Publishing Vs. Amazon: A Play in Five Acts

27 June 2014 by 139 Comments

Act I:

Amazon: Hey Publishing, we just invented a new thing that we think you’ll like. You know how after you make a book you have to pay a buttload of money to get it all printed and shipped and stuff? We figured out a way that you could not have to pay all that money and still sell lots of books.

Publishing: OMG NO WHAT IS THIS WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO DESTROY PUBLISHING

Customers: Hey! These ebooks are pretty cool! I can carry a bunch with me all the time and it sucks less when I have to move!

Publishing: NO THEY ARE NOT COOL, PAPER BOOKS FOREVER, WE KNOW YOU JUST WANT TO STEAL OUR CONTENT OFF OF THE INTERNETS. CAN WE TRIPLE THE DRMs PLEASE

Customers: ……

 

Act II:

Amazon: Hey Publishing, we want to buy a buttload of books from you and we aren’t even going to return a bunch of unsold books like other bookstores do, and in return do you think you could give us a good deal since you’re going to make a lot of money? And also because like, every other industry that we work with works with us at a wholesale discount since we spend so much money with them and all.

Publishing: OMG NO WE DO NOT WANT TO SELL YOU A BUTTLOAD OF BOOKS WE HATE YOU. WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO DESTROY PUBLISHING

Amazon: Hey just FYI we are also going to publish some books by people because we think it looks like a neat business to get into. Competition is awesome right? I mean, it’s mostly celebrities and authors that are doing all the work themselves anyway.

Publishing: YOU ARE MURDERING US TO DEATH STAHP. NOBODY SHOULD BUY BOOKS PUBLISHED BY AMAZON BECAUSE ONLY WE ARE ALLOWED TO PUBLISH.

Bookstores: We hate Amazon too because nobody else should be allowed to sell books, especially if customers like going to them better. We will not sell Amazon’s books even if customers want to read them.

Publishing: YEAH WE HATE YOU AMAZON

Bookstores: Do you still love us, Publishing? We promise that we will only sell paper books and not any from Amazon.

Publishing: YEAH YOU ARE MY BOO.

 

Act III:

Amazon: Hey Publishing, since it only costs you like a fraction of a percent actually to produce ebooks vs printing books, why do they cost so much?

Publishing: SHUT UP

Apple (aside to Publishing): Hey, I know how you guys can make more money off of ebooks.

Publishing: You have our attention.

Apple and Publishing whisper quietly between themselves.

Publishing: OK SO FROM NOW ON EVERYONE HAS TO SELL AT THE PRICE WE DECIDED AND YOU ONLY MAKE 30%

Amazon: What? But . . . I mean, we’re a retailer, not a consignment shop? And your prices are higher than paperbacks–isn’t that kind of silly for a medium that costs significantly less to produce? Why not price them less so you can sell at a higher volume, since you have no limit on the units you can sell?

Publishing: NO WE ALL DECIDED ALREADY

Apple blows a raspberry at Amazon, then sells them a bunch of iPads and iPhones.

 

Act IV:

DOJ: Uhh, you guys can’t actually do that.

Publishing: BUT THEY ARE DESTROYING PUBLISHING BY MAKING IT UNFAIR COMPETITION SO WE HAD TO DO UNFAIR COMPETITION

DOJ: How is Amazon promoting unfair competition?

Publishing: …. SOMETHING SOMETHING DISCOUNTING. PREDATORY PRICING. ETC.

DOJ: You guys know that’s only a thing when their competitors don’t have the resources to keep up, right? Apple, Target, and Walmart are larger companies than Amazon and they all sell books, some also at significant discounts. It’s unlikely that Amazon will be able to put these businesses out of the book business. Also, did you know that antitrust laws are mostly meant to protect the consumer, rather than producers?

Publishing: WHAT

DOJ: Yeah, discounting is actually really good for consumers because they save money. It only becomes an issue when businesses have the ability to put their competitors out of business, thus eliminating competition. And it’s almost impossible to prove a predatory pricing case because being able to give your customers a better price isn’t bad for customers.

Publishing: THIS IS BULLSHIT. AMAZON IS ILLEGAL AND IMMORAL AND WE HATE THEM

DOJ: Hate them all you want, but you guys are the ones actually engaging in anti-competitive practices by colluding to keep ebooks at the same price across the board, thereby forestalling all attempts at competitive pricing–among retailers OR major publishers. This doesn’t just hurt Amazon, it ultimately hurts your customers, which is the party we’re actually trying to protect here.

Publishing: FINE, OKAY. BUT THIS IS GOING TO DESTROY PUBLISHING.

 

Act V

Amazon: Hey, can we renegotiate our contracts? We spend a lot of money buying your books so, we were wondering if you could give us a better price.

Publishing: OMG NO NEVER.

Amazon: FINE. If you’re going to be this way, we’ll just start telling people to buy other stuff. We are totally sick of this bullshit.

Publishing: OMG WE ARE SO OPPRESSED, DOWN WITH AMAZON FOREVER, THEY ARE DESTROYING PUBLISHING. WE COULD BE MAKING EVEN MORE BILLIONS IF IT WEREN’T FOR AMAZON DESTROYING US.

Customers: WTF is going on you guys?

Publishing: AMAZON IS TRYING TO DEVOUR OUR SOULS AND STEAL MONEY FROM OUR GRANDCHILDREN’S COLLEGE FUNDS AND ALSO I THINK I SAW THEM KICK A PUPPY

Customers: OMG NO!

