Thursday, February 23, 2012

Amazon flexes its muscle...authors caught in the squeeze.

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I've been in publishing only a short while, but I've been around it enough to have seen some of the big brew-ha-has involving Amazon. The first was when Amazon yanked all print-on-demand titles not produced through their print-on-demand arm. The second was when all MacMillan ebook titles were pulled during the great agency debate. Well it's happening again.

Independent Publishers Group, a large distributor for independent presses and authors has had all 5,000 of their ebooks pulled from the Amazon kindle. The print versions of their books are still for sale.

The reason, is that their ebook contract was up for renewal and IPG wanted the same terms, and Amazon wanted a deeper discount. When they couldn't agree, Amazon pulled the titles.

What does this mean to me
For most authors to this board, not a whole lot...except to point out that you should put some things in place.

A publisher (or author) should have an alternate means by which readers can get books in ALL formats. For instance, my press sells ebooks directly through my website ( So even if Amazon yanked my titles (which would be a disaster) I could still fulfill orders by people buying direct from me.

If you are an author who is pursuing publication through a publisher, try to get language inserted into the contract that allows you to directly sell your titles when they are unavailable for sale on other venues. This may be difficult to get - but you can use this example, and the MacMillan exmaple as cases as to why you need such a provision. Without it, you your fans will have NO MEANS to get your books. At a minimum, choose a publisher that sells all formats directly on their website so that you can keep the sales flowing.

If you are an indie author, going direct through DTP is your best chance of not having his happen to you. You can use a distributor for your print books, but keep the ebook rights in your control.

What about those using DTP?
Actually, it shouldn't effect you, other than a possible bellwether sign that Amazon may start squeezing you a bit more for a bigger piece of the pie. Don't get me wrong, I love Amazon, they have made me and my authors hundreds of thousands of dollars, but being the market leade means you have a big stick and from time to time they will swing it. Keep your eyes open and be prepared to make adjustments as necessary. may be possible that you'll see a hit on our sales. Moves like this will generate huge anti-Amazon sentiment (which is already pretty high these days, because of recent exclusivity moves) there will be people who will boycott all Amazon sales as a sign of displeasure - so for those in the Select program (and exclusive) you might have a little rougher time for awhile. Those not in the program, may see higher sales from other venues.

In Summary
Once again, it is proof that this business changes at the speed of light - and you have to keep abreast of what is going on. Only those who are watching and are willing to adjust will survive.

Learn More
If you would like to learn more about the incident in question. You can go to any of the following sites but they all pretty much say the same thing:

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Continually Changing Face of Publishing

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I so miss my blog. There is so much going on and I want to be out here talking and sharing with you all but life sometimes gets in the way. As you already know I lost my dad and that completely disrupted my entire life from Thanksgiving through late January and upon returning home I became ill. Not…I’m not feeling too well ill…but coughing up a lung…sleeping all day…near death kind of sick. I think it was a combination of forcing myself to be well while dealing with dad (as I had no choice but to), and cleaning out his place (that contained a lot of dust, dirt, and mold) not to mention a lot of lifting and carrying on a back that has already endured two surgeries…well that’s a long way of saying that it completely disrupted everything but at least…as of yesterday I was well and “back in the saddle”.

That being said…my poor authors have been gravely neglected in all of this. I feel bad that I’ve delayed several releases so yes, until I get these done I can’t spend time on blogging so I’m sneaking in very quick drive by post to just bring up something very important.

Okay enough prologue let’s have at it.

I’ve talked a lot about the changing face of publishing. For those that haven’t followed my old posts it stems from changes in technology that has self-publishing and small press publishing viable from a financial stand point. So for the past few years I’ve been dividing publishing down three lines: big-six, self-published, and small-press. I now have to revise this grouping by adding two new classifications.

