So the big news in the publishing world this week has been twofold, but all to do with the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room: Amazon.
Point 1) Amazon released a price-checker app and offered discounts to customers who scanned an item at a bricks-and-mortar retailer and then purchased the item on Amazon. Books were excluded from the promotion, but that didn’t stop people from getting up in arms – booksellers especially. It was widely seen as dirty tricks on Amazon’s part – a way to get consumers to use bricks and mortar stores as “showrooms” for goods that they’d then buy on Amazon, and a way to cheaply gather intel on what b&m stores are charging for goods.
Point B) Amazon unveiled a new program that adds to its Prime Lending Library, called KDP Select. This one was less talked-about, particularly outside of bookish circles, because fewer people care about lending through the Kindle. But it is, perhaps, the thing that people should be more concerned about, especially when taken in conjunction with Point 1.
Well, it’s another attempt by Amazon to redefine all of the consumer field – not just books – and to utterly and completely dominate the books field within that.
And that’s not a good thing, my friends.
KDP Select allows anyone who wants to publish a Kindle book to enroll in the Lending Library, if they agree to some conditions, the biggest of which is a 90-day exclusivity period during which that book cannot be sold ANYWHERE else in digital format. In return, it offers to pay out a percentage of a monthly pot – $500k for December 2011, with future pots to be determined – to authors whose books are lent out, based on the percentage of total lends that their books account for.
A little complex.
But that’s not the issue. Plenty of writers have already signed up, and good for them – it’s a new program, and we can’t know if it’s beneficial until people try it. And if it works for you and your business plan? Hooray for you!
Me, I’m scared.
I’m scared for several reasons.
First, I don’t like exclusivity. I don’t like the idea of being dependent on Amazon for all my sales – yes, C&G distributes a lot of books through Amazon sales channels, but not all our sales come through Amazon, and I’d prefer it if fewer did, honestly. Eggs in one basket, and all that. The idea of making a book unavailable in any format other than Kindle rubs me the wrong way.
Secondly, the payout is completely undefined. Amazon has only offered up the amount of the first month’s total pot, and there is no guarantee that they won’t change their total payout or terms down the line…in which case, you’re still stuck with that 90 days of exclusivity. Beyond that, do you really think that you’re going to make a good chunk of change from being one of thousands of potential lent books, all squabbling for the same pool of funds?
I don’t like those odds, and I don’t like undefined payouts. It feels too much like begging for scraps from Amazon: “Please, Mr Bezos, be my patron. Pay me to write things. I’ll take whatever you’re offering…no need to figure out up front what the price will be.”
It’s that latter part that bugs me – not knowing. That’s not a good business model for anyone, and the idea that writers are so eager to hand over the reins of their fiscal stability spooks me.
There are some much more articulate, reasoned thoughts on the matter in this piece: How Much Do You Want To Get Paid Tomorrow.
Mostly, I’m concerned that Point 1 and Point B are, together, indicative of a land-grab by Amazon, and a sea change in how business is conducted in the modern age. I don’t like the idea of having to go to Amazon to get my books – or my electronics, or my bird chow, or my widgets. I don’t like the idea of making bricks-and-mortar stores bear the cost of employees, utilities, rent, etc. in order to act as showrooms for an online retailer that will do whatever it can to drive down prices. Yes, low prices are awesome – but so is having stable employment and a place to go to actually try on clothes or handle a book. There needs to be a balance. I don’t like the idea of consolidating all of retail and all of creative output in the hands of one company – I really, really don’t like the idea that Amazon may soon be able to smile and pat writers on the head and hand them whatever it arbitrarily decrees their work is worth, because it’s the only place left to sell it.
There are fewer and fewer distribution and sales channels around for books, and it’s harder and harder to make direct sales when most consumers automatically default to the mega-glomerates. Handing over more control to Amazon is not the way to go here.