Amazon: …….

Person in the audience: Hey guys, if you hate Amazon so much why don’t you just stop selling books there?

Publishing: …….. CAN WE DO THAT?

Amazon: Of course you can. This is business. Seriously. It’s not personal.

Publishing: BUT NOT SELLING AT AMAZON MIGHT DESTROY PUBLISHING. Srsly, people seem to like shopping at Amazon, we have no idea why. We’ve already told them so many times where they should shop and how much they should pay but customers won’t listen.

Amazon: I am guessing you don’t want to hear my new idea about print on demand books?

Publishing: OMG NO

 

Epilogue:

Most People: (reading the paper) I wonder what this kerfuffle is about Amazon. I could probably stand to do some shopping, tho, for real.

The World: (keeps turning)

Susie

Susie is the Bitch-in-Chief at IB and is also a contributor at Book Riot. She's an ice cream connoisseur, an art fanatic, a cat-mommy of three, and a wife. She runs the @thebooksluts Twitter account and may be slightly addicted.

139 thoughts on “Publishing Vs. Amazon: A Play in Five Acts

    • Susie, FINALLY, somebody sees it the way I do. Here’s the part I would add:

      DEBUT AUTHOR TO AGENT AND/OR PUBLISHING HOUSE: Hi, I’ve got a really neat book I wrote, I had it professionally edited and attended conferences and got advice form experts and got Work-in-Progress readers to critique it and now I think it’s ready to be published.

      AGENT AND/OR PUBLISHING TO DEBUT author: Do we know you? Did you go to Iowa? Do you have a platform?

      DEBUT Author: Uh…no…

      AGENT/PUBLISHER: Then GO AWAY.

      AMAZON TO DEBUT AUTHOR: You can come and play with us. We’ll sell your book for you.

      DEBUT AUTHOR TO AMAZON: Hey, look—people see my book on your website. And they are buying it. and they are reviewing it too and saying awesome things about it. COOOL. Thank you so much!

      AMAZON TO DEBUT AUTHOR: That’s right and your ranking will increase as you sell more books. NOT because of who you know, where you live, what writing school or university you went to, or even who you killed and went to jail for.

      DEBUT AUTHOR TO AMAZON: Wow. Look- my book is a top seller on your site. Thanks to YOU, I am a bestselling author!

      PUBLISHING TO DEBUT AUTHOR: Okay,okay– you got our attention. NOW we’ll buy your book, BUT, you have to sell it for what WE say and you only get 15% of the sales. Oh, and you need an agent.

      AGENT TO DEBUT AUTHOR: That’s right. Now that I know for SURE your book will sell, I will “rep[resent” you. For 15 percent of your 15 %

      DEBUT AUTHOR to AGENT and PUBLISHING: Screw you. THANK YOU, Amazon!

    • hee! I’m still conflicted on Amazon for other reasons, but this whole publishing thing is making me have to defend them and that makes me even more irritated. Like… I wanna talk about how the warehouses don’t have good working conditions, not about how some billion dollar companies might have to work on their profitability.

  1. This is probably the single greatest thing I have ever read. How about a sub-plot:

    Act I

    Amazon: hey, authors! Know how you love writing? We’ve set up a system where you can publish your books as normal, except you can keep four times as much of the money as before, and you can write as many books as you want! In any genre you like!

    Traditional Authors: OMG DONT RUIN MY CAREER AND WHY DOESN’T THE GOVERNMENT STEP IN AND FIX THIS MESS AND WHY ARE YOU KILLING BOOKSTORES AND READING WILL SUFFER AND IT’S THE END OF LITERATURE!!

    Publishers: THAT’S NOT REALLY PUBLISHING ITS VANITY PUBLISHING AND YOU’RE RUINING READING FOR EVERYONE AND ONLY RUBBISH AUTHORS WILL USE THIS AND YOU’RE STEALING ALL OUR MARKET SHARE AND DEVALUING BOOKS AND KILLING PUPPIES

    Indie authors: cool, I can keep on submitting my manuscripts to publishers, AND make some money in the mean time! That way, if I don’t get a contract, or if I want to have a crack at this myself, I’ve got the option! Hey, check it out – I just quit my job to write full time! Thanks, Amazon!

    Readers: wow, there’s so many books to choose from! I’ve never had more options to read, and I’ve found a bunch of new authors I love – without spending a bunch of money! Thanks, Amazon!

    I could go on….

  2. So this was pretty much the BEST thing to read first thing in the morning. :D

    Samantha: (also still shops at Amazon)

    I just don’t get it with them. Publishers, calm down already with the all-capsing :P

  3. Pingback: Publishing Vs. Amazon: A Play in Five Acts | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

  4. I am actually LOLing. So now I can type LOL and mean it. My coworkers are staring. I’d better stick to shopping on Amazon during working hours.

    • Ooops. You better link this to all of them so they can be laughing, too. Or send them a cute cat video to distract them!

    • I am just soooo tired of seeing all of these ideas about how Amazon is evil that don’t even make sense. Like, at all.

  5. I just read this to my 94 year old mother (after we’d had a long discussion about the “state of publishing today” and she giggled her way through the whole thing. Love this!

