Whose Side Am I on in the Publishing Debate? Mine

Amazon-logoThe Amazon/Hachette war in the publishing world has been raging in the writing blogosphere. Because I believe that the marketplace usually sorts out these problems over time, I don’t see the dispute as a moral problem, as some commentators do, but the fallout is important for writers, editors, publishers, and book sellers.

As a recap for readers who don’t follow publishing: Amazon and Hatchette (one of the Big 5 traditional publishing houses) have been unable to come to terms over how much Amazon will pay Hachette for books published by Hachette and offered on Amazon’s site. Because Hachette won’t agree to Amazon’s terms, Amazon has refused to permit pre-orders of Hachette books, not listed some Hachette authors, and lengthened delivery times on orders of Hachette books.

Hachette-Book-Group-LARGE111First of all, let me say that I don’t have a dog in this fight. Yet.

As a self-published author, I don’t care that much what happens to the big publishers like Hachette. The Big 5 do very little to find or nurture new authors, and don’t provide much marketing help if they do buy a new author’s book. They spend most of their resources promoting blockbuster authors.

I have chosen to self-publish—so far—because I want to maintain control over my writing at all stages, from editing through cover design through marketing. I control the content of my intellectual property and the timeline of its release. I am satisfied with surviving on my own efforts, to reap my own successes and failures.

The time spent finding a literary agent, then a publisher, then working through their in-house systems is largely wasted time for authors, in my opinion. But the power of the marketplace is that others can disagree, and pursue their own route.

In contrast to the large publishing houses, Amazon has been very hospitable to new authors. Amazon provides largely free resources for both ebook production (Kindle Direct Publishing) and print on demand (CreateSpace) books. With these resources, an author with just a little technical ability can take a finished work and have it on sale within a day or two.

And Amazon offers authors a 70% royalty on ebooks sold at price points between $2.99 and $9.99—far more than what traditional publishers offer.

So why do I say I don’t have a dog in this fight . . . yet?

Because Amazon is the behemoth of the publishing world. At this point, Amazon sells over 40% of all books sold in the U.S., and 65% of all ebooks. Yes, there are many other suppliers of books, from physical book stores to other online marketers. But for the most part, authors have to figure out how to deal with Amazon to be successful.

For more on the state of the market, see Can Anyone Compete with Amazon?, by Jim Milliot, May 28, 2014, on Publishers Weekly.

Mr. Milliot states:

“Research conducted in March by the Codex Group found that in the month Amazon’s share of new book unit purchases was 41%, dominating 65% of all online new book units, print and digital. The company achieved that percentage by not only being the largest channel for e-books, where it had a 67% market share in March, but also by having a commanding slice of the sale of print books online, where its share in March was estimated at 64%.”

Other articles on Amazon’s dominance of the publishing market can be found here and here.

So writers are left with questions such as:

  • Will Amazon reduce the royalties it pays to authors?
  • Will Amazon stop carrying self-published books that don’t sell a certain number of copies?
  • Will Amazon start charging for its KDP and CreateSpace services?.

No one know the answers to these questions, and the answers could change at any time.

All authors can do is follow the industry news and do what makes sense for their work at each point in their careers.

Just as any supplier of any product must do. Authors are suppliers of content for the reading marketplace. No more and no less.

How do you prepare for market upheavals that could impact your work?



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