Friday, June 17, 2011

Amazon: Publishing Friend or Foe?

by J. Lea Lopez

I'll be honest—I'm not a trendsetter. At least not when it comes to the publishing revolution. I'm cautious. I like to spend a lot of time gathering facts, weighing options, learning from those more opinionated and in-the-know than I. One thing I do know is that Amazon's name is on everyone's lips these days—a result of Kindle Direct Publishing, CreateSpace, and their newest publishing imprints. This is great! Isn't it?

I'm not totally sold, to be honest. Let me tell you why.

I used to be completely intimidated by the thought of publishing direct through Amazon KDP. I can do a fair amount with my computer, and I love learning new things, but formatting and creating an eBook seemed like a rather daunting task. When the crew at AgentQuery Connect posted their fabulous guide to publishing with Amazon, I thought Hey, I think I could do that! And I almost did, too. I came thisclose to self-publishing my first manuscript. But after some amazingly supportive beta readers encouraged me, I've decided to continue pursuing a traditional print deal a little longer. But that's beside the point. I was certainly enticed by the idea of 70% royalties, creative control over things like cover art and word count, and finally being able to say I have a published novel. If I was so gung-ho about it just a month or so ago, why does the thought of it make me feel a little dirty now?

One thing for sure irks me, and that's the issue with potential plagiarism on Amazon. To be fair, they seem to have favorably resolved every issue of plagiarism I've heard of, but the fact remains that it is simply too easy to do. When was the last time a check-box stopped anyone from doing the wrong thing? Oh, it says checking here means I have the authority to publish this material. I'd better stop,then, since I actually stole it from someone's blog/website/whatever. Sure. In what reality does that happen? Not mine.

If they valued intellectual property as much as they say in their Conditions of Use, I'd think they would incorporate some sort of detection controls in the KDP uploading process, and/or make it a little easier to report plagiarism/copyright infringement. As it stands, you have to scroll way way way down to the very bottom of the product page (which, depending on the length of product details, reviews, discussions, etc. can be immensely long) to find out how to report an infringement. But guess where the option to report a lower price is located? You probably guessed it. Much higher up, right after the product details.

Plagiarism potential aside, the recent announcement of Amazon's latest publishing imprint was the thing that really put this bitter taste in my mouth. On the surface, this is encouraging to writers. The largest online book retailer is getting into the publishing game! They've been a pioneer in the world of self-publishing, making it accessible to everyone and giving authors a chance to earn money and see their name in print. They must care about writers and the future of publishing, right? Well...

Amazon has several imprints. Their career listing has openings for acquisitions editors and more, implying expansion and growth for this aspect of their business. And yet there's no way to submit to the imprints for consideration. It appears Amazon hand-picks the titles to which they'll lend their marketing prowess and brand recognition. In other words, if you want a shot at being considered, you'd better get your book on Amazon. Instead of a slushpile where writers are hoping to get published and be presented to the buying public, we'll have a slushpile of self-published writers hoping to be vetted by Amazon. Just when the stigma surrounding self-publishing was beginning to let up, I fear this will create a backlash. But what does Amazon care? They make money either way.

Because that's what I fear this boils down to. Money. I don't think Amazon cares one whit about publishing as it relates to writers and writing. If I can channel Jessie J for a minute, this IS about the cha-ching cha-ching. The allure of KDP is that it has the potential to give voice to many excellent writers who have been overlooked by the traditional publishing industry. But now they want to get INTO traditional publishing? It just doesn't make sense on any level other than a monetary one, in my rather humble opinion. And let's be clear on that: they're much more interested in putting money in their own pockets than they are in yours.