  6. Fabulous! I’m on deadline right now (for one of those Amazon publishing people) and right at the brink of insanity as I try to finish. And this MADE MY DAY!!! So funny! Thank you :)

  7. I just read this aloud to my husband, using appropriate changes in voice and demeanor. We decided you win the internet today, Susie. Hilarious. Encore!

  8. Haha – great article and summary that accurately shows how this has all gone down! :)
    Hmm – a deleted scene, perhaps?

    Publishing: IF WE DONT KEEP MAKING BOOKS MORE EXPENSIVE PEOPLE WILL STOP BUYING THEM.

    Amazon: Uhm, that’s how you guys got into this mess to begin with. Pricing yourselves out of business.

    Publishing: NUH UH YOUR EVUHL. HIGH PRICES MEANS SERIOUS LITERATURE MAKES MORE MONEY AND CAN EAT. YOU ARE GREEDY AND WANT TO DESTROY LITERATURE AND STARVE THE ARTISTS. YOU NEED TO CHARGE $40 FOR BOOKS NOW.

    Amazon: I see. You do realize that we only resell what we purchased from you at wholesale, right? We’re just doing what other indie bookstores do with discounting. We’re just really, really a lot of places because of the internet.

    Publishing: INTERNET EVIL PAPER IS BETTER. JUST YOU WAIT. WE HAVE THE GOVERNMENT COME SAVE US. MAKE BOOK MOAR PRICIER BECAUSE THEYRE ART NOT BECAUSE WE’RE GREEEEDY LIIIIIKE YOOOOOU AAAARE. UGH.

  9. I just hope Act VI goes like this:

    Amazon: YAY, we won! We’re King of the world! We control all markets including the Book Industry! Hey, look at that, publishing was right, we have destroyed them! (Totally just a by product of conducting business though…they just couldn’t compete…poor fellows.) Hey, wait…WE’VE DESTROYED THEM! HA! That means we now have the monopoly!!! (rubs hands together) We control the whole marketplace! (Rubs them harder.) WE RULE THE BOOK WORLD!!!! (Sideway glance to authors.)…ha ha ha, suckers…

    Authors: gulp, but, but, but,

    Amazon: Hey Authors since you’ve helped us prove it costs next to nothing to create an e-book, how about that’s what you get? I’m mean seriously, 10% for you and we get the rest! Seems fair to Amazon. Oh, and tell you what, as an added bonus for helping us get our point across to the public, we’re going to discount your royalties on paperbacks too. What do you say we lower it to 15%, since, you know, there is paper involved and stuff. Oh, wait, that’s right there isn’t, you’re already paying for that, okay, then how about 7%, that’s a lucky number.

    Readers: LOOK at THAT! E-books are So FREAKIN CHEAP! And look at those paperbacks they’re a STEAL!!!

    Authors: throw up.

    Amazon: Oh, come on, why the long faces. Stop taking it so personal…it’s only business.

    Authors: move into their cars.

    Amazon: What’s that, Authors? You can’t do business anymore? What? Seriously? Oh, come on…didn’t you learn anything from the Publishers? You have to learn to compete if you want to survive in this market…it’s not our fault your floundering.

    Remember: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Somewhere there must be a middle ground.

    • Thing is.. publishers likely will not all go out of business. We will always need publishers to help authors develop their work and to help get through the slush pile. It’s just that they need to do it competitively and not forget that we’re readers, but also CUSTOMERS.

      • Absolutely, Susie. Us self-pubs don’t want Publishing dead. We just, if we choose to work with them in the future, want the contracts they offer to be a bit more author friendly. And the only way that will happen is if Publishing realizes that we authors — in fact, we Talented Authors — now have a viable option that doesn’t include them. If they want us at their party, they’re gonna have to step up to the plate and make it worth our while. Because without us, without the Writer and the books we write, where would they be?

      • ^This. It’s actually sad to see this Amazon/Indie/Corporate debate turn into just a mash of emotional either/or arguments…

        (Which is why your article and views are so welcome in this. Thank you!)

    • Don’t be naive. Just like Amazon was a nobody at one time, soon another nobody could easily take their place. There are several places that could easily step up and take their place should they get too greedy. At some time in the near future authors could be selling directly from their websites with APIs to a book marketplace. The authors would simply pay for referrals to their sites. Decentralized PODs could pop up across the country with a standardized submission process so you submit you format and they can print and ship from the nearest warehouse. Or even better yet POD machines get even better and you can run to your local Walmart, Target, or pharmacy and print off the latest book.

    • Traditional publishers had a monopoly because they controlled the infrastructure. The creation of e-books gave birth to an alternative to paper, thus destroying the monopoly.
      Amazon brought a new business model and an existing internet presence to the table. Anyone could come along and duplicate what Amazon has, true with some expense and effort, but without any resource that Amazon controls.
      As a perfect example already in place just look at Baen Webscriptions, a niche market serving primarily SFF, but quite successful and totally independent of either Amazon or the dead tree folks.

  10. Bravo! The willful ignorance surrounding all the articles flying around about this is disheartening. It’s time readers understood how authors have been treated like indentured slaves by the publishing industry since forever.

  11. Let me suggest a more familiar version of this tale. It starts with lost children in the woods (publishers, no question) and really gets going when they come to the old lady’s house (Amazon). The lady invites the kids to eat her house, literally, because it’s made of candy, and if you’re a lost kid what else do you do. And the kids just eat and eat, getting fatter all the time, less able to run away. Sticky, even.
    Now you’ve got a better image of what’s really happening. Except as far as I can tell, this lady doesn’t use an oven and you can’t get rid of her that way. She eats her meals while they’re still screaming.

