Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Do We Still Need Amazon?

Those of you who follow Smashwords may stumble across the musings of the CEO, Mark Coker, from time to time.  Mark does a lot of remarkable things, not least by providing a portal for indie authors to gain access to the major eBook publishers such as Apple, Sony and Kobo.  He's also been trying to provide a link up with Amazon as long as I've known about the site and although it seems he's making progress in keeping the lines of communication open I doubt he'll crack the Amazon nut easily.

Why would Amazon want to cooperate with Smashwords?  Not a bad question, glad you asked.  Amazon have done a grand job of bigging the eBook format from a niche to a mainstream way of reading books in a few years.  They weren't the first, won't be the last.  I actually can't say with any authority who was first to produce a viable eReader but certainly Sony were leading the pack for a few years, albeit a pretty small pack.  Then Amazon launched the Kindle and, as befits its name, it smouldered for a couple of iterations before erupting into the Kindle 3 a couple of years ago.

Around this time Mark Coker was building Smashwords up and I think it fair to say some of the success of Smashwords is off the back of the Kindle.  According to Mark, Amazon had 90% of the eBook market not that long ago.  A number of things have happened since then, though.  First, the market has expanded exponentially, taking eBooks from a niche market to a major player.  Secondly, Apple have revolutionised the way we use computers.  The iPad includes a natural eReader along with its many talents.  Third, Amazon's share has dropped to 60%

Smashwords provides an easy way for authors to publish on the likes of Apple and Sony, as well as smaller eBook sellers.  It's possible that Apple etc would accept book uploads from individuals in the absence of Smashwords but they make it very easy for us to publish to all the eBook publishers in one, albeit challenging, step.  For those of us who want to be available across the board, a similar link up with Amazon would be terrific - they may not care if I sell another book but they are a powerful company to be associated with, and more importantly one many authors would be concerned to not be associated with.

Which is where one of Mark's latest musings comes in.  Mark states, and I believe him, that he would like to think Amazon are going to become more of a community in the eBook world, but suggests that they are more likely going to become even more restrictive than ever.  Regular readers may recall I ranted on about Amazon's blatant attempt to bribe authors to use them exclusively - they're pumping serious money into a pot to be distributed to authors who cut their ties with everyone else.  This sounds to me an attempt to buy a monopoly, which I think the Americans call anti-trust but I may be incorrect on that one.  Apparently they are upping the ante again.

According to Mark, Amazon have started to threaten Amazon published authors who have had books discounted on other eBookstores with being de-listed from Amazon.  This is interesting me because Amazon have been price matching Project: Evil to $0.00 for nearly a month now despite the book not being available for free anywhere else.  It had been available for free until the weekend Amazon decided to price match but I had unilaterally stopped the free sale.  The thing is, I'd have included Amazon in my free offer if they'd allowed me to, but they don't allow that level of flexibility.

So, if I choose to discount my books and don't match with Amazon then I could be removed from their listings.  Why would I do that, apart from the free price option, I hear you ask?  Well, as I mentioned a few blogs ago, Amazon are the worst payers of royalties in the business so it's not unreasonable to keep the price above the threshold that cuts the author's royalty to 35%.  Or in plain English, if you buy a book written, formatted, provided with artwork, blurb and promotion by the author from Amazon for the princely sum of $0.99 then the author gets $0.34 of that.  The rest goes to Amazon for hosting it.  Apple give the author $0.60 for the same book.  Smashwords $0.85.

Now, when Amazon had 90% of the market their threat would have been a big deal.  Now they're down to a meaningful 60% maybe it isn't too big a deal.  I'm not going to walk away from listing with Amazon at the moment but if I happen to list lower elsewhere and Amazon get upset, maybe I'll take the hit.  After all, if you want to put a book on your Kindle and you want to buy it from, say, Smashwords, then do so - it'll download onto your PC and all you have to do is drag it across to your Kindle.  Trust me, it's easy peasy.  Make sure you choose the mobi version for Kindles.

So, do we need Amazon?  Maybe, but I think they are becoming less relevant by the day.  It would be nice to think that they will start to sniff the air and realise that not only are they not the only eBook option in town but that there are alternative ways of pushing eBooks onto the Kindle.  The neat solution would be for Amazon to stop trying to strong-arm the author community and to let those authors who would prefer to manage their books and any promotions from one portal.  The natural portal right now would be Smashwords - they'd still be able to list the books on their site and purchasers wouldn't know that the books originated on another site, nor would they know anything about how the fee was to be split (so nothing new there).

It doesn't have to be Smashwords, of course, but at the moment they are the only company who pushes books to virtually every eBook seller (bar Amazon) and, critically, they do appear to be doing this in an ethical way that actually seems to give a damn about the author and the reader, not just about the dollar.

They get my vote, I hope they get yours too.


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