HuffPo article: Amazon is “potentially terrorizing”

HuffPo article: Amazon is “potentially terrorizing”

Let me start out by saying that I’m not neutral on Amazon (could you tell from the title of this blog?).

I like them as a customer, and that includes as a reader. I’ve never liked any other company more. While they weren’t the only possible option for reading e-books, I, to some extent, equate Amazon and e-books. When the Kindle 2 got text-to-speech, that was a big change that affects me every week to this day.

I am also not an employee of Amazon’s. I do write about when I disagree with what they do. I don’t have any more direct influence over them than anybody else does, and I don’t have a boss there.

However, I have also made tens of thousands of dollars from Amazon, which I report on my taxes. I make that money as an author (and technically, as a publisher). I get royalties on books and blogs, and I derive other income from having the blogs.

It’s not how I make my living: I have a “day job” which is the vast majority of my income.

I’m bringing that up because I’m about to refer you to, and write about, a

Huffington Post article by Brooke Warner

who is identified as “Publisher, Coach, Author”.

The post is reporting what could certainly be a concerning policy change by Amazon. It says, among other things, that Amazon’s goal is to “…disrupt publishing, not to support publishers or authors”.

That is not what Amazon says, of course, so we can treat this as an opinion (which could be suggested to be a deduction based on evidence,)…or Warner has inside information.

I’m a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, and yes, in my opinion, Amazon has disrupted publishing. While e-books existed before the Kindle, they were a tiny part of the market, and that’s no longer true. If we can say that Amazon made e-books a significant market, we can say that one of the disruptions they caused was that authors could publish a book themselves and have it appear in the same marketplace as a book which was traditionally published.

In my bookstore, for economic/logistical reasons I’ve discussed before, an indie (independently published) book was simply not going to sit on a shelf next to one from Random House or Simon & Schuster. It was very, very difficult for an indie author to make a living…even harder than it was a tradpubbed author (and that was a big long shot as well).

Now, it is possible…and it happens.

I have had years where, based strictly on my income as an author, I wouldn’t have been below the poverty line.

I doubt there has ever been a company which has enabled more authors to make more money…the introduction of paperbacks helped (there are a couple of companies which popularized those), but this is different.


Those authors making the money are largely newer authors who weren’t already established with tradpubs. Just as was argued with paperbacks, people argue that the books aren’t, on average, as good as tradpubbed books. That can be especially true in the areas of proofreading and copy editing…which sometimes doesn’t happen much at all with an indie. Some indie books I’ve read have been beautifully edited and proofread, and wonderful books. I think what we can fairly say is that, with a lower level to market entry, there are a higher percentage of “substandard” books among indies than among tradpubbed…although I wouldn’t say that the, oh, top 30 percent (in a completely subjective measure of quality) are better among tradpubs than indies.

The policy being reported here (and my intuitive assessment of the article is that the policy as reported is true) is that a book being sold by the publisher through Amazon may not get the “Buy” button.

Customers should be familiar with the “Buy” button versus the additional ways to buy. I’m always inclined to use the Buy button method…even though another source might be cheaper. In some cases, the other method might send me a product which is just as good (never used). I bought a whole bunch of kitschy collectibles once from a store going out of business…posters, pictures, that sort of thing, from pop culture (TV shows). I bought them new and unused, didn’t open the packages, and could hypothetically have sold them for a lot more than what I paid for them, and a lot less than the price another store would have gotten. I don’t think I ever actually did sell any of them. 🙂

If you are a publisher, and your new book being sold directly no longer appears as the first choice, that is legitimately a problem for you.

For third-party sellers, it appears to be that you have to “win” the Buy button, and you can improve that by paralleling Amazon’s goals…lower prices, perhaps.

Amazon has the right to do this…they don’t have to sell your books at all, of course. There may be some issue if Amazon is violating an agreement they’ve made with the publisher, but I’d have to see contractual language that promised that the book would be promoted in some way which clearly indicates it would be the Buy button, and that Amazon didn’t follow the necessary rules (which might include notification to the publisher) in making the change.

Absolutely, I can see how this would hurt publishers.

The article also suggests that it significantly hurts authors.

Here’s that argument: when you buy a used book, the author doesn’t get a royalty on that sale. It isn’t part of the accounting.

They did, generally, get a royalty on the first sale…the one where the person bought it who later sold it used.