      • :: grins :: Actually, it does. I’m not saying the kids are innocent! You eat nothing but candy, this is what happens. But that does not make the old lady my friend, is all. At this rate, in two more years the company that does nothing but reduce costs will have only us authors left to deal with. And to them, we will be a cost. If Kindle Select is still open at that time on any terms I will eat this PC.

        • “Will have only us authors left to deal with”? Not taking a lot of sense from this–the statement is missing far too much information. At any rate, maybe you ought to start cutting that PC into bite-size chunks.

        • Your analogy is still problematic in a lot of ways. And you forget all of the small publishers that are putting out amazing content and operate, by necessity, off of a lean and tight budget–plus the fact that publishing as a whole existed well before Amazon and can continue to exist even without Amazon.

          People who read will go where the books are, especially if they (like me) don’t read self-published books. Kindle Select isn’t even an option for me when I’m going to purchase a new book. If KDP Select fails, it’ll be because customers don’t have any means by which to truly navigate thousands and thousands of books, many of which are poor quality, mislabeled, badly designed, etc. There’s no way to click a button and just get the good ones, and that’s a significant flaw in this system for the people who actually pay money to read books (ie, the place where all of the money comes from, ultimately).

          Publishing still performs a vital and totally necessary function, and they still wield a lot of power, and they still have other major distribution channels. They’re going to be fine.

          • Go where the books are?

            I noticed that “bookstores” didn’t survive ACT II. And that libraries didn’t even garner a bit part.

            So I assume you mean France, when you say “where the books are”; where they will still have a viable reading culture, bookstores, and libraries. You know, reasons to put on pants and leave the house?

            http://publishingperspectives.com/2014/06/french-pass-anti-amazon-law-ending-discounts-free-shipping/

            On this side of the Atlantic, you’ll have Goodreads and Amazon, and you can sit in your underwear reading books on your Kindle FireWatch one word at a time. Yay?

            How will publishing “be fine”? James Patterson can’t keep ALL the bookstores open. Public libraries are the first to suffer the ax of budget cuts. Every. Single. Time. So, yes, publishing will be fine, once they resign to go all-digital. Which is great, because every American owns an e-reader or other digital device, right?

            But there’s always printing a book or two on demand. Perhaps you can sign up for a 5K walk that will fund giving “old-fashioned” books to Luddites and the destitute.

            You got something right, though. It is, in fact, all about customers for one side. Not readers, customers. Who is siding with readers? Obviously, not the side publishing books that are “poor quality, mislabeled, badly designed, etc..”

            • Are you talking about Borders when you say “bookstores”? Because I can rattle off half a dozen bookstores in my city without even trying OR listing any of the B&N locations. And our library isn’t just doing well, it’s expanding–we’re getting a brand new location just down the street from us.

              So I mean … I have no idea what your comment is even about.

              Edit: Oh wait, do you mean that because I didn’t mention bookstores again, they somehow got killed off? I mean… that’s not even reality, nor did I ever indicate that. And did you know that Amazon isn’t even the only other place besides in-person bookstores that sells paper books? It’s true. Really. We have choices. Calm down.

              • Ew. Anecdotal evidence for your geographical location? I guess that pairs well with ignoring that not everyone has access to a digital device. Privilege alert! If only we all lived where you live.

                Here’s my counter anecdotal evidence: My closest indie is an hour’s drive away. So we’re both right, I guess!

                I do have a used book store near me, and they could order in a new release if I wanted them to, but why would I pay $40 for something Amazon sells for $15 with FREE SHIPPING? To be nice? I don’t have James Patterson’s wallet. I can’t do that. And that’s just me. Imagine thousands of people like me forgoing local indies because they charge twice as much. And it’s not their fault. They have profit margins.

                B&N is now selling furniture, housewares, clothing, food, toys, etc.. That doesn’t sound like books are their bread and butter, anymore. They’re like publishers releasing books by Snooki and Duck Dynasty people in order to publish the stuff they really care about. Stuff that matters to them.

                You’re right, Amazon isn’t the only place to buy print books. But it’s the only place to buy one for cheaper-than-cheap. After that, maybe Walmart, but they only sell popular books. And I can try B&N, but I might walk out with a couch and a lamp instead…

                • Walmart doesn’t only sell mega-popular books on their website. You can get all kinds of books there, and cheaper than Amazon in some cases. I can get Two Dollar Radio books from Walmart.com because Walmart has a deal with Consortium. So again, Amazon isn’t the only game in town, they’re just the one everyone’s mad about.

                  What is your obsession with James Patterson? I mean, I don’t read him and I don’t like him, but there’s way more to publishing, even as far as “popular” books go, than him. Why the irrational focus on what he could do?

                  And hey, sorry you don’t have an indie bookstore near you.. but that doesn’t mean that they DON’T EXIST ANYWHERE IN AMERICA. Everywhere I visit has indie bookstores out the wang (I know, because I go to them). If having an indie bookstore near you is something that you value, perhaps consider moving? But don’t try to make the argument that they’re all going extinct, or that libraries are all suffering when some clearly are not. These are things that are less tenable in less-populated areas because there are fewer people to support them… but hey, go where the people are, and you’ll find books, no problem.

