Amazon as the enemy?

It’s been interesting (and terrifying) to watch some of the recent changes in publishing, but one of the ones I’ve been most intrigued by has been the demonization of Amazon. Today I’m sharing two different tales where different sections of the book industry are lashing out not just at Amazon, but with people who choose to do business with Amazon.

The first tale is from Kiana Davenport, a Hawaiian author, who has been writing short stories for years and recently signed with a Big 6 New York publisher to publish her first novel. Around the same time, she also decided she should start getting some of her backlist stories out on the e-book market, so she decided to self-publish them on Amazon’s Kindle platform. Her New York publisher was not amused:

“To coin the Fanboys, they went ballistic. The editor shouted at me repeatedly on the phone. I was accused of breaching my contract (which I did not) but worse, of ‘blatantly betraying them with Amazon,’ their biggest and most intimidating competitor. I was not trustworthy. I was sleeping with the enemy.

Most of the stories in both collections had each been published several times before…. And, over several years both collections had been submitted to each of the Big 6 publishers in NY. I still have their rejection letters, including one from the house I was now under contract with. So you might say these stories were, in a sense, recycled, sitting in my files rejected. Yet, as published collections, this Big 6 publisher suddenly found them threatening.”

In short, because she was publishing some completely different work (different genre) on her own, the Big 6 publisher is apparently cancelling her contract, demanding the return on advance, and holding the rights to her novel hostage in the mean time. You can go read it for yourself, but it definitely seems that they are most upset not because she chose to self-publish these collections, but because she dared to go through Amazon to do it.

Recently, I have seen a number of traditionally published authors talk about the advantages to straddling the fence between traditional New York publishers and self-publishing through e-books and small press service companies like Lightning Press or CreateSpace. Rather than handing over the e-book rights to your backlist, they have recommended working through it on your own or hiring out the tasks. That way you keep more control as well as a larger share of the royalties.

However, actions like those of Kiara’s publisher make it clear that traditional publishers do not want this at all, and when they have the power to prevent it, they are. Not just because they want to do the publishing work themselves, but in cases like Kiara’s, because they do not want you to have any success without them. This more than anything else is making me question whether I want to pursue a traditional publishing path.

The second tale comes from Joe Konrath who has earned the ire of bookstores for signing with Amazon’s new publishing imprint Thomas & Mercer to publish the eighth book in his Jack Daniels series. Some booksellers are making noise about boycotting books from this line, but that’s not all:

“I’ve also heard that certain booksellers want to return any books of mine they have in stock as a punitive measure.

So signing a deal with Amazon makes me the enemy of bookstores?

Me, who has signed at over 1200 bookstores? Who has thanked over 1500 booksellers by name in the acknowledgements of my novels? Who has named five major characters in my series after booksellers?

Now I’m the bad guy, for wanting to continue my series and make a living?

You may know that my publisher, Hyperion, dropped my Jack Daniels series after six books, even though they continue to sell well as backlist titles. The only way I could get print books in the series into the hands of fans was to sign with another publisher.

Thomas & Mercer stepped up to the plate to give my fans what they want: more Jack Daniels books.”

Now, certainly I know that many booksellers have an axe to grind with Amazon as a retailer, an axe already honed by every Mom & Pop grocer who saw a Walmart move into town. But to hate them as a publisher? To the point of sending back their authors’ books to some completely unrelated publisher?

Personally, I gave up on brick and mortar bookstores a while back. I know that’s incredibly un-PC in the book-loving world, but it’s just what happened. I wrote an essay on it last year (which I might repost here) where I explained why, but the bottom line is that my Amazon experience became better than my bookstore experience. It’s not necessarily that bookstores did anything wrong, just that Amazon did it better.

I can understand being angry when a new competitor comes and starts shaking up your business. You’ve got a comfortable apple-cart, and someone just moved in and knocked it over. It sucks, but to react by taking it out on the people who choose to do business with that new competitor? Not only is that bad business, it’s petty.