There are books which aren’t supposed to be sold to others. In the bookstore, we would get “galleys”, pre-publication versions (an upcoming hardback might have a trade paperback style galley…which might not have cover art), which we could read ahead of time so we were knowledgeable and engaged promoting the book on release day. Those would specifically say they weren’t for resale.

There was also the issue of “strips”. From tradpubs, we were generally guaranteed we could sell a book. If we didn’t sell a book, we could return it for a refund (which was usually a credit for purchasing more books from that company). That’s one reason indies were often impractical: they didn’t have that policy.

It would be expensive to ship mass market paperbacks back to the publisher: books are heavy (which is one of the big pluses of e-books, especially for those with certain physical challenges)! Instead, we were instructed to tear the front cover off, and mail those back. You could get maybe twenty of those in a manila envelope, which could be mailed much more cheaply than a box of twenty books.

The book itself would still be able to be read, of course.

It was explicitly stated: we could not sell those “strips”. We could not donate them (we could tell the publisher about an organization that needed books, and the publisher would often donate books there…giving them the write-off, but also accounting for in some way for the author, I assume).

As an employee, I was told I could bring those strips home and read them…it was just that we couldn’t resell them or donate them. It was one of the benefits of working in a bookstore when I was a clerk, and didn’t make much money. The publisher wasn’t usually losing a sale: I wouldn’t have bought the book otherwise.

I have seen strips in used bookstores with a statement stamped on them that if you were buying it, it was stolen goods, basically. I always thought that was brazen on the part of the bookstore, the people who had bought it.

If customers begin buying books by third-party sellers, who may have bought them at a “going out of business sale” like I had done with the posters, and not directly from the publisher, it could mean the publishers lose significant income.

Would the publisher have gotten the money from the sale from the dying store? Maybe…bankruptcy can result in suppliers not being paid, for one thing. The author may get paid based on what the customer paid, rather than what the cover price was, and that could possibly hurt the author.

Note that all of this is about physical books, not e-books…since e-books are not sold used or third-party at this point. It could affect e-book readers if it affects hybrid publishers or authors.

As readers, we may be paying lower prices…so I do think it is good that the article raises people’s awareness. I’ve said many times that I believe small brick-and-mortar bookstores can make it, by making the buying experience such that people voluntarily pay more money because they want to support you.

I think it’s more complicated than the HuffPo article makes it…it concludes with saying, “If you want to support the authors you love, get off Amazon.” Do that, and you’ll kill the income of many indie authors, who publish the books themselves. That’s especially true for e-books. You will likely give authors the highest royalty you can by purchasing e-books they’ve published themselves of their own books. It’s tougher to go from indie publishing to where some of the real money is, like movies and TV shows, although movies do get made from independently published books:

The Martian by Andy Weir (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit by shopping*)

comes to mind.

I’m going to wrap this up by recommending that you read Warner’s article. I suspect you’ll hear about it, and that some people will simply hear that Amazon is ripping off authors, without hearing too much of the details. It has the potential to be a big negative news node for Amazon, like when they removed 1984 (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) from people’s Kindles (I’ve written extensively about what happened there) or when they heard that Amazon deleted somebody’s account. I’m not saying this policy is a positive thing, by any means…I just wanted to give you some more perspective in making your own decision about it.

Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

My current Amazon Giveaways:
Star Wars Day through 40 years of Star Wars!
Giveaway by Bufo Calvin
  • Winner:Randomly selected after Giveaway has ended, up to 1 winners.
  • Requirements for participation:
    • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
    • Follow @TMCGTT on twitter
    • 18+ years of age (or legal age)


Start:May 4, 2017 6:32 AM PDT
End:Jun 3, 2017 11:59 PM PDT

It’s going on that long in part so that it covers the actual 40th anniversary of Star Wars (of the release in the USA) on May 25th 2017. Also, this book, which has good reviews and is new, is $14.99 in the Kindle edition…which is a lot for me for a giveaway. 🙂

Good luck, and may the Force be with you!

One Murder More (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

by my sibling, Kris Calvin

1 winner

Requirements for participation:

  • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
  • 18+ years of age (or legal age)
  • Follow Kris Calvin on Amazon (you’ll be notified when future books are added to Amazon…I think that’s the only contact you get, although I’m not positive)


Start:Apr 30, 2017 9:46 AM PDT
End:May 7, 2017 11:59 PM PDT

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

 * I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


One Response to “HuffPo article: Amazon is “potentially terrorizing””

  1. Amazon and bibliodiversity | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] HuffPo article: Amazon is “potentially terrorizing” […]

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