An open letter to Amazon: Things have to change.

To: Amazon.com
CC: kdp.amazon.com

Re: Things have got to change.

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to offer my thoughts on the current state of play in the direct publishing market.

Never before in the history of publishing have so many had the opportunity to publish their own book. Certainly, vanity presses have been around for a significant amount of time, but I am talking about real, “Here’s your book’s ISBN and a store-front, so your book is now a saleable commodity” publishing.

It is an exciting place to be.

Gone are the days where an independent author would have to pony up for a minimum of a thousand books, which when delivered would take up residence in a handily cleared garage… or spare room, or form the foundations for a good sized coffee table.

Gone are the days when an aspiring author had to enter the lottery that surrounds literary agents-publishers-book-store-owners, and their ability to see a quality product, or product of potential. Or, quite frankly, (and just to add another layer of prize winning bonanza) each segment’s inability to keep their desk in order so that every manuscript got read.

The last couple of years have heralded a new wave of publishing, allowing folk to simply write their opus and hit publish.

In short: The best thing about today’s new publishing situation is that everyone can write and publish a book.

The worst thing? That in today’s new publishing situation, everyone can write an publish a book.

For every book that has been drafted, then drafted, then drafted eight more times..
For every book that has had hard earned cash spent against editing, cover art, promotion…
For every book that is the most professional work it can be…

…there are literally thousands that aren’t.

 Probably tens of thousands.

A figurative Occupational Health and Safety nightmare of teetering towers of books that have been produced with no more thought than “That’s 55,000 words done… now to hit the publish button. Oh wait, I need a cover, I might just add a photo of my cat, and then throw something dramatic in the background, and do the Title in Helvetica… or Myriad pro, no… Old English with drop-shadow and outer-glow.”

(To be frank, the last part about the cover? Many don’t go to that amount of trouble.)

The response to this is generally something along the lines of “Let ’em all publish, the cream will rise to the top”, or something like it, but equally unhelpful.

Now, I know what you are thinking over there in Amazon land. You are probably tutt-tutting and asking what right do I have to be complaining about the system, given that I have availed myself of it after all.

I suspect, too, that there are a number of Indy Authors all sharpening their axes at the perceived slight I might just have delivered.

But hear me out, if you have a moment or two more…

To use the awful, “Cream” analogy above – I think that in an even playing field that it is probably the case, but the current situation is NOT an even playing field, because the “cream writers” (bleurgh) are competing at 1000 to 1 odds against the less, well… creamy.

The end-reader is so overwhelmed by the magnitude of available books out there, that no matter what one person does with their work, it is bobbing around in a sea of others. Again, if they were all of the same quality, then I’d not be writing this at all. For the most part though they are not, indeed much of the material is horrific in composition and execution, but many within the Independent stream flatly refuse to see the difference, for they are published writers, and as a result their voice is the voice of truth.

So, in so many ways my next comment  will  be looked on by some as words of sheer heresy, but I’ll say it anyway: “Hitting ‘publish’ and calling ones-self a published author in the current eBook era is exactly the same concept used in ‘Everyone gets a trophy day’.”

Gasp! I know! The sheer murderous truth of it all. It’s like walking into a WWE wrestling stadium and suggesting to anyone who will listen “You know it isn’t real… don’t you?”

Nonetheless, someone had to say it. Might as well be me.

So, what to do?

What I am suggesting is this:

It’s time to end free publishing: 
I put that each time a book is published a fee should be charged. Like maybe $100 for a nice round number, but could be as little as $10. If not as an outright charge, then at least as some kind of bond. Perhaps  a sales goal could be set, and after that goal is achieved the bond comes back. Or have it as an outright charge. Whatever. I’d pay it either way. It would create a level of accountability for each published entry. Also it would almost immediately stop the Autopilot kindle books that stuff the data shelves. Would a spammer be as interested in publishing 20 books a day if they had to cough up $100 per title?

Create a situation for vanity eBooking:
If a large slice of the publishing pie is based on the published article only being sold to friends and family, give the Author the option to publish at no charge/bond, but have the books listed as a completely separate article that doesn’t figure in the sales rank or search pages at Amazon. If the thing gains traction, then perhaps a sales target could be set that allows the book to cross over to the main market.

Stop the free for all: 
There are people walking around, right now, with their eReaders filled with more material than they could ever read in a life time, simply because it is free. I note that the algorithm has been changed so that a free download no longer equates to a one-for-one sale, but that doesn’t resolve the issue. Overall, having a free-book-palooza only devalues books generally. People are stepping away from the very core of the the original idea, because many of the free books are so substandard that many readers will not actively CHOOSE to try many independents because they have been burned before. This is more prevalent when people turn to the paid listings: if they have it in their head that independent means substandard, then why would they choose to purchase an independent book, when they hated the one they downloaded for nothing?

Give authors more control on how they price their books:
Right now if I want to give a copy of my book to someone I have to physically pay for it. That doesn’t seem fair. At the very least there should be a situation that allows the author to give as many away as they like at cost.

Set a minimum price for independent books:
Like, $4.99 for instance. Allow people to make considered choices, and invest in the book they are buying, rather than waving away any value in the tome because “I only paid a dollar for it, I shouldn’t expect too much.” I argue that the reading public SHOULD expect more from what they read.

Of course I am aware that the last point isn’t great for your business model. In fact all of these suggestions would probably be against what your bank balance shows…

…because, I suspect, there is a lot of money to be made from allowing everyone to publish, and then sell 50 books to their immediate circle of contacts for no real effort on the part of Amazon other than storage. With 2.8 million non-trad books being published in 2011 that is a huge chunk of commission-change.(hard to find data on how many kindles books get published annually, but that is another issue).

Think that about rounds it out, I guess I had better gird my loins for the inevitable attack by the Indy set (of which I am one, proudly).

Yours.

A.T.H. Webber.

*folk who wish to remind me of my technical flaws are welcome to have at it. Consider though: unlike my book, I didn’t send this post to a professional for editing. My job is to write, the editor’s job is to edit.

2 thoughts on “An open letter to Amazon: Things have to change.

  1. Mate… I love it.Though wether or not my book would have seen the light of day if quality control were introduced… I dread to think!But I would certainly pay the $100, if it kept a bit of the crap from being published – and it'd be a whole lot easier making it back too!Hope you don't get too soundly beaten for these opinions.:0)Tony

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  2. Thanks!I think it's a point worth making.As to you and your potential quality control issues – I suspect I might suffer the same fate if it came down to it BUT the key thing to note here is that we are both desirous of a professional book, we feel it could always be better… etc.As opposed to… \”I am the oracle, infallible writer, I need no editing, for my 55,000 words are perfect. And I have my cat on the cover, for I have editorial control\”Or something like it.Have had a meat axe swung at me in a writer's forum..well I guess if one sticks ones head up, one is likely to draw attention.Thanks for the comment.

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