Going back to the title of this post, do I think Amazon is a publishing friend or foe? Let's just say that they aren't looking so friendly on my radar right now. I don't think I'll be self-publishing anything on Amazon in the very near future. Does that mean I won't purchase anything from my friends and fellow writers on Amazon? Not necessarily. I rarely shop on Amazon to begin with, but I'll gladly support a friend if I can. Does that mean I'll refuse any part of a traditional deal that involves Amazon should I snag an agent? Hmm... I can't say for certain. There may be a day when you can call me a hypocrite, but for now, for me, it's a matter of principle. I'll be keeping my eye on you, Amazon.

What's your take on Amazon's place in the world of publishing?


Richard said...

You make some interesting observations, but you sound angry about But don't you think the big 6 are about making money, too? They seem to not care a bit about writers who's work doesn't have best-seller appeal. Your suspicions are justified, but I think they apply to the big 6 as well. In other words, publishing is a business no matter who's doing the publishing, and the objective of businesses is to make money.

I'm one who has self-published a book of short stories on and Smashwords. I have no regrets whatsoever, and I see no stigma about it. In fact, I've had some pretty good reviews about my book. I'm published, and happy about it.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Hi Richard, thanks for stopping by! I'm not angry at or about Amazon at all. I have no reason to be. Disappointed? Maybe. Skeptical, and even a touch cynical? You betcha. But I usually am, about lots of things.

You're absolutely right about publishing being a business, the ultimate purpose of which is to make money. Neither Amazon nor the big six (nor any of us writers seeking to publish and sell our work) is exempt from that focus.

I guess what I still see in traditional publishing (which, by the way, is so much bigger than the big six) that I don't necessarily see from Amazon is a love of books first. The money is a by-product of a great book. That may be a little idealized, and I'm sure it isn't always true, but that's how I feel.

I also want to be clear that the focus of my post is Amazon itself, not any of the writers who publish with them.

Gee, as much time as I spent thinking about and writing this post, you'd think I would've clarified these things in the actual post lol. :-)

Jean Oram said...

I understand where you are coming from, Jen. While I believe Amazon does some pretty great things for books and readers, there are some aspects of their business model that leave me ranting.

For example, the contest Amazon holds every year for unpublished novels (what the heck is it called again?) definitely puts things in their favor and not the writer's if you read some of the clauses in the contract. A great opportunity... but with the chance of things not exactly being in the writer's best interests.

My problem with Amazon and their self-publishing area is that their ebooks (heck, this even goes for the traditional publishing area) is that their formats favor the Kindle. (Their own product.) I try to support my writing buddies who publish on Amazon, but it is difficult and involves many backdoor steps that make me feel criminal as I crack the Kindle's format in order to make it readeable on my non-Kindle ereader. But that's something I could rant about all day long!

So, while I think Amazon does some good things, there are some drawbacks.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Exactly, Jean. ABNA is their competition and I had considered entering once, until I heard about some of the conditions/clauses.

I also like to support writers I know, so if it comes down to buying from amazon or nut buying at all, of course I'll buy. But if there's another place to get it, I'd go there first.

Richard said...

Because Amazon was the first, they set their own system up. Eventually, all books will be available on all readers.
Amazon has caused a revolution in the publishing industry. It takes a while for the results to tally. But I think it's a good thing in general. The gatekeepers aren't perfect either. Would I rather see my book published by Simon and Schuster rather than self-pubbed. Definitely. But it ain't gonna happen, and it ain't gonna happen for the vast majority of us wannabes. It's just a sad fact of life. We aren't all James Pattersons. Oh, well.

Jemi Fraser said...

Lots of great info here, Jen! I'm the first to admit I don't know nearly enough about the intricacies of self-pubbing and contests and even traditional pubbing. You're one of the folks I'm going to have a lot of questions for if I ever get to that stage of the game!!

J. Lea Lopez said...

Well I'm not an expert, but I do like to do my research! I hope I can answer any future questions you and any of our readers may have :-)

Leslie Rose said...

This initial wave of e-self publishing feels a little like a traffic jam waiting to happen. It'll be interesting to watch and see how all the kinks get worked out.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Leslie, I'm with you on the waiting and seeing!