Amazon is known for its ruthless business practices—it doesn’t merely squeeze competition, it strangles it until it dies.
Amazon currently sells 40% of all new books sold in the USA. Their percentage of the market in ebooks is even larger—perhaps 66% according to the above-cited Salon.com article.
Amazon is not only a book seller, but a publisher, and it favors its own imprints and minimizes the ability for readers to find its competitors. The most famous case on point is that of Hachette. Check this URL for Stephen Colbert’s clips on the issue: http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/search?keywords=Hachette
And the below is quoted from a letter sent by a group of authors to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and its BOD:
About six months ago…Amazon began sanctioning Hachette authors’ books. These sanctions included refusing preorders, delaying shipping, reducing discounting, and using pop-up windows to cover authors’ pages and redirect buyers to non-Hachette books.
These sanctions have driven down Hachette authors’ sales at Amazon.com by at least 50 percent and in some cases as much as 90 percent. These sales drops are occurring across the board: in hardcovers, paperbacks, and e-books. (http://www.authorsunited.net/)
Well-known is Amazon’s dislike of sexy covers, adult-oriented books and erotica; it seems to especially target purveyors of steamy books. Though Amazon touts its independent publishing program as a boon for writers, many indie published authors, especially in erotic romance, complain that Amazon’s search engine has made it difficult if not impossible for readers to find their books. The Kindle Unlimited program has cut further into their book revenues. Ellora’s Cave, one of the most prominent publishers of steamy and erotic romance on the web, has downsized radically, citing a massive drop in Amazon sales of its books as the reason.
The loyalty of many customers to Amazon is misplaced. For example, Amazon often does not feature the best online price for a book or other item. A couple of cases in point:
On 30 Sept, the price of one of my shorties, Highland Vampire, on Amazon was $2.51. The price at Harlequin’s site was $2.39.
Being the daughter of Brits, I’m a tea drinker and lately have been into using loose teas (they really do make a better cuppa). Initially I had been purchasing from Amazon—isn’t that the place we’ve all become accustomed to checking first? Then I went to the Twinings Tea site and found that I’d been grotesquely overpaying. My fave Darjeeling at Amazon costs $8.24 and it’s an “add-on item,” which is some sort of irritating practice at Amazon—I couldn’t get the tea without buying other stuff, and I couldn’t find a work-around for that bit of Amazonian weirdness.
The same tea is almost half the price–$4.49—at Twinings.
Like many, I have come to rely on Amazon for so much! I listen to music on my Amazon music player on both laptop and cellphone, and download music from Amazon as well. I’m an Amazon affiliate. I also buy books for my Kindle Paperwhite, which I love, from Amazon.
But maybe it’s time to cut the cord. Why should I fund an entity that seeks to exploit me, maybe even put me out of business?
I’ll probably take down my Amazon affiliate ads—that won’t hurt, as they’ve never earned me a penny. I’ve changed my email signature line, which used to direct folks to my Amazon author pages, to instead include my website and blog. Other changes will be harder.
I’m an Ellora’s Cave author. I also have books placed with two other publishers that have disappointed me in myriad ways—see these links:
http://www.harlequinlawsuit.com/ and scroll down to #9 at
So I want to go indie. But Createspace and KDP are fabulous platforms for self-publishing. How ethical is it, given my concerns, to use those platforms?
And beyond my personal worries, there’s the greater problem. Amazon sells a huge number of books, films, music and other creative and factual works.
Should one entity control so much of what goes into our minds and thoughts?
About the Author:
Best-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written seventeen romance novels in several subgenres, including erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s held the positions of managing editor and senior editor, working for such firms Totally Bound, Liquid Silver Books and Ai Press. She also takes private clients.
Her books have been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, won a contest or two, attained the finals of the RITA and hit several bestseller lists.
A former trial attorney, her passion is world travel. She’s left the US over a dozen times, including lengthy stints working overseas. She’s now writing a vampire tale and planning her next trip.
