Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Two-Cent Tuesdays: Amazon is Your Frenemy

Available on Amazon!
Here was an article I read early last month and this time I actually remembered to save the link.  The positive stuff is all the same old boring crap about building networks, give stuff away, blah blah blah.  What I found more interesting is the part about tags and KDP Select.  It helps shed some light on something that had already occurred to me, which is the title of your post:  when it comes to publishing, Amazon is your frenemy, not your friend.

The idea is that Amazon wants you to put your books up through their KDP service, especially the KDP Select so they can lock it in for 3 months.  At the same time, though, Amazon doesn't want your book to succeed too much, or else they'll have to pay a bunch of royalties to you.  In that article you can see some of the stuff Amazon does relatively covertly to try and make sure you can't get too successful too easily.  As the article notes, when authors started to trade "tags" for their books to each other, Amazon began degrading that feature.  When people were using the giveaways on KDP Select to help sell more books, Amazon degraded the ranking features so free books would have a harder time floating to the top.  Recently the "like" button on books has become spotty, oftentimes nonexistent.  Again this was after authors were trading "likes" to each other to help gain notoriety.  (My "publisher" of A Hero's Journey encouraged this practice incidentally.)

Then after the "Pay for reviews" scandal they've seemed to have a haphazard approach to reviews.  Some get taken down, some don't.  (Unfortunately a lot of idiotic ones remain.)  There's talk about how they might not let you review books in the genre you read the most or things like that.  I'm not sure how much of that is fact and how much is fiction or whether that will change in the future.  I haven't seen a difference yet but maybe it helps I write my Amazon reviews under a different name.  (Incidentally when people bitch about that I say I've been using that name since 2001, so I see no reason to change it now.)

And while I suppose it's good to keep paid reviews out (though really if you got the money, why not?  It's not like there's much integrity in non-paid reviews.) it's still all part of a system that's designed not to make it easy for you to get ahead.  Which highlights the problem of when your publisher is also your bookstore.  And as just another wrinkle Amazon has its own publishing labels now, which means all these self-pubbed novels are competing with their own titles.  Do you think they really want to make it easy for my novels to sell more than theirs?

Another thing is their policy about royalties.  It's great you can get 70%...but only on books $2.99 or more.  And in countries like India or Brazil you won't get that unless it's in KDP Select, not that you'll probably sell much in those countries unless you translate it to Hindi or Portuguese.  The hitch is that not as many books will sell at $2.99 most likely.  So again while you might get more royalties for that 1 copy, you might not sell as many as if it were 99 cents or even $1.99.  Also I heard on Writer Beware that if you try to sell it for more than $9.99 it goes back down to 35%.  Just another way they try to keep their royalty payments in check.

Anyway, I love buying stuff on Amazon, but I can't pretend they're my best friend.

While I'm bitching about Amazon, the last few months I've bought less stuff off Amazon and it's Amazon's fault.  For instance, they used put an album on sale for $2-$4 every day.  Then they stopped doing that.  So while before I might buy a couple of albums a week from Amazon, this year I've bought maybe a half-dozen total.  And through the Amazon Local (their version of Groupon) they would offer vouchers for X amount off a book or album or maybe buy an album or Kindle book for $1.99 or something.  Now if they do that it's only for ones THEY select, which almost always are crap or stuff I already have.  The Vine newsletter where you can get free products in exchange for writing reviews has really gone downhill too.  I mean the last one I got on Thursday only had a couple of books and MS Office 2013 (which was great but they only had a few copies so that ran out fast) whereas before they'd offer a wider variety of stuff.

I'm not sure if Amazon has just decided they've stomped the competition to the point they don't need to entice people with deals anymore or if internally they decided it was losing money.  But really 95% of the more impulse type purchases I make there are because the item is on sale.  No sale = no buying, not from me.  I mean if they think I'm going to spend $10 on an album or $13 on an ebook they got another thing coming.  I ain't made of money.

So they might want to reconsider these restrictive policies before it's too late.  Because inevitably something else will come along, whether it's a site that already exists or something new, something will rise to take advantage if Amazon gets too complacent, as has happened to many a company, the Big Three automakers for instance.  Don't be General Motors, Amazon!


  1. I noticed them pulling the plug on some of the things you mentioned, most notably the reviews. I lost a few of my reviews and I really didn't have many to begin with. The KDP thing rubs me the wrong way, though I have signed my first book up for it a couple of times. The frenemy label is right on.

  2. Well, Amazon is in it for the money, just like any other publisher. The thing about them is that they offer better terms than everyone else. Really, it's just that the publishing industry has been doing its best to become the enemy of the author, and Amazon is an enemy to publishers, so it's kind of like "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" more than anything else.

  3. I don't mind Amazon. My career is with the State of Utah. That's where my money flows. That's what's gonna pay for the house I want to buy. The other career (that of writing) buys a dinner once in a while and gets me some fan mail that makes my day. That's it. I have no illusions about being uber author. I honestly think "Uber author" for the most part is saved for those who write romance (with exceptions like Hugh Howey). I can't write romance. It's just not in me. I've had reviews nixed on Amazon. None of the bad ones. The one star reviews always stay. It's the five star ones that get removed. I've gotten to the point of where I just say "meh." I'm appreciative of reviews that do get posted, but I no longer solicit for them. I figure it's a waste of time.

  4. I'm glad you said it... Amazon is not interested in me as a person, and doesn't give a squat about how successful I am, at least not any more than it means I can make money for them.

    Of course, I've always known that, but it does seem like some folks feel like it's a partnership with loyalty being shared from both sides.

