Yesterday, I finished creating my Amazon author profile. It’s right here, and it feels really good to have that tiny corner of Amazon all to myself. There’s something official about appearing on Amazon, having my book for sale in the world’s largest marketplace. There’s something affirming about it, even if the idea of appearing on Amazon shouldn’t really be affirming, since I could have technically self-published my book in rough draft form through CreateSpace.
But still, whenever someone asks, “Can I buy your book on Amazon?” I can easily say “Yep. It’s easy to find.” And readers can see my whole bio, and search inside the book, and see my other books, etc.
And hell, I suddenly have a “sales rank,” too (not a good one, obviously, but I exist on some gigantic spreadsheet somewhere, at least!), and there’s a whole “Customers who viewed this product also viewed…” portion of the page, which–potentially–could help me to see the wider literary landscape in which my book will eventually settle.
I know that Amazon is a big place, and everyone’s here. I know that it shouldn’t be a milestone, and yet it sort of feels that way.
The bigger issue, though, is that I’ve got a love/hate relationship with Amazon.
On the one hand, there’s nothing I love more than building my wishlists of books, and scrambling to find that one extra item that will push my shopping cart to $25 so that I can get free shipping. I love coming home to find the box at my front door.
On the other hand, though, my point-of-view on Amazon has certainly changed since I’ve become an author. What was once a fun site for book-hunting (how could I have even found half of this stuff without the help of Amazon?) now feels a little too much like an Big Dark Empire. The tactics that I have tried to ignore over the past few years (i.e. scan the prices at brick-and-mortar stores so that Amazon knows what to beat!) now feel decidedly evil.
Why do I feel this way? Well, Amazon basically takes a 55% cut of the price of the book that you sell through their site. Some might say that this is reasonable. It’s hard for me to argue, being new to the game of book sales. But it’s also hard for me (or anyone, really) to reconcile that only 45% of the book’s earnings will go to the combined team of writer, editor, agent, publisher, layout and graphic design, marketing/PR/publicity, and printer. That’s a lot of people splitting a tiny piece of the pie, while Amazon gets the lion’s share simply for existing.
I just wrote “simply for existing,” of course, knowing that this isn’t really true. Amazon has built itself into a mammoth operation that does indeed perform a service, and it’s a service that I rely on as both consumer and producer.
Still. They’ve also insinuated themselves into the American economy in such a way that they can demand whatever cut they want, without really doing any work. They’ve put a gigantic number of brick-and-mortar book/movie/music stores out of business, thereby limiting the options for the consumer. They’ve made “convenience” and “free shipping” into an expectation (they can take a loss on their 55% cut, because they’ve never really made any investment in the product: $10 is as good as $2, if it means someone is buying from them instead of from another retailer), and the results are chilling for the book industry: average readers will not purchase my books if they don’t purchase them through Amazon.
That might sound a little silly, but consider this: when we (Burrow Press) published 15 Views of Orlando, we made it a point to bypass Amazon. We decided to only sell through the Burrow Press web site, and through direct sales. We will not give in! But what happened? A significant amount of marketing effort went to waste, since many of the people who were likely to buy searched for it on Amazon, didn’t see it, and gave up. Many others wouldn’t buy from the web site because they didn’t want to pay shipping. So now you’ll easily find 15 Views: Volume II on Amazon, and we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that it takes much much longer to recoup costs.
It’s near-impossible to compete with Amazon’s shipping, by the way. You can’t compete with free. To put things into perspective, my book American Fraternity Man could potentially ship free from Amazon (if you buy one other thing). I went to the post office yesterday to mail off some copies of the book to friends, and shipping was seven dollars. I almost cried. I’d be spending seven bucks to ship books off to friends, just so I could save them a couple dollars off the Amazon price and also get them a signed copy? That basically meant that–with the cost of book-sized envelopes–I was paying my friends to take my book.
Allow me just one second to shake my head sadly.
But hey, it’s Amazon. This year their cut is 55%, and next year it’ll probably be more, and then more, and then more, until they’re our only option and we’re all working for free to make sure Amazon gets richer and more powerful.
And here’s the final depressing note: because there are so few brick-and-mortar bookstores left, I can’t really tell anyone to buy my book elsewhere. You can get it from me (personally, at a discount), or you can get it from Amazon (who also slashes the price and gives free shipping because, hey, they’re not paying for it!). Barnes & Noble sells my book online, and you can order it in-person at their store (which I would encourage, just to support the physical stores), but they likely won’t stock the book unless there’s clear demand. I’m not James Patterson or Stephen King, and no one is dedicating shelf space to me that could go to something far more profitable, like endless variations of the Monopoly game, or stuffed Dr. Seuss toys, or “teen paranormal romance” “novels.”
Lest this sound strictly like I’m hating on Amazon, I want to assure you (and I want to assure any of the Amazon Stormtroopers who might be scouring the internet looking for anti-Amazon authors to blacklist) that this isn’t the case.
But my thoughts have become much more complicated now, ever since I went from casual consumer to author. Now that I’m actively marketing my book, and actively keeping spreadsheets of my own costs and my own revenue, it’s hard not to be upset when I make a single dollar off a book that took seven years to write and revise and publish. I’d always told myself that I didn’t care if I ever made money off my novel; I’ve got a full-time job, after all, and I have no aspirations of beach-houses and yachts and guest appearances in rap videos. Really, I just want to create art that I believe in, and I want others to experience it (and to enjoy the experience). If I reach a million readers but make zero dollars, I will be a happy man.
But still. Voice in the back of my head: “You made zero dollars. But you want to know who just profited off your work? Good job, kid. Really shrewd.”
My book is available through Amazon.
I hope you’ll buy it.
Regardless of anything I’ve written above, I will be happy if you read my book. Really.
Just, when you add another book to your shopping cart to take advantage of the free shipping, make sure it’s 15 Views of Orlando.