–Find her books at http://www.suzdemello.com
–For editing services, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
–Befriend her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SuzDeMello, and visit her group page at https://www.facebook.com/redhotauthorscafe
–She tweets @Suzdemello
–Her current blog is http://www.TheVelvetLair.com
Without Amazon I wouldn’t have found you!:) I too love my Kindle and I’m amazed at how many e-books are for free. How does this work for the author?
Free is like a loss leader in a grocery store. The store will put an item (like milk) on sale at a below their cost to get you in their store in the hopes that you’ll purchase other things. Harlequin used to offer free books if you signed up for their monthly book club, that’s how I got hooked on Maggie Shayne’s vampire books. While lots of folks don’t like giving away their hard work, it’s more that authors fear amazon will drive all other etailers of books out of business.
I love amazon and buy a lot from them, I even have a kindle app on my ipad as well as nook and ibooks. And I read from all 3, but amazon is usually my go to site, despite knowing they present a bit of a hazard to any future I may want as a full-time author:D
Thanks for hosting me, Linda, and folks–keep those comments coming in. This is a conversation that all of us should participate in IMO.
As for how free works for an author–sometimes it’s smart to offer a shortie for free or a novel for a highly reduced price, like 99 cents. But the plethora of authors offering many works for drastically discounted prices is devaluing the entire industry.
I’m a slow writer. Sometimes I’ll take a year to write a novel. Giving away that work FOR FREE or even 99 cents makes me feel not merely cheap but worthless.
Freebies flooding the market are making it very difficult for professionals to make a living. I’ve been writing since 1996, have won awards and garnered some great reviews, but I can’t make a living in an environment that rewards those “authors” who are more adept at SEO than they are at writing.
I’ve found some great writers who offered freebies or 99 cent books. I’ve also come across a ton of bad writers looking to cash in on the latest greatest genre going. The public does seem to weed those out but it does hurt the decent writers because it takes away the face time. If I’m attempting to read some trash writers book then I’m not taking the time to read a good writers book. BUT if it wasn’t for Kindle (amazon) then a lot of good writers that are excellent story tellers would never get published and their talent never recognized since the publishing giants are worse controllers than Amazon IMHO. The great writers who are great story tellers do rise to the top.
As a pure reader two things I look at when deciding on a book by an unknown author. Price of the book verses the length and the reviews. An author who sells an ebook for 4.99 that is only 120 pages long seems a reach in value. I skip all the good reviews and read all the bad reviews. If most of the bad reviews are simply because the writer is new and couldn’t afford an editor or have a small fan base of beta readers than that’s fine. If the writer skips from 1st person to 3rd person then not so fine. If most of the bad comments are on the story line because it’s old, outdate or whatever the idiot thinks is bad that’s fine. I just want to know the writer can tell a coherent story that I can get lost in.
If the good reviews far outnumber the bad reviews than more than likely it’s a good writer. One just needs to look at some of the big name writers and look at their reviews. You see averages of 4.2 or even lower. Lee Child (Jim Grant) sells millions of ebooks and his ratings range in that area. (if any of this makes sense) So the bottom line is there are newsletters I get everyday listing free and reduced ebooks that introduce me to writers I would never have found before.
One thing I’ve notice about Amazon is that they do respond to adverse publicity when it starts to affect their bottom line. If more authors would blog about this then more customers would bounce back to Amazon and complain. Amazon hates nothing more than complaining customers.
