Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Amazon and Salon’s Laura Miller: BFFs no more

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The shark may have jumped the shark.

Vis-a-vis my post the other day about Cinthia Ritchie (and other Hachette authors) as the collateral damage in Amazon’s shakedown of the publisher, Laura Miller of Salon aims a timely j’accuse.

When she pointed out that Bezos & Co. have velvet-gloved Pulitzer winner, The Goldfinch (Little Brown, a Hachette imprint), leaving its discount price intact and shipping on time, I understood something important: Amazon must have hired Darth Vader as Director of Corporate Strategy.

Clearly what we have here is disingenuousness (i.e., evil) of the highest order. In other words, Amazon is making instant money off of Hachette’s successful title with one hand while extorting them (or outright robbing them) with the other. The message is clear: We can do whatever we want because we are the Death Star. Now run along. There’s nothing to see here.

Miller has severed ties in protest:

I stopped buying any books, print or digital, from the company. What I knew of the predatory, proto-monopolistic practices of Amazon caused concern. I believe no single corporation should have as much control over the book market as Amazon clearly aims to seize. Books aren’t generic, interchangeable products like toothpaste or flatscreen TVs, and in the long run readers, authors and publishers all benefit most from a genuinely diverse marketplace.

That nutshells it.

On the other hand, from the self-published author’s point of view, the non-Amazon ebook market is minuscule — at least for literary fiction, in my case. I can count on two hands the number of copies I’ve sold through iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords, while a hearty royalty stream flows from Amazon’s spring. (I exaggerate. I’ve probably made just enough to cover my publication and promotional expenses.) To say no to Amazon would be, essentially, to end my self-publishing venture.

And this is what the traditional publishers are figuring too. As Miller points out, they don’t think they could withstand the hit that would come from pulling out of their Amazon arrangements, this in spite of the fact that publishers as a group can brag a profit margin of around 20% (2006 – 2009 data). Not too shabby.

Maybe we’re pitying the wrong schlub here. Still, it’s obvious that if Hachette doesn’t get a fair deal with Amazon, they will maintain a healthy profit margin by passing the cost of feeding the beast to — authors. Lower advances, less promotion, fewer new voices. It will start to look like books are interchangeable products like toothpaste or flatscreen TVs.

Getting back to Cinthia Ritchie and the other Hachette authors affected (this does not include Donna Tartt!), we have to weigh any anti-Amazon campaign we might envision with its effect on them. And on us.

I’m inclined to buy books from someone else for the time being. As for publishing them? It’s hard to see a viable alternative right now.


4 comments on “Amazon and Salon’s Laura Miller: BFFs no more

  1. John W. Howell
    May 22, 2014

    Be careful of biting the hand, if you know what I mean. We all knew we were dealing with the Death Star and Darth Bezos when we got on board..

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 22, 2014

      Where’s your fighting spirit, John! We’re Han Solo and Luke Skywalker!

  2. 1WriteWay
    May 22, 2014

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, if this backfired against Amazon? If, for example, more readers said fine, I’ll just buy my Hackette books from B&N or some other outlet? I understand what John is saying, but while Amazon may make it easy for authors to self-publish, to sell their wares through them, it’s not like Amazon doesn’t still jerk authors around with their weird ratings algorithms and disappearing reviews. As is often the case, what we lack here is competition. So much for the “free market” 😉

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 22, 2014

      Yes, it would be great if a movement could come of this. I don’t expect it, but it’d be great…

      It used to be, The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Not so sure about that anymore.

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This entry was posted on May 22, 2014 by in Publishing and tagged , , , , .
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