                • James Patterson is throwing money at indie bookstores to keep them alive. Hence my infatuation. Your ignorance of that fact reveals much about this whole screed.

                  I cannot believe you said I should move closer to bookstores, even after I gave you the privilege alert. Next you’ll tell me to quit my job if my employer won’t give me the healthcare I need. Do you have your ticket the 2016 GOP convention yet?

                  Oh, I completely forgot about Walmart! Duh! Except that I don’t like Nicholas Sparks. I’d shop at Amazon before entering Walmart.

                • Sorry, I don’t watch James Patterson’s every move the way you seem to.

                  I’m having a much harder time believing that you’re comparing SHOPPING FOR BOOKS to LIFE-SAVING HEALTHCARE. the GOP stuff doesn’t hurt my feelings because you literally know nothing about my life, so.

              • Impulse buyers. And Amazon knows this. If you get the price of an ebook low enough, people will buy it simply because they saw a post on Facebook or other social media. If they see their friends are reading something, they might be tempted to buy the book, too. Jimmy Fallon has mentioned on his show that he has a Kindle full of books, and that he hasn’t read more than 20 pages of any of them. He buys them with the full intention of reading them, but because he doesn’t see them physically he forgets about them.

                Doesn’t that sound great for Amazon? Make it so that ebooks are so cheap that people will buy them and forget about them. A few will remember that Amazon has a 7-day return policy and come to their senses, but only a few. Couple this with making it extra easy to add ebooks to your cart through a special hashtag and you’re laughing and skipping to the bank.

                This trend will continue if Amazon can get ebooks to a price low enough to further induce the impulse buyer. You should hear self-published authors moan about their ebook return rates. It’s hilarious. People are buying these “books” at 99 cents (sometimes five at a time) and expect quality, for some reason.

                They are enticed by the price and then regret it. Some return, many don’t. Some people don’t even know they can return ebooks. I guess some people have more money than time. Win-win for Amazon.

                • Yeah okay… I am pretty sure you’re mental, dude. You think the whole publishing industry is bolstered by … impulse buys of cheap books, rather than readers actually buying books to read? Do you know that publishing is a multi-billion dollar business, even without Amazon’s self-pubs? SOMEONE is buying those books and probably at least a couple of people are reading them.

                  And YES, there are people who buy books, both physical and digital, and then don’t ever read them–but to imply that this is the only thing keeping publishing going is a little insane.

              • Thanks for the FYI, but you forgot the I! Need a citation. Also, ABA membership rates are not physical bookstores. There were 10,800 bookstores in 2002, and the 2012 census stats have not been released yet. But PW mentioned some stats in 2013 and here’s what they found:

                6,035 Independent stores
                1,292 Chains

                7,327 Bookstores Total

                I just added those myself from their data. Their article was about per capita statistics and never mentioned totals. This is the first time I’ve seen these total numbers. I’m speechless. I have nothing left to say. I wanted to prove a point, but not this bad.

                • Quick, what’s 2014 minus 9? Subquestion, how many of those 10,800 bookstores in 2002 were indies? While I very much appreciate your use of references, you didn’t even disprove the claim. Facts are good, but you need to use them correctly to argue a point.

                • You’re such a smart ass. I only had 2002 stats. Not sure why we’re only going back 9 years, though. I was just as disheartened to see such a terrible number of bookstores left. I want to make this right.

                  The closest I can come to 2005 is 2007, which shows: 9,955 bookstores. That’s good. Between 2002 and 2007 only about 900 stores disappeared. But by 2013 it’s 7,335, but keep in mind that Pub. Weekly didn’t list college bookstores, so let’s take those off the census stats. There were 2,180 college stores in 2007, so that leaves 7,775 bookstores. All right, that’s closer.

                  The PW list shows 1,292 chains, but those don’t include Christian bookstore chains. All of those were lumped in with indies, for some reason. Hard to say how many of those are indies, but there are at least 500 Lifeways and Family Christian Stores across the country, so the indie number is more like 5,500 indies, in 2013.

                  In 2007, there were 4,191 chain stores (1,000 or more employees). Wow, they’ve taken a hit. Removing those stores from the 9,955 total leaves 5,764. Removing the 2,180 college stores leaves 3,584 indies, in 2007. Wow.

                  Yay! I’m pretty wrong! There are 2,000 more indies today than there were 7 years ago.*

                  I apologize.

                  *Because the Christian Book Association chains are hidden among the PW data, it’s hard to get a concrete idea of how many non-CBA indies there are, but even if there are 500 Christian chain stores and 500 CBA indies, that still leaves 5,000 regular indies, which is a lot higher than the 3,500 back in 2007.

                • Thank you for actually looking into the numbers instead of just assuming that the dialogue about the end times of the indie bookshop world is true. The sky is not falling.

                  And yes, sometimes I am a smart ass. That tends to happen when people come at me combatively. It’s a defense mechanism. We started this conversation with your incredulity of my statement that people will shop at the places which are selling the product that they desire–apparently, since indie bookstores are up in numbers by roughly 57% over the past decade, people will indeed shop where they receive the product and experience that they want. For some readers, that’s Amazon . . . but that’s not every reader, clearly, or there wouldn’t be any backing for these 2000 new bookstores to have opened. Publishers don’t need to go all-digital, etc.