It’s also amazing what internet companies will allow and what they will censor. They will censor erotica which can be very well written, humorous and well worth reading but then allow beheadings and radical Islam information to show up in their search engine. The one thing that should not affect the internet is political correctness. Free speech just means that, it doesn’t mean what one says or writes is not supposed to hurt someone’s feelings. How far has our freedom gone when “hate speech” is defined by others and outlawed because it hurts their feelings? Heaven forbid some kid purchases erotica to read since their parents don’t supervise their purchases. If that occurs it’s Amazon’s fault for making it available. Lord, I was looking a Playboy magazines when I was 12 and 13 years old. Back before that boys used to sneak down to the river to watch the girls bathe. Now you just have to say your gendered confused and you get free reign in the girls room. Now we can raise sexually confused perverts instead of just plain perverts. We are so progressive it’s amazing. I know, what does any of this have to do with the article? I have no clue, I just like to rant once in awhile. Meanwhile I’m going to see if one of my wife’s dresses fit me and go visit the ladies room in Wally’s World. (now that’s really perverted isn’t it?)
All of the issues you have raised have NOTHING to do with the 1st Amendment unless Amazon is somehow restricting your right to speak out about them or any other issue in any way that is non-defamatory, is not illegal, is not contractually prohibited or is not detrimental to the public welfare. While you may have a legitimate (or not) issue with Amazon’s business practices they are not doing ANYTHING to infringe on your 1st Amendment rights. I suggest you look up the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and refresh your memory. (Luckily you can do that right on-line these days.). It should be noted that if you received an education in the US you were undoubtedly exposed to these fundemental rights during your Junior High Civics class. Or if you were a non-citizen but applying for citizenship all materials and classes cover these fundamental rights in clear concise detail. I am sure there is a teacher in your life who would be glad to lend you a copy of the textbook.
@Julaine, if you’re responding to my blog post: please know that not only am I familiar with the first amendment, I wrote a law review article dealing with the clash between first and sixth amendment rights when I attended law school at Hastings. It was published while I was still a law review editor, in 1981. Granted, that was a very long time ago, but I do still recall that the first amendment encompasses many issues in addition to freedom of speech. In addition to the religious liberties and political rights specifically mentioned, the first amendment is believed to establish freedom of thought.
A more careful reading of what I wrote would reveal that I am concerned about Amazon’s impact on freedom of thought, not freedom of speech. Given that they control a huge media market share, I ask: “Should one entity control so much of what goes into our minds and thoughts?”
I think you just read the title and didn’t bother to read the article or else you wouldn’t have been so snippy in your comment.
I most certainly did read the entire article.Your article asked a question as to whether Amazon was a threat to the first Amendment and my answer was, No. The issues you raised spoke to business practices and fair trade monopolies and anti-trust issues. That is what I was trying to point out. We just went through the DOJ vs. the Big 5 and the DOJ vs. Apple. Amazon’s ongoing battle with Hatchette is continuation of that struggle. I think it is fair to say that Amazon, like any corporation has the right to set their own pricing for the items that it sells, anything else would be considered price fixing. It may be good policy to sell at the lowest price or to create programs that give a perceived value to their customers but it is the customer’ responsibility to comparison shop or decide what value they place on a company’s services.
I have issues with the way Amazon does business, but then I have issues with the way a lot of large corporations do business. I don’t think Amazon is required to protect the market value of creative media. I also think that the issues you raised had little to no connection to the 1st Amendment. Freedom of thought is considered the precursor to many of the rights we are guaranteed under the Constitution but it should not be confused with freedom of speech, religion, or expression.
The 1st Amendment states that no law can be made that prohibits freedom of religion, the expression of religion, the freedom of the press, the right to peacefully assemble and the right to address grievances to the government. I fail to see how this relates to how much you have to pay for a consumer good or rather a company has the right to determine what products they wish to offer to the public.
You are absolutely right in what you say. Yet you do not see the big picture of a massive corporation dictating to the general public what they deem is correct reading. It’s not only the Federal government who tries to shut down free speech. There is a massive movement on the political left and some on the right to curtail what they deem as proper speech. They use political correctness, racism, and other labels to shut down opposition. Since they can’t legislate it they demonize it in the public arena with the aid the “free press”.
@Julaine: I have changed the title of the piece to “Is Amazon a Threat to our Freedom of Thought?”
Thank you for your thoughtful comments.