Carry on up the Amazon

I’ve been thinking a lot about Amazon lately.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about them since the end of July, when I did my end-of-financial year tally of ebook sales. I have two sale/publication channels – Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), who fairly obviously handle Amazon (and nothing else), and Smashwords, who convert manuscripts into a variety of formats and act as a distributor to 14 other outlets, from Barnes and Noble and the Kobo store to libraries and subscription services like Oyster and Scribd.

Saying which channel is ‘better’ is difficult. While you might think that its breadth made Smashwords the much more valuable channel, especially as their royalty terms are also better, I sell more ebooks through Amazon – although I actually make less money in the process, because Amazon’s royalty terms aren’t as good. Since starting this whole ebook racket caper program in 2010, I’ve sold 182 ebooks and and made $317.25 from Smashwords, and sold 219 ebooks and made $253.38 from Amazon.

(If you find those numbers pathetically/depressingly low, imagine how I feel.)

That spread of numbers is uneven, just to make things more complicated. Smashwords was a lot more financially viable a few years ago, then fell off sharply in 2012 and 2013, to the point where I sold just one ebook through them in the 13-14 year and made only 82 cents from it. Meanwhile, Amazon sales have stayed reasonably consistent, especially for The Obituarist, which has been about twice as successful on Amazon as on all other channels/sites combined.

From my POV, the clearest reading of this is that Smashwords was a strong platform at the start, but its value has significantly dropped as the Kindle (both device and tablet-app) has cemented its stranglehold on the ebook reader market. It still has its uses – I have seven short stories on there that I can’t put on the Kindle Store because they’re free – but it looks to be on the down-cycle while Amazon stays firm.

Which has made me start thinking about the potential benefits of going Amazon-exclusive, both with my stubby little backlist and with The Obituarist II (I’m behind schedule but it’s coming along, I swear to god). Sticking an ebook in the KDP Select program means it’s exclusive to Amazon for 90 days (more if you renew) and can’t be sold on other platforms or in other formats. In exchange you get to make the book free for five days, which brings in no money but can greatly increase its visibility on charts and for browsing, and possibly take advantage of other discounts that still generate some royalties. The book also goes into the Kindle Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited programs; when readers access the book for free and read a certain amount of it, you get a share of funds from a monthly pool that Amazon maintains. How big a share? That depends on Amazon’s arcane accounting, but various accounts have it somewhere between sweet-fuck-all and maybe-two-bucks-per-read. Which is still more than I’m getting right now, frankly.

So yeah, KDP exclusivity has been on my mind. There are definite drawbacks, particularly the worry of cutting out my Nook/Kobo/iBooks audience – but then again, if that audience is smaller (and shrinking), perhaps that’s outweighed by the possibility of stronger Kindle sales, higher Amazon visibility and a share of the lending fund. Assuming that fund is actually going to pay anything worth a damn, and Kindle Unlimited isn’t going to be the failure some observers are predicting.

Should I try to expand my reading community? Should I focus on cementing the income from the one I have? How can I make enough money to pay my rent? These are questions that any indie ebook creator really needs to consider at some point.

But then, on Saturday night, the Failboat sailed right up the Amazon and beached itself.

 That’s when the ‘Amazon Books Team’ sent me and every other KDP-using self-publisher a long email that… I mean… it’s hard to describe it without getting embarrassed on their behalf, you know? It’s like they tried to send someone private dickpics but accidentally CC’d their entire mailing list. And had a really ugly dick to boot.

But basically, they begged me to email the CEO of Hatchette and abuse him for not discounting his ebooks more. And gave me his email address and some possible talking

Seriously. I mean it. You can read the whole facepalm-inducing thing right here if you don’t believe me.

Someone got paid to write that pile of wank. Someone got paid to organise sending it to every email address they had. And then they had to go home and make eye contact with their loved ones. Poor bastards.

As you may be gathering, I don’t have much respect for Amazon as a result of this. Their ongoing battle with Hatchette is messy and unprofessional, but until this point it’s been a fight between two corporations doing corporate things – shitty things for any Hatchette-published authors caught up in it, absolutely, but not super-relevant to those of us outside it. (Even if some authors wanted the rest of us to pick one side or another.) Trying to co-opt uninvolved writers, uninvolved clients and customers – as Chuck Wendig put it, ‘asking the serfs to pick up sharpened shovels and become knights for the realm’ – just opens up a whole new world of desperation, sleaze and fail. (Especially since some self-pub authors are taking the bait and sending the Hatchette CEO grumpy emails, to which he’s responding far more politely than those schmucks deserve.)

Fortunately, most people are shaking their damn heads about all this. And the books themselves are calling for a time out. So the fail boat may yet be pulled off the rocks before Amazon drowns.

In any event, the upshot for all this from my point of view is that I spent weeks considering the KDP Select option, trying to weigh up the pros and cons, and composing the first half of this post to get my thoughts in order. Then this turd-in-the-bedsheets email arrived in my inbox and made me think that the last thing I wanted was to ally myself more tightly with jerks who willingly misrepresent George Orwell while asking me to be an unpaid author for their standover business.

So. You know. Take the time to think things through, kids. That’s the moral of the story.

In other news, our landlord had kicked us out and we have four weeks to find a new place and move in.

Hooray! Excitement! Panic!

So my priorities for the rest of the month are finding houses, looking at houses, applying for houses, applying for different houses and eventually packing everything and putting it in a different house.

Given this, blog updates are likely to be sporadic. As is progress on the two books on my to-write list. Will see how I go.

One reply on “Carry on up the Amazon”

Approaching this as a reader, I’m actually on Amazon’s side…

It frustrates me that I’m expected to pay as much as – or even substantially _more_ – for ebooks as for pbooks, despite the former not having the material or distribution costs of the latter. Even if it’s only a small fraction of the overall costs of producing a book, it shouldn’t be present in the cost of ebooks. This is the publishing industry equivalent to the bullshit that is “breakage” in the music industry.

Even then, I wouldn’t mind paying the same amount if I was getting a similar product in terms of quality. But I’m not. I’m currently reading Dan Simmon’s “Rise of Endymion”, coincidentally published by Hachette. The paper version costs $8.50 through Amazon, the digital costs $12. That’s an almost 50% markup for the “privilege” of not having a physical object. Without any hyperbole, I think I’ve hit more typos in this one ebook than I have in every single paperback I’ve ever read: ‘of’ is often ‘om’, ‘the’ is ‘die’, errors that are clearly due to them using OCR software to scan the physical version into electronic form without doing any apparent proofing whatsover. So why exactly did it cost me $4 more?

I’m also not convinced they did actually misrepresent Orwell either. The article you link to wants to have it both ways, which is apparent when you combine the quotes: “The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them. It is of course a great mistake to imagine that cheap books are good for the book trade. Actually it is just the other way about … The cheaper books become, the less money is spent on books.”

Yes, he says they’re “splendid value”, but he immediately qualifies that he believes them to have a negative impact on publishing, which is why he was surprised other publishers weren’t endeavouring to stop Penguin. I don’t think Amazon’s abbreviated quote missed his intended meaning at all.

Sure, asking writers to mailbomb Hachette is pretty heavy handed and crap, but asking for – at the very least – _parity_ in pricing, or even better for the savings in transitioning to digital distribution to be passed on to the buyers doesn’t seem that reprehensible to me.

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