October 17, 2011

Amazon: E-volutionary or Reinventing the Wheel?

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:51 pm

America's About Choice

By now many of you will have seen this article.

The responses I’ve read all seem to lie along two lines. Either that Amazon is a much needed breath of fresh air, coming along to shake things up that badly needed shaking, or that monopolies are frigging terrifying and get out of my bookstore, Jeff Bezos.

My take is neither of those. Or, it’s both of those. Plus.

I think that Amazon has been positively e-volutionary when it comes to indie authors, taking a stigmatized land of vanity presses and turning it into a place where authors may *prefer* to go because they do better there. Indie publishing has also made way for gems that got missed, for whatever reason, by traditional houses.

What I find curious, though, is that Amazon’s print arms, Encore, etc. are starting out to run in much the same way as the big 6. There are inflated advances (such as Penny Marshall’s $800K–Stephen King once apologized for upping demands for a multi-million dollar advance from Scribner, saying that advances were meant to give a writer time and space to write, not to balloon the coffers of an already wealthy person). And delayed responses to agents who submit. Sounds a lot like business as usual.

I hope that Amazon can continue to make real changes where they need to be made, and not simply aim to achieve a monopoly. Monopolies are indeed scary and frankly, I think that there are things being done right and I don’t want any babies thrown out with bath water.

What things are being done right?

Independent bookstores and chains. I have attended events recently at the 86th Street Barnes & Noble that have blown my mind. I’ve met an author long revered and took my daughter to see an actress who in some not tiny way has changed her life. This Friday there’s an event with a master of screenwriting that allows hopeful screenwriters an opportunity to get their scripts read. I also discovered two chains during our recent cross country travels that I wish we had here.

And let’s not forget those publishers that *are* doing right by their authors. Amanda Hocking left indie publishing to sign with St. Martins. My own experience, and it’s early days yet, has been more thrilling than I ever could’ve imagined. These people know how to do things right. Not everything, and it doesn’t work for everyone. But when it does work…wow.

Just as the only rule for writing is that there are no rules, I believe that the only sure prediction is there are no sure predictions. In the future I wonder if the major publishers will bring out more of the bestselling authors–the top 10% of their lists, which historically has carried the rest–while midlist authors or authors with quirky, hard-to-fit books may decide to go the indie route. Or perhaps there will be a mix in both categories.

Author Parnell Hall sings it best. Wave your e reader, get your book signed. Choice. Isn’t that what America is all about?


  1. Hey Jenny, I hope your experience with Legacy publishers continues to be wonderful. Your book sell is fantastic. Cheers, and I think there is room for both kinds of publishers but hope NYC publishers will stop operating out of fear if they wish to treat authors in general well. To date we STILL have not a decent royalty statement after generations of writers’ organizations fighting for one…and the whole Returns thing…ugh!


    Comment by Robert W. Walker — October 17, 2011 @ 9:06 pm

  2. So do I, Rob–on both fronts, and thanks–and I hope books like yours and others finding their way flourish & triumph with readers!

    Comment by jenny — October 17, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

  3. Jenny, I’m so happy that you are having such an amazing experience with Legacy. Whether NYC maintains it’s dominance or in ten years it cedes to Seattle, the good news, for you is that you’re a writer and people will always want to read stories, regardless of their form.

    Comment by Johanna — October 17, 2011 @ 10:15 pm

  4. I think that you’ve captured the heart of the matter. There is no reason to get rid of everything just because it’s failed some and helped others. Shouldn’t there be room in the publishing world for all the choices? Indie, traditional etc.

    I do feel though that if Amazon can shake up the Big6 enough to have them consider carefully the authors they forgo in place of “Twilight” phenom’s then one good thing will have surely come of it.

    I’m like you though, I do not like monopolies and that is the last thing we need in the publishing world now or ever.

    Comment by Karyne — October 18, 2011 @ 10:18 am

  5. I’m not sorry to see Amazon shake things up in the publishing business either. I only hope that they will be providing opportunities to a variety of writers and not just concentrating on capturing big names. Time will tell as always.

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — October 18, 2011 @ 11:25 am

  6. I am not a published writer, but I do think there should and will be room for both options. I am not a fan of monopolies and sincerely hope all of this works out well for both sides.

    Comment by GraceinAZ (Pat) — October 18, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

  7. I’ll address this from a reader’s perspective.

    I think Amazon is scary. I have an eReader, but didn’t buy an Kindle for the reason that I cannot choose where to buy my books. I do not need Amazon to tell me where I can buy books–only from them. I have a Kobo, that supports a number of various files and can purchase books from other places besides the Kobo store. This in itself is enough to raise a red flag for me. While as a business they have every right to do what they’re doing, I think that people are blindly going along without looking at the long term consequences. I think Amazon is in there to “rule the world” so to speak. Honestly, I look at other venues to purchase books than Amazon for that reason.

    As for the publishing industry, I’m just a wee little unpublished writer. Therefore, I have no expert opinion to bring to this part of the discussion. But, as a reader, I don’t like it.

