Amazon Is Wal*Mart, Not Evil (redux) – What This Mean For Readers, Indies, and Small Publishers

Here we go again:

In what seems to be becoming an annual rite of spring, a dispute between a major retailer and a major publisher over sales terms has gotten nasty, and gone public. The New York Times reported that Amazon is “discouraging” customers from buying books published by Hachette Book Group after what is, apparently, a dispute over retail terms.(PublishersWeekly)

As even PW notes, this is not new, and that sure means it’s not going away.

It’s predictable.  Corporations exist to make money.  That’s it.  It’s not evil, it’s business.

If it was about treating customers right, they wouldn’t do things like break functionality for some customersAnd you can’t rely on the fear of public backlash without having the backlash first.

And just like Wal*Mart, Amazon has gotten big enough that they can start to make demands… and try to punish those who don’t meet their demands.  Check this out:

A gallon-sized jar of whole pickles is something to behold…Wal-Mart priced it at $2.97–a year’s supply of pickles for less than $3! “They were using it as a ‘statement’ item,” says Pat Hunn, who calls himself the “mad scientist” of Vlasic’s gallon jar. “Wal-Mart was putting it before consumers, saying, This represents what Wal-Mart’s about. You can buy a stinkin’ gallon of pickles for $2.97. And it’s the nation’s number-one brand.”

Therein lies the basic conundrum of doing business with the world’s largest retailer. By selling a gallon of kosher dills for less than most grocers sell a quart, Wal-Mart may have provided a service for its customers. But what did it do for Vlasic? The pickle maker had spent decades convincing customers that they should pay a premium for its brand. Now Wal-Mart was practically giving them away. And the fevered buying spree that resulted distorted every aspect of Vlasic’s operations, from farm field to factory to financial statement.(FastCompany, 2003)

And that kind of behavior is exactly what we’re seeing today – and it’s part of the pattern that makes me call Amazon the Wal*Mart of booksellers

While the previous rounds have resolved themselves, we don’t know at what cost. And when it costs publishers money, it costs authors money.  (Which is bad for readers, since if we don’t get paid, it makes it hard for us to write more.)
And this is where we get to small publishers.  Because if Amazon is pushing around the big guys like this, do you really think you have a chance if they want to mess with you?

So what can you do?


Buy from independent bookstores when you can.  Indiebound is a good place to start.  Or even better, buy direct from the publisher – something that nearly every small publisher has set up (like mine here).  Need to know how to get your eBooks onto your device?  There’s a handy guide here:

Publishers and Indie Authors:

Diversify!  There is no excuse for your eBooks to not be available on DriveThru Fiction, Google, B&N, and Kobo.  You can even sell eBooks directly to consumers (and in person).  There’s a pretty cool program called Bitlit I just signed up for that blows Matchbook out of the water (you aren’t tied to a specific retailer!).  And my “How to Load eBooks” page is CC-licensed, so feel free to use it as a template to get your fans started.