We Should Have Expected Them To Screw Us Over… And Acted Accordingly

publishing.pngThis (longish) post ties together Amazon, the free market, DRM, piracy, and more.  Hang on folks … because this isn’t crazy conspiracy theory stuff, it’s what seems to be happening right now in the world of digital publishing.

In case you needed more evidence that Amazon is not your buddy, let me share with you these three things: (Note – no corporation is your buddy. Some are more aggressive than others, but they’re all selfish sociopaths.)

1. Jim Hines had a startling experience where the price of his eBooks was adjusted without his knowledge. (His update has spoilers for the rest of this post. While Amazon quickly fixed it for him, they neglected to adjust the royalty statements for their “mistake”. Read through the comments on his post for several other authors’ stories of similar experiences.

When you look through the comments, you’ll also find a sentiment similar to the one below. It’s a paraphrase of the response I got when I approached the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition to see what their position was. (The response I’m paraphrasing isn’t an “official” response – but it was also the only response as of the time I wrote this.)

We couldn’t take a stance against Amazon, and I don’t think we (or anyone) should. Amazon is a business, and their terms and conditions are there for everyone to read. If you partner with them, you’re responsible for reading them and abiding with them. Besides, you can sell eBooks at numerous other places.

Sure, there’s “numerous” outlets. And from my experience – and the experience of the other authors I’ve spoken to – comparing Amazon to “other outlets” is like comparing a distribution deal with Wal*Mart to a dozen independent bookstores. Getting your book in Wal*Mart or a grocery store rack makes a *huge* difference in print sales. Digitally, that role is taken by Amazon.

2. The Author’s Guild seems to have the same analysis. They detail exactly how Amazon’s practices have become anti-freemarket, and how it is A Very Bad Thing for authors.

And it is a Very Bad Thing. If Amazon is pushing around Big Six publishers, how long until they push back at us smaller fish? My guess is that Jim’s experience and that of the other independent authors (back up there at the top) was an opening salvo in a larger strategy.

Amazon seem to have asked “What would happen when a retailer – and not just *any* retailer, but the 800# gorilla in the room who’s working hard to make it a monopoly – starts pushing around independent electronic authors and publishers?”

Even if they didn’t ask, they got an answer: They found that there were a lot of people – including other independent authors and publishers saying “welp, guess you should’ve expected them to screw you over because they can.”

And whoops, B&N didn’t immediately cave when Amazon’s publishing arm threw a tantrum and didn’t get its way…so it’s no surprise that today:

3. Amazon pulls over 4,000 eBooks of the second largest independent book distributor in the United States. So hey, if Amazon can’t already alter your terms to favor them, they’ll just wait until they can – and then they’ll alter the deal further.

Where have I heard that before?

I am painting Amazon as being a bad guy here. They’re not simply looking for profit in a sustainable way, they’re looking to maximize profit in a noncompetitive monopolistic manner.  They’re being a bully.

Maybe we should have expected Amazon to screw us over. We should have acted like they were Wal*Mart. And we damn well should have learned from those who fought Wal*Mart’s business practices for years. (I don’t make the comparison to Wal*Mart lightly.)

This isn’t about authors and publishers winning the day against a retailer. It’s about informing readers. The worst of Wal*Mart’s excesses were stopped not by legislation, not by producers, but by consumers changing their buying habits.

Making eReader separate from the point of sale is the only way to achieve this goal.

1. Learn how to “sideload” eBooks onto your reader. For example, here’s how to sideload onto a Kindle

2. Purchase your eBooks as close to the source as possible. If the publisher or author is selling the books directly – like Alliteration Ink does – then buy there. Sometimes you’ll also get bonus stuff – for example, we bundle the ePub, Kindle, and PDF versions in sales
from the website.

3. Review everywhere. Even if you bought the book somewhere else, review it on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble. It’s a big help to us, and helps them take us more seriously when they see a fan base.

4. Support DRM-free eBooks by buying them.  The DRM is really the only thing keeping you from buying an eBook at Amazon and loading it on your nook – or vice versa.   It sure as hell ain’t stopping pirates.

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  1. February 26, 2012

    I would love to follow your sourcing for how Walmart consumers have stopped the worst of the Walmart excesses. Do you have links? These could be valuable for those who want to compete with Amazon, to discover working solutions.

    I admit, until i see sourcing with data, I'm skeptical. Around my world, Walmart is still king, still pays employees too little, gives them too little in benefits, and still puts local businesses in danger of closing on a regular basis.

    I'm not a Walmart shopper because their behemoth everything-under-one-roof-walk-ten-miles-between-eggs-detergent-and-wine doesn't work for me. I like my wine very close to my eggs and not that far from my detergent. I go to Sams (a Walmart co) once a month for that kind of hiking. But if my publisher put my books in Walmart? I'd happy dance all the way from eggs to TVs to automotive and back again. And support unions to deal with the bad stuff.

  2. February 27, 2012

    I'm judging that largely by Wal*Mart bothering to address those excesses at all. The attempts at greenwashing, at "giving back to the community" and the like aren't enough. Not by a long shot.

    But it's a hell of a lot more than they were offering a decade ago. Such attempts at appeasement are very reminiscent of the reforms brought about by the Progressive movement around the dawn of the twencen. Marxist predictions of revolt were accurate – and the capital owners basically offered up enough incentives and appeasement to take the fight out of folks.

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