    Comment by Carrie — October 18, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

  8. Thank you, everybody, for sharing your–there’s no other word for it but a $10 one–perspicacious thoughts :) The readers who come by here are so wise–it’s a real honor to get to hear what you think–Jacquie, Karyne, Johanna. Welcome also to new readers and emerging writers–Grace & Carrie, I hope you’ll share your own journeys here as you go on. Maybe you’ll be writing a Made It Moment before too long!

    Comment by jenny — October 18, 2011 @ 6:33 pm

  9. I love what Amazon has done for the industry on both sides. I’ve shopped at Amazon for years and have loved its convenience. As for the publishing side, they have opened up new doors for so many writers and readers. They have offered a brighter shade of legitimacy to those not published by the legacies. The only problem is, booksellers don’t seem to get that it is not all or nothing. I know many booksellers think Amazon is the cause of them losing business, but I have said this before and I will say it again: lack of customer service is what drives business away, along with higher prices.

    It is not Amazon’s fault it has more money to buy books at a lower per unit price. It is their good fortune to have that capital. What I have noticed over the last decade is that so many (not all by any means) indie booksellers have gotten angry at the industry that is shifting and growing around them, and have almost given up. They don’t offer the old-fashion kind of CS that takes them away from their desks/counters to lead a person to the book they are looking for. They don’t have time to be pleasant when someone comes in at the last minute before the store closes. And in so many cases (from my personal experiences) they are unwilling to carry, or even special order books from authors and publishers they “don’t like or support.” I cannot even count how many indie stores have refused to carry Echelon books or host our authors, or even special order because they don’t “consider” us a real publisher. {{insert colorful expletives here}}.

    Things change and Amazon does so well because people simply don’t expect those things from a web site. Log on, get your stuff, log off, wait for delivery. No grumpy salespeople, no waiting in lines, nobody ramming their overloaded basket into the small of your back…over and over…and no traffic. They are very small prices to pay for not getting them in hand immediately. Most of us are okay with that if it saves us money.

    Don’t dis Amazon because they are successful. You still have a choice. Don’t like what they do or how they do it, don’t shop with them. It’s pretty simple. But don’t make them out to be bad guys because they are good at what they do.


    Comment by Karen Syed — October 19, 2011 @ 8:16 am

  10. Jenny, monoplies are nothing to fear. An economic rules is they cannot exist without government support. Ask IBM who had a computer monoply until two Steves started fiddling in their garage.
    A true monoply must be state owned, hence the US postal service. When they couldn’t meet the demand for package shipping they let go of that division. UPS and all the others now have almost all of the business while USPS is struggling to get back in the game as a semi-quazy gov/private entity.
    One thing Amazon is doing that has not been mentioned in all the retoric is cutting out a silent middle-man (Ingram) who rakes in 15% of the cover price for distribution. Amazon doesn’t need them for their books because their distribution system is already in place. Thus lowering costs to reader by 15%. Than take off the slush to publishers for return policies and again costs to consumers are lowered.
    What the market will bring to our favorite career this time next year is up for grabs. In the end it is always the buyer who makes the market. It will be very interesting to watch.
    Sorry, I didn’t mean to do an essay.
    Nash Black (Irene)

    Comment by Nash Black — October 19, 2011 @ 8:23 am

  11. Hi Jenny, I’m an MMA’er and I blogged about this article too. The responses were similar. Amazon is a breath of fresh air to the industry, yet many are concerned a monopoly will result. My take on this is the New York Big Six will take a hit and lose some of their clients to Amazon. They will then open their doors to take in more self-published authors and try to make success stories out of them. Amazon acted, The Big Six will have to react and make some changes in their business models. Overall, I see this as good news for the overall industry, and this should open doors for the self-published writers.

    Comment by Stephen Tremp — October 19, 2011 @ 10:03 am

  12. Loved the essay, Irene! I’m actually reassured by your faith in a buyer-driven market.

    And Stephen, thanks for visiting, and sharing your own reassurance about the age old act-react paradigm. I’ll go visit your blog.

    Karen, I hope I wasn’t seen as dissing Amazon! I love the opportunities they’ve created for authors whose work I admire, who are friends of mine, or simply were facing a struggle I know all too well. Amazon is a source of forums on which I’m active, and even a source of books when my indie can’t get them (usually used). The one thing I don’t use them for is savings–and as I’ve said many times, that’s because I’m willing to spend money we really should be squirreling away for our kids’ college educations so that I can have a physical space filled with books and book lovers to go to.

    Comment by jenny — October 19, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

  13. I’m an Amazon fan, but I do worry that they may turn into the very thing they’ve been fighting against. I hope they continue to support readers and writers and don’t become the new gatekeepers. I’d like to see the market sort this out without the helping hands of the 800-pound gorillas in the room.

    Comment by Ellis Vidler — October 19, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

  14. Diversity is good, but what Irene said about distributors….you want to talk about ruthless business people…MAN. They also treat books purely as product that may as well be hot dogs shrink wrapped for packaged sales, I kid you not. I know for a fact, hearing Bezos speak on Charlie Rose years ago so lovingly about his desire to rEkindle people’s interest in reading, the purpose behind his Kindle, and now Fire, that the man is sincere; he is one of the few cool, really cool CEOs on the planet.

    rob walker

    Comment by Robert W. Walker — October 19, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

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