By: Joelle Charbonneau
If you read blogs, publishing trade magazines, or are on Facebook or Twitter I’m certain you’ve seen the words “New World” in regards to publishing. Traditional publishing is still around and I think that the reports of its demise are largely overstated (which I’m hoping is true because—heck, I’m traditionally published), but for authors there is what feels like a new frontier.
Or I guess I should say Indie publishing because so many people take umbrage with the phrase self-publishing (although I’m not sure why since it does accurately state the publishing archetype pretty well). And yes, indie publishing or self-publishing or whatever you want to call it publishing is a valid option these days. Lots of authors I know have made decent money riding the wave of cheap kindle downloads. Hurrah! Personally, I think money is a good thing. It puts food on the table (unless, of course, you want to shoot and field dress your own cow), it pays the utility bills and keeps gas in the car. (Don’t get me started on the price of gas right now. Oy!) Money is good and because Indie publishing is helping authors make money and find audiences, I will never claim it is bad.
More often than not, I’m amazed at the bravery required to be an Indie author. Sink or swim – they’ve done it all on their own. Which is pretty awesome. And let’s face it, while Smashwords and Nook and Google books are all platforms on which you can sell your Indie book, the real money is being made on Amazon.
Amazon has created all sorts of bells and whistles and appealing marketing tools to help Indie authors get noticed. They have the new Amazon Prime lending program, which requires participating authors to exclusively publish with them. They are working hard to make authors depend solely on them for their publishing success and any income they make.
Which kind of scares me.
I mean, look at the recent news involving Amazon. First, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Chapters Indigo and all Indie stores have told Amazon they won’t carry their traditional titles on their shelves. Which is kind of sad for those authors, but understandable considering the way Amazon has tried to put all brick and mortar stores out of business. (I’m not saying they are wrong in trying to be the only game in town. Business can be a war. Amazon has waged war and has turned a tidy profit in doing so. No crime there.) But then there is this - http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-02-22/business/chi-amazon-pulls-5000-titles-from-chicagobased-indie-distributor-20120222_1_e-books-kindle-electronic-book. Amazon pulled 5000 e-book titles from a Chicago distributor because the distributor didn’t want to sell their product at lower rates to Amazon.
Why does this worry me? Well, Amazon is a pretty awesome deal for authors. They allow you to cut out the publishing middleman and reach the consumer. Not only that, they allow you to make decent money doing it. But Amazon’s success has come from being the place where you can buy everything. What happens when Amazon attempts to strong arm other publishers and distributors into cutting their rates? I get that Amazon wants to make a profit, but they’ve already been doing that. What they really want to do is tank publishing as we know it and literally be the only game in town.
While I know some Indie authors would cheer at the demise of traditional publishing, I can’t think of anything scarier for the Indie paradigm. Why? Well, Amazon has a long standing business relationship with publishers. They were able to build their self-publishing program to great success due to reputation they established as the place to buy traditionally published books on the internet. Now after all these years, they want to dictate new terms to their traditional publishing partners—very unfavorable terms as far as distributors and publishers are concerned.
What’s wrong with that? Well, who’s to say that Amazon will continue to give such favorable terms to authors? They have encouraged authors to be exclusive with them, thereby limiting the author’s ability to gain a foothold with non-Kindle users. Authors who become dependent on Amazon will no doubt make money now….but one day Amazon might decide to take some of that money back. Or insist you pay them to put up your title and give them a cut of the profits, too. Or refuse to allow you to publish with them if you don’t use their editorial staff services.
What happens then?
Got me. I’m betting Amazon knows. I’m also betting they aren’t going to tell anyone what that plan is until after they’ve solidified the Indie business model that requires all Amazon Indie authors (Amazon Prime lending or not) to be exclusive with them. And then all bets are off for the Indie author. Sure the first thing Amazon asks of you won’t seem so bad. Maybe the second thing is something you can justify as well….but the third? What happens when what terms they ask from you is too much?
Yes, this is all speculation and NO, I’m not saying authors shouldn’t take advantage of the fabulous Indie programs out there now. But I am saying that putting all your eggs in one basket isn’t always the best idea and that while this is a brave new publishing world, there are still gate keepers. Right now they are letting everyone come in free of charge. But some day…. Well, some day the price might be higher than any of us can imagine.