(I began this ranting months ago and have found that, just like the reasons for why the Tower in Pisa leans, there are many reasons for why Amazon does what it does, depending on whom you talk to. Since you are reading my blog, this is my take on the matter.)
Oh yes, my friends, Amazon allows you to sell your books online. All your friends and their friends and you hope more the infinite circle of friends with friends will also click and buy your books. Yet, what happens if Amazon decides that they don’t want your books on their site? How easy is it for you to fight them? How will you fight them? (I ask this question because it has occurred and we don’t know the reasons why always so it is a good thing to think about.)
Obviously there is some good news if you decide to kick the Amazon habit. Smaller companies who do good work and help small publishers, self-published authors and the indie presses stay in business are cropping up and showing they care about the community of book buyers and creators. To name a few, there is the ever-popular Smashwords and Indiebook.org and we also have copia.com and even Pubslush which allows writers to promote their project much as they would on kickstarter. And today, I read the that Kobo has launched a self-publishing program (http://paidcontent.org/2012/06/05/kobo-launches-self-publishing-platform-writing-life/)
I sincerely hope that many of these ventures can grow and flourish. Even the American Booksellers Association announced at their yearly meeting this week that sales are up and their business model is working. (This is the trade organization for the indie bookstores.) In fact, they reported that in some major cities, San Francisco being one, all the chains are gone and what remains is a healthy number (35) of independents. Good news all around. For writers it is all good news because it is true that by building a good relation with your local bookstores you will be able to also help yourself find those willing to help sell your books.
Goodwill and more competition are wonderful ways for the book industry to do its job, but we also need this–data. I know most people roll their eyes when that word comes up. Yikes, data, hide under the covers, she is about to bore the living daylights out of us. Yes, I am about to explain data so that it is clearer what Amazon has done to all of us who want to sell books.
By data, I mean a variety of things. Not just the number of copies sold and your royalty from said copies but also who bought the books, where they live, when they purchased the books, how they paid for it, if they bought during a time when you ran a promotion or an ad or a give away or how many weeks post-launch.
This kind of data is the kind that allows a writer to do the best marketing campaigns possible. By knowing who our customers are, where they live, other books that they buy, when they buy, what campaigns they have responded to, we, as book sellers, can create and sell to a much greater power than we do without having this data at hand.
Amazon shares none of this data. I have some theories as to why Amazon hangs onto the data. The first being that they too know that data is power. The second one being, if they decide, for example to remove you from the site (and they can do this and you have no legal recourse to be put back onto their site), they know if they had handed over that data, you won’t need them anymore. You now possess the keys to your marketing kingdom.
As much as they maintain that that algorithm of theirs is proprietary, and it is of course, it is also the engine that drives their sales–that and the incredibly low prices, which they insist on.
Let’s take one quick step into that world of pricing for a moment. You are the author of your book. You self-published it. Or you are a small publisher and you have a few titles on the Amazon site. Now, it seems logical that it would be up to you to set the price of your books. Correct? But no. Amazon retains that right for themselves. It makes no difference what your costs were and what it is you need to break even. Amazon sets the price. That is true for both physical books as well as e-books.
The other day I received an email from a friend who owns a small publishing company. She had just received notice that Amazon had sold four copies of a new book her company just published. She hadn’t been aware of the price Amazon had charged but it will cover the costs of the book or the cost of shipping that Amazon also has the publishers/authors pay for.
My friend has now paid for the privilege of being on the Amazon site but hasn’t been able and never will be able to recoup the costs of producing the book. Nor does she have the names and email addresses of the people who bought it so she can interact with them and perhaps sell them other titles her press publishes.
Data, like knowledge, is a powerful tool. In the past, the large book clubs that sent us those glossy brochures in the mail and had a selection of books for us to choose from used data to help them choose which books to offer us, what colors to make the brochures, when to send the brochures, and on and with the data they had to create their campaigns. This kind of information is key to any successful marketing campaign. Amazon knows this.
They suck up data in all kinds of ways. They had a campaign around Christmas time when they asked their customers to visit stores and report prices and in payment offered $5.00 gift certificates. While some congratulated Amazon on using a savvy business technique, others saw this ploy for what it was–predatory behavior intent on driving all competition out of the market place.
Yes, data is power. You and I should have that information about who buys our books. One of the best parts of this new digital world is that we can now interact in lots of ways about our books with our readers. That is something Amazon can’t help us do and seems to not even care why we would want to do this.