                  As for my “privilege”–look, when I chose where I wanted to settle down in life, I did it partially because I care about things like having access to indie bookstores. It’s not a privilege, it’s a lifestyle choice. I grew up in a city that didn’t have cool indie bookshops, coffee shops, record shops. I wanted to be near those things; I gave up other things, like a low crime rate and affordable rent.

                  Having an indie bookstore near you isn’t a “right” like universal healthcare should be a right or marriage equality is a right. Some areas can’t support one financially. I happened to choose to live in an area that can. I prefer urban areas generally because of their diversity and the availability of different experiences; I wouldn’t expect to move to a small town and get the same experience. ‘s why I don’t live in one. But it put me off a whole lot when you suggested healthcare is the next step up from bookstores. They aren’t even on the same planet as far as rights go.

                  I’m not even frankly sure through all of this what your overall point is . . . that publishing will have to cow to the demands of Amazon because they’re big and it’s the only way some people can buy books? I don’t even frankly think that Amazon wants to control how we buy books. They want to push ebooks because they see enormous profit potential, but if we continue to want paper books, they will gladly sell them to us.

                • Much ado about nothing, I suppose.

                  I am not concerned about ebooks getting any more popular. Maybe they can take the place of mass market genre paperbacks, but we’ll see. We are cresting the early/late majority of the ebook adoption arc, after which comes the laggards, i.e., our parents. Ebooks have lost their oomph. And we still don’t know how we’ll even digest them as handheld devices are replaced with wearables. So there is nothing to fear there. My concern is that Amazon is creating this fantasy world where people expect every ebook to be $4.99 no matter what.

                  I never said having a bookstore close was a right, you did. I said there were none near me. You said I should think about moving. Access to knowledge is a privilege, not a choice. Some people have no choice in where they live. Some people can’t afford internet access. What would you tell my daughter, if I didn’t care about books? Get a new family? Tell your parents to move closer to bookstores? Think of the children, Susie!

                  I wasn’t really talking about you or me, even though it’s true that my closest indie is an hour’s drive. And my library is a 10-minute drive. I have car. I have internet access. I’m privileged. My kids are privileged. I don’t take any of it for granted, and I will make sure they don’t, either.

                  My greatest concern is the collapse of the trickle-down effect of books. Not everyone can afford a hardcover. Some wait for the paperback. Some wait for it to show up in a used bookstore. Some wait on the library’s hold list. If the paradigm shifts to pay-only, or digital only, there’s going to be trouble for people who can’t afford it. I would hate to be in their positions. And that was the murky point I was trying to make. So I am sorry for being an ass. You can’t spell ‘passion’ without an ‘ass.’

                  Be well.

          • Susie I can appreciate that there’s a job publishers do and I’m all in favor of smaller, indie, dedicated houses doing it. I just don’t think it will add up to anything.
            Amazon controls costs- that’s their reason for being just like a shark exists to eat. The thing that troubles me is, the Zon doesn’t NEED books in and of themselves, it doesn’t matter to them the way it does to the Big Pub (as bad as they’ve been, that’s their business). Zon just delivers stuff- whichever authors, whichever titles, they don’t really give a damn and if it all disappeared tomorrow they’d easily survive even with the loss of the hardware investment (which is surely much more than what they spend on the content, by orders of magnitude).
            So we’ll be looking at a situation where there’s only one distributor in town (add up all the indies on the globe and it won’t make one “whoopee” between them), and the sole distributor we have left will have no ties to any bestseller (sort of good), zero interest in promoting any of us (not good) and a sharp interest in controlling its remaining costs, namely, us (really so very not good). And our recourse will be to go indie, which will be the internet equivalent of pulling the grave-dirt over our own corpses. Think of this- in five years, who will know what’s a good book, or a bestseller, unless the Zon tells them?

            • Publishers have always been in charge of what is a “bestseller” through the way that they print books and provide many more copies for projected bestsellers… Amazon actually helps level that playing field a little bit.

              “Add up all the indies on the globe”–Walmart, B&N, and Apple are not indies by far. You can get a ton of books through Walmart.com, and now everyone’s aware of that since they stepped up when the Amazon/Hachette business went down. They’re also much bigger than Amazon and could easily muscle them out if they wanted. So it’s not *just* Amazon or indies.

          • Susie, Loved the play, thanks! Funny because it’s soooo true.

            Disconcerted to see that you don’t read self-pubbed books. You’re missing out on so many great reads that don’t fit into publishers’ marketing plans.

            As far as KDP select, don’t know, have never used it. I do know I could care less where a book comes from as long as I enjoy it, and it has been professionally edited and covered.

            Yes, there is junk available in the self-pub market, but that is also true in the trad pub and digital-first pub shelves. Sadly, trad pub does not necessarily equal quality or good writing.

            Also, reader reviews and genre lists are an excellent way to sift through the massive amounts of books available. Yes, you get the gushers and the haters, but the reviews also give a sense of what readers enjoy/dislike.

            Again, thanks for the great column.

            • You’re of course right that traditionally-published work isn’t necessarily good, but a lot of self-published authors see publishing as taking a basically-finished product and dolling it up and giving it a marketing budget… Also not true. Editors and publishers have significant roles in re-shaping books and provide decades of expertise in this role. So while traditionally-published works aren’t always good, the stories I want to read have all been through the kind of editorial process used there.

    • This analogy only works if the kids had also eaten the all the other kids’ candy first, and blamed them.

      Then, those captive kids would also try to force the Forest Lady to eat only so much of her own candy then have her live in the shed outside.

  12. Great fun. Thanks.

    I fear the day is coming when all writers will be in the publishing business and all publishers will be writers, left and right brain will meet in a pool of colorless mud, the reading public won’t even notice, and the only ones making a buck will be the delivery boys.

  13. Nice, but the first act should really start out more like this:

    Amazon: Hey Publishing, we just invented a new thing that we think you’ll like. You know how after you make a book you have to pay a buttload of money to get it all printed and shipped and stuff? We figured out a way that you could not have to pay all that money and still sell lots of books.

    Publishing: What, you mean e-books? Nobody’s been able to do anything with those in ten years of trying. Here’s the same standard terms we gave those suckers; feel free to pour your money down the toilet, too. Just be sure you stick DRM on there. Now go away and stop bugging us while we work on suing Google for scanning our books.

    Amazon: Okay!

    Amazon proceeds to make its Kindle a runaway success by pricing hot new e-books as cheap loss leaders.

    Amazon: Hey, Publishing, looky what I did!

    Publishing: OMG NO WHAT IS THIS WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO DESTROY PUBLISHING

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  16. at first, when i had no info, i was kinda mad at amazon, for the authors who are kinda getting screwed over during all this. the more i read though, it really seems like the publishers are the ones screwing the writers in this deal…they’re the ones with the power to end it.

    i’m still mad on the part of the authors, but man, publishers. GROW UP.

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  18. My email is bloated with blogs, but I just subscribed to Insatiable Booksluts after reading this brilliant bit of snarky, sassy dialogue. Here I was thinking it was impossible to explain this whole gonzo conflict, much less do it intelligently AND make me grin. Thanks for confirming all the crazy thoughts I’ve been having about the players in this whackadoo drama. I’m definitely in for volume 2!

  19. Brilliant piece…I’m so glad you’ve put it like this. Too many people (myself included) have decided that Amazon is evil and that’s that. That’s not the case…entirely. I’m still conflicted about Amazon as a whole but it sure does seem that publishers are eating their own tails.

    • Thanks for stopping by! And yeah, that’s my only point, really… Amazon is not saintly, but it’s not just a matter of us needing to protect publishing because they have always done it that way, etc. Things are changing, adaptation needs to happen.

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  21. I love you guys, but…

    > Amazon: Hey Publishing, since it only costs you like a fraction of a percent actually to produce ebooks vs printing books, why do they cost so much?

    Untrue. The actual printing and shipping of dead tree books is one of the smallest expenses of the publishing pie, after paying for editing, proofing, design, marketing and overheads. Ebook production is a little cheaper and ebooks should be a little cheaper, sure, but it’s not so simple as you imply.

    • According to numbers that IPG released regarding the publishing process, it costs just as much to do a 10k print run as it does to prep the manuscript, if not more. Regarding actual production values of the medium, ebooks are a tiny fraction cost-wise and allow publishers to sell infinite copies.

      I check my facts. :)

      • The costs of ‘producing’ a book should not be limited to the costs of printing and shipping. Marketing, editing and the like are all production costs. By your own numbers, the costs of a 10k print run (an exceptionally large run, by today’s standards – most trad-pub authors I know are glad for a 2-5k run) are 50% back end, 50% printing, not “a fraction of a percent.”

        • *rubs eyes*

          The cost of editing, design, etc, are going to be the same no matter what medium you choose, those aren’t the costs I ever was addressing. I’ll use the word “manufacturing” in the future so it’s clearer, ok?

          • The costs of manufacturing a book have only ever born a cursory relation to the price of the actual book in any event. The manufacturing costs of a hardcover book are only a couple more bucks per book than the manufacturing costs of a paperback book—there’s really not that much more paper and ink involved in a bigger, sturdier book. But it sells for three or four times as much as a paperback

            Why? Because it’s targeted at people who are so impatient that they have to have the book right bloody now and will pay through the nose for the privilege. And that’s how publishers cover most of the fixed costs involved in producing the book right away, so that the longer, cheaper paperback tail is mostly profit.

            You can’t assume that prices of a given book necessarily bear any relation to the per-unit manufacturing costs. Publishers charge what (they believe) the market will bear. It’s just that Amazon might have a bit of a better understanding of the market, because they’re the ones who interact directly with the customers.

            • Yes, all of that is true. And I could see the ebook price being higher upon first release and then dropping later, once the TBP (or the mass market for larger releases) come out.

              One also has to factor in perceived value–a digital file is harder to keep up with in some respects (you get new devices, you change computers, it gets pulled from the cloud, files get corrupted, DRM, etc) and it’s intangible, plus you need a device that often costs upwards of $100+ to read it on.

              • Perceived value is an excellent point to discuss, especially in relation to Amazon and digital media. Our common perception as to the worth of a book is easily manipulated by our largest retailers, and as a self-pub author I find it hard to root for Amazon when they’ve worked so hard to reduce the value of a novel in the eyes of consumers.

                For many people, the main draw of a Kindle is that books suddenly drop from a $7 purchase to a 99c purchase, tops… or free altogether. People are reading more, but from what I’ve personally experienced (and what many of my self-pub friends have experienced) is that consumers are willing to spend markedly less per ebook than they were four years ago. In 2012, I had four novels in the Amazon store and was making a decent living. In 2014 I’m preparing to release novel #10, and I’m living below the poverty line. So has Amazon succeeded in driving the common perception of the worth of an ebook down so far that they’re eroding the foundation of their own business?

            • Also, there’s the issue of hitting the sweet spot where price and number of sales combine into maximum profitability. Smashwords released a lot of interesting data regarding this.

        • And it still doesn’t disprove the point–if the costs are 50% printing/shipping/storage/etc and 50% back end, and you find a way to reduce one half to a nearly negligible cost (there are companies that will turn your title into a fully edited suite of ebooks in all formats for $500 or less), that makes your production per unit SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper. So the books shouldn’t be as much as, or more than, paperback copies!

        • I’d forgotten those costs entirely.

          Essentially, we’re arguing terminology. I believe ebooks should be cheaper than print books, sure, but I also believe that many folk have an unrealistic expectation as to how cheap that should be.

  22. I was enjoying this article and had decided to visit often until I read “especially if they (like me) don’t read self-published books”

    Such a hateful statement. Such a bigoted viewpoint. Such a purposefully limited view of self-publishers (of which I proudly claim membership). Yes, many self-published works are dreadful. However, may self-publishers, including myself, take their publishing efforts very seriously and spend way too much money and time on professional editing, proofreading, design, layout and formatting.

    On a personal note, I have discovered many delightful self-published authors, and usually buy their entire body of work based on a free or low-priced sample through Select, rather than overpriced traditional hardbound, or even trade paper versions. Which is really better for the author, would you say?

    I hope your statement about self-publishers is not your true attitude, otherwise this new visitor will very quickly become an ex-new visitor.

    • Gary, I’m sorry you feel that it’s a hateful statement. Would it make you feel better if I said that I also don’t read the majority of traditionally-published authors, as well? I generally read high-test literary fiction, and even then, I am pretty critical about it. It’s not because I don’t think self-published work has value, but–look: I am drawn to work by authors like Kerouac, Camus, Kafka, Fitzgerald, Hurston. I find a lot of trad press literary fiction lacking, so am I really the audience for most self-published authors? Are they really going to get a fair shake from me?

      We used to accept pitches from self-published authors here. There was only one book that we ever accepted because it looked like something we would like to read. Most self-published authors either had no idea what literary fiction was, or were so desperate to get coverage that they didn’t care who they submitted to. As a reader and a customer, I tired of being bombarded with books I’d never buy for myself.

      And even if high-test literary self-published fiction exists out there…. any ideas how to separate it from everything else? Because nobody else I know who reads what I read is reading self-published books, either. Until there’s a way for me to be able to find what I’m looking for, and have it be correctly categorized and properly edited (not just grammar-corrected but had an editor actually go in and strengthen the story, plotting, characterization, etc), and correctly described, so that I’m not having to take a random guess what I’m getting……. then I don’t read self-published books.

      It’s not hateful for me to read what I want. I don’t know if what I want exists in self-publishing and I don’t know if there’s a way to find it that doesn’t mean me becoming an unpaid slush-pile sorter. A lot of what I hear about that is self-published is not at all what I read.

      If you feel you need to become an ex-visitor because I prefer to read small press literary fiction instead of self-published works… well, to each his own. :)

  23. I hate Hugh Howey and I hate you, Susie.

    I thought I’d done a fine job of making a semi-interesting blog post, replete with egoisms, ready for adulation. I then went to Howey’s Twitter feed (surname terms now) to be redirected to two fantastic blogs, including an endorsement of the hilarity to be found here.

    That’s where my hatred for The Insatiable Booksluts began. Trouble is, laughing out loud and grinning broadly are detrimental to my insistence on feeling aggrieved and inferior. So, in the spirit of doing unpunctuated, funny voices in my head while reading your play:

    I hate you but I like you really because you’re better than me please follow me and read my blog can you be my best friend too if not fine whatever I just remembered I hate you anyway

  24. Pingback: NewsBites: The Turmoil Continues | Indies Unlimited

  25. Pingback: Why I Decided to Self-Publish | Women Unplugged

  26. Hysterical. I’m so glad I read this after my morning coffee and before my evening chardonnay or I would have had one sticky keyboard. So true. If it wasn’t for Amazon my series would not have reached readers across the globe. I’m toasting you, Susie!

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  30. One thing I didn’t see this is that all these “i” things (iPad, Kindle, etc) electronic devices will not last forever. The more you charge them, the less time you have. They will go away and when you buy the new one, you won’t be able to transfer the books, etc. What you haven’t read yet, or what you want to re-read/keep (as we do paper books) are gone forever. Just a thought!

    • I know with Amazon, I can back it up to my computer in case I need to transfer them, and they’re also stored on the Amazon Cloud. Unsure about Apple devices, but I assume it is similar!

  31. Pingback: Writer Wednesday: Bear-Baiting | K. A. Laity

  32. Hellooooooo I’m catching up on all the back posts I’ve missed and LOL THIS IS HILARIOUS. Also yes, everyone is incredibly butthurt over ebooks [/busts out the popcorn and watches the party]. I mean well, I do agree that 99c is impossible/ridiculous since authors and editors need to get paid, but that doesn’t mean ebooks should cost the same as printed ones since they obviously take less effort to produce… and I would be ridiculously glad if they would just open the store so I can buy ebooks in SG but well APPARENTLY PEOPLE IN ASIA DON’T READ BOOKS SO WHAT DO I KNOW.

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