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A note to my readers re: Amazon

I haven’t been online all that much (and shouldn’t be right now, either–I have books to finish) but apparently Amazon has stepped up its pressure on Hachette by yanking buy links for all their books. Beyond that, they’re also screwing with search results, messing with book categorizations, and pushing readers who want to buy Hachette books toward Hachette’s competitors. And the reason they can do this is you.

Now, if your response to all this is to say “Amazon is an independent company and they can legally do whatever best serves their interests,” let me assure you that I agree. They can legally do all these things, just as Wal-Mart can legally include information on sighing up for food stamps during their new employee orientations. There are a lot of things powerful people and corporations can do that are both legal and deeply, deeply shitty.

And why is Amazon doing this? Because Hachette won’t accept a new, lower rate on their ebooks.

But the thing is, this wouldn’t matter so much without you.

It’s the readers who give Amazon all this power. It’s people who click through Amazon links but never do for any other bookstore, and who impulse buy like crazy online but no where else.

Some years ago, I tried an experiment: For a full month, I wrote about books constantly and all the buy links I put in my posts went to indiebound. Not one person bought a book.

The next month, the only buy links I posted went to Mysterious Galaxy, a terrific store in San Diego that ships books just like any other seller. Not one person bought a book.

Which isn’t to say that no one clicked those links. They did. But those clicks didn’t translate into sales.

More recently, I posted links for the new paperback POD edition of Twenty Palaces. The link pointing to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The link to Amazon got more sales than the link to B&N got clicks. When I’m talking about sales ebook sales for the same book, B&N provide about a fifth what Amazon does, with all the rest in negligible numbers.

Now, this is what the general public has chosen. When people go looking to buy something online, they turn to Amazon. Hell, when I want to send a purchase request to my local library, I use the Amazon page to dig up the publication date and the ISBN.

But at this point it’s hurting authors. (Here’s the website listing Hachette’s authors, highlighting bestsellers, of course, but like most publishers they have a mob of midlisters.) Anyone could be next. Small presses are already being squeezed. Self-published authors have been so happy with their “70% royalties” (which is really a 30% sales commission for hosting/delivering a file and processing payments) but as soon as Wall St decides the company needs to start turning profits, I’ll bet that’s the first place they start to squeeze.

But this raises questions for me: Do I remove the links to Amazon for all my books, as other authors have done? Like Fred Hicks, I’ve already emptied my Amazon cart of the obscure crap I was planning to buy when The Great Way was finished.

What’s the point of doing all that, of linking to other book sellers large and small, if readers won’t buy from them, even for paper editions?

Mirrored from Twenty Palaces. You can comment here but not there.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 23rd, 2014 06:23 pm (UTC)
You're fighting convenience. 99.9% of people are not going to change their buying habits for some principle. Well, okay, maybe only 95%. But unless you can get that down to 50%, you're unlikely to change anything.

The fact is that most people HAVE an Amazon account, and DON'T have the others. So your "one click" isn't in any way, shape, or form equivalent. If I click on an Amazon link, I have exactly one more click -- "Buy with 1-Click!" -- to make in order to purchase your book. If I go to some other site, the odds are I'll be having to set up a whole new account just to buy your one book. Haul out my credit card, go through all the hoops, probably do an e-mail confirmation -- all for one book? Almost certainly I decide "maybe later" and forget it an hour later, never to return. Even if they DON'T have an Amazon account, they've SEEN so much stuff available on Amazon that it just looks like the work's more likely to be worth it.

May. 23rd, 2014 10:34 pm (UTC)
Amazon was one of the first companies to convince consumers to risk credit card info with them. Now it's as much habit as anything else, I think.
May. 23rd, 2014 06:24 pm (UTC)
I dont buy from Amazon.. they have risen to Evil Empire status a long time ago..
May. 23rd, 2014 10:31 pm (UTC)
I still buy from them sometimes. At least, I used to.
May. 23rd, 2014 07:52 pm (UTC)
I don't think any meaningful victories can be won here on the consumer level. Convenience is just too powerful. The only way Amazon will back off if most other publishers backed Hachette. It's my understanding that this is unlikely.
May. 23rd, 2014 10:32 pm (UTC)
What I'm hoping is that consumer anger prompts regulatory attention.
May. 23rd, 2014 09:49 pm (UTC)
I try to use B&N for my electronic book purchases; I also use Baen. I'm more hesitant about others, but I think I've used smashwords as well.

