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Decrying the Evil Empire of publishing while piloting one of its battle cruisers?
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  • April 4, 2013
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Amazon, it appears, is the Death Star, the evil empire, that is devouring the publishing universe.  At least according to a lot of people who are publicly proclaiming it.  That makes Jeff Bezos the Emperor and, hmm, let’s pick Jon Fine, as Darth Vader, because he’s always out there at writers’ events representing Amazon.  Behind that long hair and charming smile, lies his true, twisted face.  We won’t even get into where he hides his light saber.

The recent Amazon purchase of Goodreads has rattled all these ‘rebels’ out of the encampments and have them polishing up their swords and powering up their own light sabers to . . .

Uh wait.  Actually, when you check, you find that most, if not all, of these people, whether they be authors or work for publishers, have books on Amazon for sale.  Huh?  Are they then not part of Amazon?  I mean, Amazon has to sell something.  Right?  And if these same people are supplying that product and making money off it, aren’t they either Imperial Storm Troopers (the little ones, you know, let’s say a midlist author at a trad publisher who generates probably 60-80% of her eBook royalties and 35% of her print royalties via Amazon) or piloting an Imperial Battle Cruiser (let’s say a Big 6 Publisher that sells a considerable number of books through Amazon, both digital and print, and oh yeah, audio).

How can both be true?  How can Scott Turow use his bully pulpit as president of the Authors Guild to decry Amazon over and over again, yet still sell his books on Amazon?  I think there’s a word for that.

Hypocritical?

I understand that its Scott’s publisher who sends the book metadata to be sold on Amazon and not Scott himself, but if Amazon is truly the Death Star, why is everyone feeding it?

I’m all for everyone having an opinion.  I remember Barnes & Noble when it was the Evil Empire destroying indie bookstores.  I also remember B&N when it was one store on 18th in New York City that I visited on Sundays growing up in da’ Bronx.  I remember in 1994 when there wasn’t an Amazon.  I remember the early part of the last decade as the music business imploded because of digital and NY blithely stuck to business as usual.  Now it’s imploding and people are crying FOUL!  Not preparing for the future isn’t your competition being unfair, it’s running your business poorly.

And how is Amazon your competition as a publisher?  Your goal is to sell books.  CORRECTION.  And here is where people have to start wrapping their brains around some fundamental changes in publishing.  We don’t sell books.  We sell stories and ideas.

Authors create stories and ideas.

Readers consume stories and ideas.

Everyone in between the two has to add value to that.

Amazon is doing that.  The Authors Guild isn’t.  Most traditional publishers are still so rooted in the past, their royalty system is exactly on the same schedule it was before computers were used.  Really.  I know.  My first book came out in 1991.  Before Amazon.  Before computers were widely used.  They are still rooted in a business model focused on distributing books, not selling story.

I sell story.  When I was traditionally published, to get to my reader, I had to go through the “gatekeepers”:  agent, editor, editorial panel, publisher, sales force, book-buyer (misnomer as bookstores are consignment stores) racked in bookstore some place, and finally, whew, the reader.

I’ve done ten times better, at least, without all those people in between.  So were they gatekeepers or a wall?  Was the toll they charged to get through the gate inordinately high and very inefficient?  Even at the .99 price point, I make almost as much as I used to make on a mass market paperback.  Oh yeah, remember publishers and traditional authors decrying ‘free’ as destroying the value of books?  Didn’t I just see some publisher offer DaVinci Code for FREE to get a sample of Dan Brown’s next book?  It seems that all the practices indie authors have been using for years now and been slammed for, are now gaining acceptance in NY.  Welcome to the real world.

Here’s the thing for all the storm-troopers and battle cruiser captains to keep in mind.  Your goal is to sell story.  Amazon helps you do that.  I sat with a senior Amazon rep, aka Darth Vader, in the lobby of a hotel two weeks ago for an hour chatting.  No one in traditional publishing at that level gave me that in 20 years because I was a replaceable cog in their machine and really not valued.  He said Amazon views authors as customers too.  We provide them with the product they need to sell.  They value us.  Oh yes, I know, like Mao and “letting a hundred flowers blossom” we’re all being set up for the big sting, when Amazon gets a monopoly on publishing and decides . . .

What exactly?

I’m sure there will be plenty who will provide me with that answer and tell me I will eat my words, but I sell my words.  They’re tasty.  But seriously, what is going to happen as the less viable business models implode, if they even do, which I doubt, because some are adapting.

Anyway.

It’s very simple to get Amazon out of the publishing business or at least put a serious crimp in their business.  Stop giving them product.  If the Big 6 stopped using Amazon to sell books, then, well, I think Amazon would have a problem, losing a lot of titles. I’m all for it, because it would make it less crowded for my books. And just to keep things straight, lets remember that I have all my books on many platforms (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple, All Romance…) so I’m not just all about Amazon, though I am all about selling stories and ideas to my readers, period.

But wait. That might mean collusion and we’ve already been through that with Agency pricing, which no one seemed to get very upset about, even though the DOJ said some people did a bad thing with, essentially, price fixing.  How as that good for the reader?  Our customer?  We can’t keep screwing over our customer and expect them to stay loyal.

And let me be clear.  I am very grateful to NY publishing.  I actually started out with Novato, CA publishing, but most of my livelihood came from NY for 20 years.  But they did let me go.  I understand.  It was business.  But now I really understand business.  More than happy to help out, which I’ve been offering for two years.

We all have choices.  We all make them.  But when we make a choice to use a platform to sell our product, yet bad mouth that platform at the same time, we might want to take a long, hard look in the mirror and look what’s lurking underneath our own mask.

About Bob Mayer

West Point Graduate, former Green Beret and NY Times bestselling author Bob Mayer has had over 50 books published. He has sold over five million books, and is in demand as a team-building, life-changing, and leadership speaker and consultant for his Who Dares Wins concept. He’s been on bestseller lists in thriller, science fiction, suspense, action, war, historical fiction and is the only male author on the Romance Writers of America Honor Roll.

Bob blogs at Write on the River, and he has graciously allowed me to repost this editorial.

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