So, news came out this week that Amazon is screwing authors over (surprise!) by allowing third parties to compete for the Buy Box for “new copies”. There’s a long explanation of it on Huffington Post, but the gist of it is that retailers who have many copies in stock will be given priority. This is a problem for self publishers and small presses, who usually use Amazon’s Print on Demand technology and therefore don’t actually have copies in stock. Amazon’s new policy therefore allows third party retailers to completely undercut authors and publishers.
When I read this, I was angry for what I hope are obvious reasons. Authors and publishers put an incredible amount of work into every book. We deserve to be paid. So I went on a Twitter rant about why people should buy books from other sources, and I’ve Storified it–along with some clarifying conversations–in the hopes that we can start a longer conversation:
At this point I turned it in for the day and attempted to get some work done. On Saturday someone mentioned not being able to find the books they want on other stores, so we had this enlightening conversation:
The conversation went on for hours and touched on many different aspects of publishing, but I’m going to stop here. I want to repeat a couple things:
Sometimes it isn’t possible to buy the book you want anywhere else. And there are way more reasons for that than we discussed in the conversation above. Small presses and self publishers have an extremely difficult time getting their books into physical stores. Other online retailers make you jump through more hoops to upload a book. Even setting eCommerce software up on your own website can be time consuming and expensive. Amazon has several publishing programs that reward you heavily for going exclusive. Many authors also publish one series in an Amazon-exclusive program to attract that crowd to their other work.
All of these things combined mean that sometimes you HAVE to buy from Amazon. Depending on your tastes, you may frequently HAVE to buy from Amazon. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. It’s a brilliant business model. But I think Amazon’s near-monopoly makes it important to support other retailers when possible. Having more places to buy and sell books is better for everybody. Losing those opportunities is bad for everybody.
For writers, this is even more important. We have a stake in the industry. We, of all people, should be vigilant in supporting other retailers. We should always check if the books we want are sold elsewhere. If possible, we should sell our books on many different platforms. Include buy links to a variety of stores when featuring others on our blogs–or guest posting. The big publishers have already shown they can’t compete with Amazon’s publishing program, but other retailers may be able to compete–if we support them.
The best way to a long term creative career is diversification. I’m working on a series of articles about this, but I wanted to say a couple things here. Diversification starts with selling your books in multiple places, but it’s much more than that. Authors who want to do nothing but write diversify by publishing anywhere from two to twelve books a year. Other authors diversify by writing exclusive stories or creating multimedia content for Patreon, editing and formatting other peoples’ books, or making and selling crafts. Many have other careers in the arts. Others, like myself, write freelance articles to pay the bills.
Most authors whose priority is to write for a living are trying to diversify their income. We know it’s the best way to stay safe, because a provider like Amazon CAN change its algorithms at any time and fuck us over. Think of all the businesses who got screwed by Google updates. The changes were mostly positive, but not all of them–and there’s no guaranteed that future changes will be either.
If you really love an author, find out what else they do. You’ll likely discover another awesome creative endeavor you can support. If you can’t afford to support their other endeavors financially, you can tell other people about them.
If you truly want to support authors, don’t be complacent about it. Go out of your way to find the best way to support them. Trust me, they need it–and they’ll be eternally grateful for everything you do.
I’d like to give a big thank you to Chris Mahan, who inspired this article & my coming series on diversification.
Where you can buy Keeper of the Dawn OTHER than Amazon
Keeper of the Dawn is available in these other places: