Jeff Bezos’ O-Face?
As an erotica author, every time I get a letter from Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) in my inbox, I have a brief moment of panic. If you’re a self-published erotica writer, I’m sure you know the feeling. When erotica authors get notices from KDP, it’s usually the Amazon Book Team writing to tell you to bend over, because they’re about to screw you in one fashion or another. Today, however, I received a very strange email from KDP – although I suppose it’s no surprise, they’re still asking me to bend over and be their bitch.
By now you’ve all read Amazon’s latest PR move in the Hachette feud. I’ve kept my opinion to myself in this matter, for the most part – at least in terms of my blog – because I don’t have a dog in this fight, a pony in this race, a chicken in this… well, you get the idea, let’s not beat a dead metaphor. I’m not a Hachette author and I’ve never been legacy published, nor will I ever likely be, nor am I (technically) published by Amazon or any of their imprints. Taking sides in this fight, to me, is like being the grass rooting for one of two elephants fighting overhead. Either way, I’m about to be trampled. But I’m an erotica writer in the self-publishing world, so I’m used to it by now.
Apparently, Amazon wants me to take up arms and protest against the horrible injustice being carried out by legacy publisher, Hachette. Amazon (seriously MIS)quotes George Orwell, they claim Hachette hasn’t played fair, and essentially come across as a whiny girlfriend who thinks we should all get together and beat up some guy she doesn’t like – a guy she’s actually been cheating on us with all along behind our backs.
So Amazon is asking me to take sides – to specifically choose their side. Why should I do that?
Most self-published authors would jump if Amazon said how-high – and many of them will, in this case. I won’t. I’ve heard the arguments of the Zonists. Yes, Amazon has given self-published authors a platform they never had before. Yes, Amazon has offered up their store/traffic to self-published authors, which is far greater than we could have generated on our own. Yes, Amazon markets self-published books, their algorithms/also-boughts drive more sales, and they process secure payments and hand us money every month. But they haven’t done so out of the goodness of their hearts. They haven’t done so because they truly value authors as content creators and want to invest in our collective futures.
I know, because I’ve been spending my own time actually helping authors, for years, before Kindle even came to the forefront – I started Excessica to help not only myself but other authors like me, who wanted a chance to run with the big(ger) boys. (At the time, it was a little outfit called Fictionwise – but they were the biggest dog in town!) I spent a lot of my own time and effort and money (when I could have selfishly been creating more of my own content, mind you, which would have made me far more cash in the long run) editing, doing cover art, formatting, uploading, marketing for other authors. I did it because I DO value authors as content creators and I DO want them to make as much as they possibly can from their own work (which is why Excessica only takes 10% – and we didn’t take anything at all in the beginning.)
Does Amazon put its money where its mouth is when it comes to truly valuing authors as content creators?
No, I’m afraid they don’t.
Amazon likes to say they support self-published authors, but what they support is their own bottom line. They use us when it’s in their best interest (like when Amazon came knocking on my door, desperate to increase their numbers, asking Excessica’s 100+ authors and 500+ titles to go all-in with Amazon KDP Select before it was first announced) and discard or discount us when it’s not (who found out about Kindle Unlimited before it was unveiled? Anyone? Were you asked if your KDP Select book could be included? Of course not–they already had you
by the balls under contract in KDP Select for at least 90 days…)
Of course, that doesn’t let Hachette off the hook. They don’t support authors either (and, to be fair, treat them even more poorly than Amazon currently treats self-published authors). These are two giant corporations in the middle of a feud, and like all “feudalists,” (ha) they believe we peasants/authors are around for their profit and amusement, to be used at will and tossed aside when we’re no longer of interest. Ask any midlister whose contract has been cancelled how sympathetic Hachette is. Ask any erotica author whose account has been cancelled by Amazon how sympathetic they are to “their” authors.
Hachette has already pulled out their big guns, asking their authors to name-drop and get involved in this fight, and like trained monkeys, they’ve danced to Hachette’s tune. Now Amazon is attempting the same trick–see, Hachette, we have trained monkeys too, says Bezos! In fact, our trained monkeys are even better than your trained monkeys – look how many of them we got to sign a petition! (And we didn’t even have to take out a full page NYTimes ad to do it!) Amazon asked authors to CC them in their emails, I’m sure in part so they could tally up the number of responses and rub it in Hachette’s face.
The fact is, Amazon is using me again. They want something from me that will pad their bottom line–and they’re taking money out of the pockets of the very authors they’re asking to support them! They tell self-published authors to ask Hachette to “stop using their authors as leverage” – while Amazon decides to use “their” KDP authors to try to leverage their own position in their little feud! This is Amazon-logic. It’s the logic of elitists, of a 1% who think the 99% consists of stupid sheeple who simply do whatever they’re told. Because if you follow this action to its logical conclusion, self-published authors are being asked to slit their own throats. I’m being asked by Amazon to tell a legacy publisher to capitulate, stop colluding, and lower ebook prices to reasonable levels. Why would I do that? If legacy publishing keeps their prices high, self-publishers benefit. We can easily, consistently undercut agency pricing, every time. That’s a huge advantage. Amazon wants me to tell Hachette to lower prices so they can sell more books – so that Amazon can sell more books – and in the end, decrease my own piece of the pie?
