Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Unpublish - and be damned

Following on from my last blog post I've done some more research and I'm gearing up for my protest against Amazon.  I'm hoping I'm not a lonely figure on the virtual picket line out there!

Why would I want to bite the hand that feeds me? - OK, throws me the occasional titbit then? Well I guess I need to formalise what success in this needs to look like before I try and convince anyone else to sign up. 

Like all KDP authors I was and to a large extent still am grateful for the way that Amazon liberated the book market for those of us struggling to secure a publishing contract.  They've played a very influential game over the last few years, opening up KDP for free, providing tools to help authors, letting us use their extensive marketplace for selling our books.  Like most KDP authors I've sold a few books through Amazon, but also like most authors I realise that this is a saturated market and consequently I still have the day job, almost certainly will need to until I'm ready to retire.  For me that isn't an issue - sure I've day-dreamed of being a runaway success and able to pay the mortgage, put food on the table and stock up on a few luxury items purely off the back of my writing but I'm realistic enough to know that's unlikely.  As I mentioned in my last blog, the median annual income for traditionally published British authors is £11000 (about $18000 at today's exchange rate), which is about half the average UK wage, so most traditionally published authors will need supplemental incomes to support an average lifestyle.  So, given the support and love a traditional author gets, why should self published authors expect more?

Well, maybe we could achieve much more - we're not feeding an industry, at least in principle - but our biggest problem is discoverability.  Who buys a book they don't know about?  Then there's trust - how many ebooks do we all skip by, on the basis of 'never heard of him/her'?  Not just me, then? The next biggest problem limiting our sales is the sheer amount of books out there - good, bad and indifferent.  No shortage of readers, they seem to be on the increase, but they all have a finite amount of money to spend on books and also a finite amount of time to spend reading.  I guess they have day jobs, too.

Now if Amazon was the only kid on the block we'd have bow and scrape to them.  They're not, but they are the biggest, so perhaps the more subservient amongst us should tug the odd forelock as we pass.  The other big players - Apple and Barnes&Noble particularly, perhaps also Kobo are not as big as Amazon in the ebook world, but in aggregate are close.  The way Apple is swinging behind ebooks suggests that they could challenge Amazon toe to toe on their own at some point in the near future.  What links these non-Amazon retailers is Smashwords, which has just been identified as one of the fastest growing businesses around.  I'm not going to regurgitate Smashwords CEO Mark Coker's words about their phenomenal growth here, but you can link to his blog post here to read up on his story and success.  For those who don't know, Smashwords is the primary distributed to virtually every ebook retailer bar Amazon, also provide amazing tools to help the authors and work hard to help authors sell books.  Smashwords makes money only by us authors selling books, so they have a very strong interest and do it very well. 

The difference between Smashwords and Amazon couldn't be greater.  Smashwords passes a greater percentage of the book price to the author, especially in the sub $2.99 bracket.  On one level consumers don't normally care who gets their money as long as they are happy with the price; in the arts though it's traditional to want the artist to receive a decent remuneration above the promoter.  Smashwords does, Amazon doesn't.  Both know that  most authors won't sell many books each - they both make their money due to the volume sales across all the titles they stock.  Smashwords is very upfront about this, Mark takes every opportunity to temper authors' expectations.  Amazon only tries to sell the success stories.  There's plenty of room for that, too, but a bit of realism doesn't harm.  Smashwords is very keen to see authors follow each and every avenue for sales - Mark encourages Smashwords authors to use KDP, even though Amazon are seemingly very inhospitable to himself and Smashwords. As a result I'm certain Mark would not condone my call to boycott Amazon.  Amazon are trying every trick in the book to gain exclusive rights to books.

There is chalk and there is cheese.  In this world, both are good, both have their places.  Amazon only wants us to have cheese.  I learned to write using chalk (honest - I was probably the last of my generation to use chalk and a board in primary school) and I'm starting to gain an intolerance for some dairy derived products.

What do we want to achieve?  Well, parity on royalty rates would be a good start, especially on sub $2.99 ebooks. Then an end to their call for exclusive rights to enter the KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited programs should be there, too. As I've said before, their insistence on exclusivity is limiting the potential for expanding these initiatives, they are just too damned blinkered by their vision of one retailer for all ebooks.

So that is why I think we need to send Amazon a message.  Unlike the banks, they are not too big to fail.  So on 1 September I'm unpublishing my books on Amazon for a week.  It's a simple process and entirely reversible.  Within 24 - 48 hours the books are removed from sale on Amazon and within a week or so they start to remove them from the listings.  Which is why a week is about perfect - we keep exposure, prevent sales for at least five days then just as they gear up to remove the books (which is probably automated) we reinstate them.  The books will still be available on Apple, B&N, Kobo etc and for Kindle readers frustrated by their disappearance they can still download them in a suitable format on Smashwords.

As I said in my last post, if only I do this then Amazon are not only unlikely to notice, they won't care.  If a hundred of us do this they might notice.  If a thousand do it I'm convinced they'll become aware.  If all one hundred thousand Smashwords authors, who in the main will also be KDP authors, do this, they will notice.  And given that traditionally published authors are now railing against the Big A, perhaps some of them could talk to their publishing houses to see if they could join in?  What if every book worth buying was unavailable on Amazon for a week, how cool a message would that be?  So, if you are an author published on Amazon, consider joining the picket line.  Even if you decide to not join in this time, please pass this blog onto your author friends and colleagues for their consideration.  If you Tweet, please use #boycottamazon, let's see if we can get a trend going.

I'm planning on putting information on my website advising potential buyers of where they can buy my books, including on how they can still fill their Kindles up via Smashwords.  I'm also hoping to put the protest on my Kindle author page - I don't know how joined up Amazon are and whether they could notice little old me protesting.  My guess is that they aren't and won't.  If a lot of us do this then by the time they notice and start taking the author pages down it will be over and everything will be back to normal.

This is only one way of sending a message to Amazon - I have another strategy waiting in the wings to follow this one.  For a given period, say a week again, lots of authors raise the price of their books to unrealistic levels - say £100 or $100 per book - on Amazon only.  It will make Amazon look a very expensive place to buy and although it is easily circumvented through their price matching process, if enough authors participate it will make Amazon work unnecessarily hard for a period.

If you want to comment on this piece of protest then please email on the address below or send me a Tweet.  Hopefully I'll see some of you on the virtual picket line 1 September. Bring your own placard - use whatever font you want, I'm not like Amazon.

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