One the surface of things you might say, “Robin, isn’t Amazon just another publisher like Penguin so it should be treated as such?” Well a while ago I would agree with you (and why I didn’t break it out separately but several major developments have made so that we really have to treat this classification differently.
  • First, Amazon is unique in that it has access to the biggest reader database in existence. Not only do they know buying habits, but they have millions of email addresses. As proven by their recent invention “deal of the day” they can place any title in the top 10 anytime they want to and this can mean a pretty big spotlight at any time. This is a good thing for Amazon-published authors.

  • Second, they have instituted exclusivity practices that limit the distribution of their author’s titles. In particular, if you are published through Amazon your ebooks won’t show up in the ibookstore or Barnes and Noble or anywhere else. To maximize sales you want to make it easy for people to buy your books and cutting out entire segments of the marketplace doesn’t help the author. I realize why Amazon is doing this…and it might turn out the best thing for their authors (high concentration in one place rather than diluted sales) but all in all I think this is very bad for the author.

  • Third, no bookstore presence. Yeah, I know…bookstores are closing…they aren’t as important as they once was…I get it. But the fact remains there are still a ton of sales sold through stores and for some authors they won’t consider themselves a “real author” until they see the books on a shelf at their local B&N. Originally it was the indie bookstores that banned Amazon produced books. But now Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million have instituted similar bans. Originally my thought was… “If a book is a bestseller they’ll have it for sale.” Now I’m not so sure. They are drawing battle lines and I don’t think exceptions will be made. This is terrible for authors who signed on with Amazon with the promise that they’ll have both print and ebooks. Sure, they’ll still sell books online…and that is a large number of books but in many respects I think the selling point of going with a publisher is widespread distribution. Since Amazon authors don’t get this it helps to put them in a different category.
At one time I looked at signing with Amazon as an innovative publisher in the pack of many companies that fall between small-press and big-six. Now I see them as a completely different beast, and to sign with them may be more like “publishing light”

Okay, this really isn’t a different publishing model, but rather recognition that authors that do more than one type of publishing simultaneously. Joe Konrath is a great example of a hybrid author as he has self-published titles, big-six titles, and amazon titles. Nathan Lowell is a Ridan author who is also a hybrid as he has his Trader Tales books done through us but has self-published shorter works as well as his fantasy series.

But why should I break out a Hybrid-published author? Because if you plan on being one…you need to pay particular attention to you contract details…or you won’t be able to be a hybrid author. When my husband (author Michael J. Sullivan for those new to my blog) went to sign with big-six Hachette we shocked to discover that we weren’t signing up to just one series, but there were clauses that could affect publication of OTHER yet to be written works. This wasn’t Hachette trying to “put the screws” to Michael…as we learned the clauses are standard and exist in virtually every contract especially offered by the big-six…but that’s exactly the point and why I’m bringing it up. Michael’s original contract could be a career killer. It has stipulations like he couldn’t publish ANYTHING until six months after the book was released but they had up to two years to bring it to market. Seriously? He can’t publish anything for possibly two and a half years? What’s more he could also be prevented from writing fantasy books, so no possibility of sequels or prequels. We considered these restrictions “career killers” and almost didn’t sign. After four months of negotiation, we finally got the clauses adjusted so that both sides were satisfied but I wanted to ensure that he “could” become hybrid if that is a choice he wants to make. Nathan is fortunate that he is signed with Ridan as we place no restrictions on other works…none whatsoever…so becoming a hybrid was an opportunity he could avail himself of.

In summary
My goal with this blog is to help to keep authors a breast on changes in the industry. But with greater choices requires the author to take more responsibility for knowing what is going on and what the implications are. Things change quickly in the business. I’m amazed that nary a month goes by without some “really big” new announcement. I applaud authors that think about the business side of their writing, and especially for those that think about these things before they are actually finished. As always I stand by my “no right choice” just a choice that “best suits” the goals of the author. There are now more choices so more to think about, but in the long run a well educated author will be way ahead of the pack.

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