Self-Published Authors: Dealing with Amazon Haters
Monopolistic, destructive and unethical? Or offering a jolly good deal to authors?
As a self-published author, what do you say when Amazon haters challenge your decision to sell books through Amazon?
A member of a local environmental group recently told me that Amazon is monopolistic, destructive to the high street, and unethical. Then he gave me a website linking readers to local bookstores.
The trouble is, local bookstores usually only stock books from big publishers. There’s not much interest in independently published works.
Why I’m a fan of Kindle Direct Publishing
My view is that Amazon offers unrivalled zero-cost self-publishing opportunities to authors who, for whatever reason, are not able to access the traditional publishing model (or don’t want to). The big five publishers monopolise the bookshops, supermarkets, review pages in the press, and they vastly out perform the rest of us. I think some might rightly argue that their market domination is unethical.
Yes, there are costly alternatives to bringing your own book to market, but they’re not as attractive as Kindle Direct Publishing. Amazon’s vast global reach, means I can sell environmentally friendly ebooks at low cost to the buyer. I get higher royalties than I’d ever achieve from a traditional publisher. That’s good for the author, good for the environment, good for the reader.
I’ve opted into the Kindle Unlimited borrowing scheme, so even those with no money can read for the the free period or just download freebees — that seems pretty ethical to me. Paperbacks are available — print on demand, to eliminate waste. But most of my sales are ebooks.
What about other platforms?
I may consider going wider on other platforms like Barnes and Noble and Apple Books, but my previous experience of doing this tells me that the other platforms simply don’t sell many books. I’ve had hundreds of borrows across all my titles on Kindle Unlimited and reached many more readers, so at the moment, it makes sense to stay exclusive to Amazon on ebooks.
What about small presses?
Well firstly, getting a publishing deal with a small press isn’t necessarily easy. Secondly, small presses aren’t always able to offer an attractive deal to the author — you might get 5–10% of net income on paperbacks, and 40–50% on ebooks. In contrast, Amazon offers authors 60% on paperbacks and 70% on ebooks. Go figure what’s attractive about that.
I’ve had books published by two small publishers, and both had over 1000 copies printed, but sales have been disappointing. I’m fully expecting the unsold stock to go to Poundland or be pulped.
In contrast, Amazon has no unsold stock. This makes Amazon’s print on demand service look quite environmentally friendly doesn’t it? The ebooks have a lower carbon footprint still, and because I control the price, I can make this option cheap and attractive to buyers.
So when we’re talking monopolies and ethics, there is a bit more to consider. The income I’ve received from small publishers has equated to less than the minimum wage. One of them paid an advance, but the other was royalties only, which didn’t amount to much. At least on Amazon we can choose our own royalties and get a decent cut from each sale.
Making ethical choices
So what about the high street? Am I destroying the high street by selling through Amazon? I don’t think so. There is huge public demand for home deliveries, and sellers need to keep up. I have no problem with supporting local bookshops if they want to stock my titles. When the pandemic is over I hope to do a few signings, so I’ll find out just how interested they are!
I like to buy books from charity shops, or read ebooks produced by my writer friends. That’s ethical and good for the environment.
What about other distribution channels?
Amazon offers an expanded distribution scheme, but the royalties crash under this scheme and marketplace sellers undercut authors on their own books! Not attractive.
I do intend to look into wider distribution through Ingram Spark and others, but I think this can be quite expensive, with limited benefit. A very successful author told me that 1% of his sales came from this wider distribution. Can I be bothered, I wonder?
There are other options, like Lulu, or getting the local printer to print my books, but the bottom line is Amazon is really good at selling books. KDP is free, simple, and I believe it’s pretty ethical too.