As seawasp said, convenience is king. For my particular work-flow, B&N is actually more convenient than Amazon. But... if B&N doesn't have it, and Amazon does, that's pretty much it as far as my search pattern goes.
May. 24th, 2014 03:36 am (UTC)
When I had an office job, B&N was super-convenient. I'd order a book online and it would be held behind the counter in an hour. I could swing by after work to pick it up.
May. 24th, 2014 03:37 am (UTC)
I haven't bought physical books in quite a while :).

(I think the last one was the Annotated Sandman.)
May. 24th, 2014 02:34 am (UTC)
I will say, though, that B&N did this with Simon & Schuster, but in-store. So changing links to B&N isn’t necessarily supporting a company that doesn’t engage in this kind of pressure.
May. 24th, 2014 03:35 am (UTC)
True. I wish there was an independent book seller I could link to that people would buy from.
May. 27th, 2014 12:10 am (UTC)
Amazon has several other things going for it in addition to habit or convenience. Their database is expansive, moreso than anywhere else I've gone and I could easily name dozens of books and movies that B&N doesn't include in theirs. Which is especially useful for those of us who want books and TV shows and fantasy accoutrements and various other things that B&N or Indie bookstores wouldn't include. They also have a thriving marketplace, for good or ill, for those who wish to avoid sites like ebay. And of course their prices are usually lower than B&N online, b&m, or other physical bookstores.

All of the above is combined with great customer service. In contrast, ime, B&N's is great to decent 3/4 to 2/3 of the time whereas my experiences with an Indie bookseller have been atrocious.

Mysterious Galaxy opened a second location in Redondo Beach, CA a few years ago and it's been a nightmare on multiple occasions. I first went in a week after they'd opened, looking for a specific title, which they didn't have, because their selection is okay, but lacking in thousands of fantasy and sci-fi titles. They're going for open and airy in their ascetic and too many books would distract from that, I guess.

I first went in when I wanted to order the second in the Chronicles of Elantra series by livejournal user msagara (who just posted above actually). I had the ISBN number, the MSRP, the full series name as well as the individual title name. I specifically gave all of that three times just to make sure they were ordering the right item in the correct format. The person seemed helpful and asked me to wait while she saw what she could do. After a while she came back, and gave me good news and said that they'd have it and call me within the three week window in which I'd requested that the title be ready. Just to be sure, I asked how much it would be, and she quoted me the MSRP for the mmpb. Which would have been great, except that I'd very firmly gone over that I needed the large sized Paperback, which matched the MSRP and ISBN that I'd provided. She responded that she didn't know that she could get what I wanted, but if I wanted to wait then she'd see what could be done. So I waited, which took quite some time, with the knowledge that she had been about to send me out of the store under the false belief that I'd pre-ordered the right item. After a long wait, she came back and said that they could get the Paperback, in the three week window that I needed it by. Seven weeks later I got a voice mail from a local number, and the recording was by someone who was tragically anxious and obviously scared, so much so that I couldn't make out most of the message even after listening to it ten times (literally). I assume she must have been very introverted, but am not sure. But I looked up the number and it was Mysterious Galaxy telling me the special order was ready, a full month after when I'd told them repeatedly that I'd had to have it by.

Despite that, I gave them another chance and was browsing the aisles on a day when I had free time. During that time, I literally saw the following conversation:

Customer: Do you have xxxxx book that came out today?
Employee 1: I don't think so, let me check. No, sorry.
Customer: Do you think you'll get it in?
Employee 1: No, we'd have it if we were getting it.
Customer leaves.
Employee 2: We could offer to call around to another store or two?
Employee 1: Nah, it's not worth it.