  5. So I read the article and your post and I'm not sure that Amazon is being all that author-unfriendly. Mostly what they seemed to crack down on was authors gaming the system. "I'll tag your book if you tag mine" and paid reviews aren't necessarily bad things, but they do go contrary to what most people think. If I see an ad on TV for something, I expect that the person got paid to endorse that thing and take it into account. When I see a critic reviewing a book, I expect that the critic was not compensated by the book's author. So at the least, noting that a review is compensated ought to be required in fairness.

    Also, while I'm not sure I understood it, I think I agree with Amazon that free copies ought not to count towards the sales totals for rankings, if the rankings count paid sales. Again, if I hear a book is a 'bestseller,' I think it SOLD copies. If I heard that the Scarlet Knight "sold" 400,000 copies of book one, but it turned out that all 400,000 were given away free, that changes my opinion of whether the book is any good. (Although your books are very good; don't get me wrong.) Frankly, I'll download almost anything if it's free, and give it a chance, but I'm very very picky about what books I pay for.

    The bottom line is, though, that Amazon is investing a huge amount of infrastructure into allowing me to sell my books, and my total tech investment is "have a laptop with an Internet connection." They have to pay for servers to store this stuff, programmers to keep the pages up, people to monitor comments and reviews on your books, and shipping, etc., all of which they do for free.

    Yep, for free: I give Amazon 70% of my royalties, but they only make that money if I sell a book.

    I've sold EXACTLY ONE book this month, so whatever Amazon is paying to host all my stuff, they've been reimbursed less than 70 cents this month. I'd venture to say that Amazon has lost money on me over the years because I haven't exactly had a million-seller.

  6. Part TWO since I went on so long:

    As for the $9.99 stuff, Amazon's always maintained that books shouldn't be over $9.99. I agree with them, and I think even $9.99 is a bit high. So why shouldn't they try to discourage you from charging more than $9.99? That's their policy.

    Overall, I think Amazon is a good deal. It's like Michael said: I rely on my real job for income and my writing for extra money. So they let me be an 'author' without any investment whatsoever, and the slight chance that someday my book would be the next "Wool" is made a bit better because Amazon cross-markets it for me by listing it near other books and saying 'People who bought THIS bought Pagel's book, too" and such.

    But even if I were to decide to chuck the whole suing people thing and be an author full time, I'd still want Amazon's deal, because they provide all the stuff I need to be a publisher and I'd make 35% of the gross on my books with, again, NO investment on my part.

    What do the "Real" Pubs pay authors? 35% of the gross? Not likely. This article:


    Says that big authors get maybe 15% of the cover price (after a certain number of sales) but that most get 5%, OF NET.

    Amazon is giving everyone -- you, me, Grisham -- the chance to get 35% of gross with no investment. That seems like a phenomenal deal.

    But Amazon also DOES want you to be successful. Whether you take 35%, or 70%, they want your books to sell because they make money off of them. What they don't want is for the system to be rigged in favor of people who have broad networks or who are willing to cheat.

    Think about this: If you and I can agree to exchange tags, or reviews, why can't everyone? And do you really want to compete against an author like Josh Fruhlinger, who gets 270 comments a day on his posts on his blog and who does readings? Amazon is keeping everyone from cheating the system, so that when you see a review or a tag you can trust that the review or the tag is honest. I don't see that as being unfriendly. I see that as letting me compete with Fruhlinger, or Rowling, or anyone else.

    I mean, Andrew posts links to his books and suggests that people click "Like" and that's not a big deal; asking someone to post a review or click Like isn't a harmful thing. But if "Like" is what rockets you to the top of the list, then what happens if Rowling or Grisham or Gaiman does the same thing? Suddenly, Andrew's 50 likes pale in comparison to 2.3 million of them.

    I've had my problems with a lot of corporations, but I can honestly say that I can't think of a single thing Amazon has done that I dislike. And I'm not just saying that because when my Kindle broke they replaced it for free even though it was well past the deadline for doing that. But that's part of it. If more corporations were like Amazon, Citizens United wouldn't have seemed like such a bad deal (to everyone but me.)

  7. I think it's mostly the whole "Select" thing that bothers people the most about Amazon, and it's clearly a move to hurt the competition with the Indie author as the pawn. And ironically those rules about being exclusive are not for everyone. I've seen e-books like the Hunger Games available to borrow and available else where.

    The thing for me is, I get more borrows than I ever had sales on Smashwords or Barnes and Noble. So for me it's worth it. If I sold more on Nook, etc..I'd stay there. I know you do and you should blog about how you do it. If I had more books, I would vary them as far as being in select, and make some effort to sell in the other markets.

    As for Amazon, self-publishing would not be where it is today without it. Most Indies wouldn't have had any success at all, and would most likely have remained unknown.

    And as far as paid reviews, tags, etc...I agree with Braine. I don't like people gaming the system. Tags never worked for me.

    The only way you can sell on Amazon is to advertise with places like Ereader News today or go on blog tours and sell maybe 3 books per stop if you're lucky. I feel frustrated with these limited options, but I've also become like Mike.

  8. I haven't gotten into buying more than one or two items a year on Amazon so I've yet to notice any problems. I understand the Feds are trying to make online purchases come with a sales tax so that could discourage sales.

  9. Agree with Briane. Bottom line is that Amazon is looking out for the customer, not authors. When a book becomes a bestseller because the author had friends and family write reviews, exchanged tags, and gave away a lot of free books, it's the customers who suffer, because they lose confidence in all those systems and can't determine good books from bad. Authors need to stop trying to find ways to game the system, because that's what forces Amazon to do stuff like this.



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