Gee, Mr. Bezos, if you wanted me to bend over and take it, you could have at least offered me some flowers and candy! Maybe if Amazon had started by offering me a higher royalty, it might have softened me up a little? I mean, there are a lot of things, and I mean A LOT, that Amazon could do to sweeten things up for self-published authors. They could do them out of the goodness of their hearts. Of course, they won’t. They could do them because they value self-published authors as content creators and believe they should receive a fair wage for fair work. Of course, they won’t. They could do them because they want us to say “how high” when they say “jump.” But, apparently, they feel they don’t have to. Apparently they think they can yank up our skirts and give it to us whenever they feel like it. Amazon = alphahole? Not a bad analogy…
If you want me to put out, Amazon, perhaps you could, oh, I don’t know…
1. Give self-published authors an Amazon representative. Every self-published author should have one – that’s only fair.
2. Give self-published authors back the pre-order button. You took it away when you deactivated Mobi as a publishing platform and never gave it back. Now you dole it out to authors you feel are “worthy” of the pre-order button.
3. Allow self-published authors to join Kindle Unlimited WITHOUT exclusivity.
4. Give self-published authors something reasonable – say 60% of list price for borrows – in Kindle Unlimited.
5. Hachette got to pay for coop on Amazon to get their books out in front of the reader – offer the same thing to self-published authors. Why can’t we pay to get our books out in front of readers too?
6. Hachette gets full control over their books – including choosing more that two measley categories for each book. (Or, in the case of erotica, just one!) Give self-published authors the same treatment.
7. Stop serial book returns. You give readers carte blanche, let them return dozens of books, and take money out of self-published authors’ pockets.
8. Define your terms of service more clearly and make your policies and guidelines transparent.
9. Actually TELL us when you’re going to start a program like Kindle Unlimited and ASK if we’d like to be included, rather than opting us in and telling us we can opt-out if we like.
10. Let us make books free at will. Let us price at whatever level we like. In fact, let HACHETTE price their books whatever way they like too. Let the free market be… you know, FREE.
Those are just ten easy things Amazon could do to sweeten up their relationship with self-published authors, to show us that they take us seriously as content creators. Just as seriously as they take Hachette and the other legacy publishers. Will they do them? Oh, maybe. Eventually. In their own time. But not because they value self-published authors. That, I’m afraid, is a delusion. Self-published authors talk about being afraid of biting the hand that feeds them, but what they really need to be worried about is being trampled underfoot of the giants fighting over their heads.
To me, Amazon’s letter smacks of desperation. This is a midnight booty call, folks. Do we answer midnight booty calls? No – we have more self-respect than that. Don’t we? I sure hope so.
Amazon’s calling self-published authors to unite and that’s all well and good, but in the end, we have to have a reason. Indies are independent. It’s right in the name. Simply providing a platform for us to sell on doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid. That’s not enough incentive for self-published authors to rally around a retail giant asking us to cut our own throats in order to keep ebook prices down for consumers, while they pay their own warehouse workers minimum wage, cut off affiliates in states where they might have to pay sales tax, and have an overall 6% effective tax rate.
Not that I think self-published authors shouldn’t unite. I believe they should. And some day, there may actually be a good enough reason to compel most of them to do so. I doubt that reason lies in supporting Amazon’s fight with Hachette. But if I were Amazon, I’d pay closer attention to the self-publishing community, because we’re not playing peasant to their feudal lord and we only look like sheep. We’re really wolves in sheep’s clothing, every one of us, and we have quite a bit of bite, especially as a group. Amazon knows this to some degree – they’re trying to activate that rabid capability to their own defense.
What Amazon doesn’t want you to know, what they don’t want self-published authors to wake up and realize, is that we have far more in common with Hachette and legacy publishers in this matter than we do with Amazon. I know this because I’ve been a small co-op publisher since 2008, and have been using Amazon as a distributor since then. In fact, through Excessica, I have more power than most self-published authors in fighting against Amazon’s strong-arm tactics. Most self-published authors, even though they are, essentially, publishers in their own right (they simply have an author stable of one), have little to no power in negotiations with Amazon. Right now Amazon is dictating terms to Hachette. They can choose to play ball, or they can take their bat and mitt and go home. What are you going to do, when Amazon decides to change your publishing terms? When they want to tell you that you can no longer sell your book at $0.99? When they tell you your royalty rate is now 50% instead of 70%? Or 35%?
I know some self-published authors will rally around Amazon, afraid of biting the hand that feeds them, but I also know that many will not. Many authors will find Amazon’s midnight booty call just as offensive and appalling as I did. And in the end, if we don’t unite for Amazon, we may still combine our forces and use our powers for good. Amazon should watch their backs, because self-published authors may unite all on our own – some of us have already begun. The numbers Amazon is trying to leverage surely do exist – but I’m afraid they may not always come down on the side Amazon wants them to. Marie Antoinette threw bread to the peasants and told them to eat cake – before those peasants all grabbed their torches and pitchforks and decided to storm the castle. She ended up headless. In the end, I’m pretty sure the full force of united self-published authors is not an opposition Amazon ultimately wants to deal with.