategy. That looked like a monster. Google would end up with a milllion quality books available for free (or the cost of watching their advertising) -who’d pay money for anything else? Who’d buy a Kindle?
By raising author royalties for ebooks to 70%, Amazon struck back big time at both competitors and at the publishing business. It killed Apple’s strategy instantly and changed the monetary value of books rights even for books that had been neglected for years–suddenly they could be instantly profitable for the writers with almost no outlay–which played a big role in killing Google’s planned settlement. All of this served Amazon’s purpose.
It served their purpose to publicize Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking, because it convinced mainstream writers to think about abandoning their publishers and go ebook. The move changed the economics of the publishing business to a point where it probably isn’t economically feasible for existing publishers in their present form.
Having a million previously-unpublished writers publish their own ebooks and then camp out on Amazon, using and demanding attention and resources this huge corporation would rather spend elsewhere is probably NOT one of the consequences they spent a lot of time thinking about.
And now that those competitors are gone or severely weakened – and Amazon is going into the publishing business – there is little advantage to them helping writers as a group. Those of us that make money, I guarantee we’ll get whatever attention we can earn with our bottom line. The rest are back in the wasteland – a slightly different wasteland than the old days but the same neighborhood basically.
It’s not all negative. What’s positive is that the past year or two has taught a lot of people that they can find writers they like outside of the NY publisher world.
I think it’s going to be up to indie writers to evolve away from Amazon’s farm, to organize ourselves and create the equivalent of publishing imprints, where we vet the quality of the books we endorse, share some royalty money for shared publicity and where readers can come to a website knowing there will be ten or twenty good writers there, that if they don’t like my work, they’ll like one of the other writers they’ll find onsite. Everything is temporary. We seem to be coming to the end of one stage. We have to start planning for the next.