For some reason, I wasn't terribly impressed by the cust. service. But did go back a third time when they had a Jim Butcher signing. That actually went well, though some customers were less than enthused that they bussed in 50 people from San Diego who got some reserved seating in-store and were jumped to the front of the autograph line. When there were hundreds already there, that can be noticeable.

May. 27th, 2014 12:11 am (UTC)
But the overall event went well enough that I tried going back once more, whereupon they again didn't have what I was looking for. More recently, there was a special event called California Bookstore Day, where limited editions were sold on that day only to promote Indie stores. I really wanted a short story by Neil Gaiman, but couldn't go until they'd been open about 3 hours. Of course they were entirely sold out when I did get there. However, the Amazon market place took care of me, as it was available from resellers there (at twice the price, but at least I could buy it, unlike with Mysterious Galaxy).

So, it can really be a burden on the customer to have to deal with Indie booksellers, and perhaps that may be one of the reasons why people are reluctant to buy from them?

Further, I'm a person who wants my things in as nice a condition as possible, and as untouched by human hands as possible. Amazon offers this, so do B&N and Indie bookstores, but only for a day or two. After that, physical bookstores are attacked by swarms of people who sit around reading for free. Why should the consumer have to pay New prices for what are, quite often, Used books? That's not something that we have to worry about from Amazon. If there were some ways for b&m sellers to shrinkwrap the books, or even *some* of the copies, then that would be reassurance for those of us who want them New. But the people who want to be able to read for free have vocally denounced that, so those of us who want to pay for New books HAVE to turn to places like Amazon. I don't know how big of a segment people like me actually are, but when bookstores are supposedly fighting to survive, then it might be worthwhile to at least try to improve the customer service and give us books that are actually New, especially if we're supposed to pay full MSRP for them.

Edited at 2014-05-27 12:15 am (UTC)
May. 27th, 2014 08:43 pm (UTC)
Re: continued
And I can see how frustrating it is to deal with customer service. Look how many words the subject inspired!

I'm lucky in that the tiny bookstore in my neighborhood says "We can order if for you and have it in by Monday!" automatically. They must say it hundreds of times a day. And they're really good about it, too.

But I've been treated really badly in indie bookstores. I misstated a title once and the clerk turned to another customer so they could have a good laugh together. Another clerk read the title of the book I put on the counter in that super slow, judgmental way. I've stood next to an employee who complained loudly that all customers were idiots (he was desperately trying to get a reaction, but boy, did no one care).

So there's something refreshing about the brisk, impersonal efficiency of a big company that doesn't put any of its self-worth into the types of books they sell. I hear you there.
May. 29th, 2014 06:35 pm (UTC)
Re: continued
Thanks for reading all that I had to say. Though it wasn't all about the customer service of course. Congrats on having a good Indie bookstore. I like to imagine that the majority are like that, and the others are outliers.

My sympathies on the poor experiences with some Indie bookstores. I've seen such things with certain comic stores. It sounds like everyone handled the employee in the third example in the best way possible.

As for Amazon, it's a simple system that usually works how it's supposed to. Reliable, predictable, non-judgemental. The reps. don't always have the best command of the English language, but ime they are friendly enough and accommodate reasonable requests. I did have one make a mistake once, but the next figured it out, and gave me an even bigger discount off the book and free expedited shipping.

The "Amazon is friendlier, cheaper and better meets my needs" narrative isn't what you probably want to hear, which is part of the reason that I waited to post until the discussion has died down, but there is truth to it imho, and I think that if authors want to change reader buying habits then looking at the whole picture will allow you to better be able to try to do that. Hopefully my thoughts can be helpful in some way.
Jun. 1st, 2014 01:11 am (UTC)
Re: continued
Actually, I know Amazon works really well for some people, and for others it's been a godsend. I'm concerned about them becoming a monopsony, to the extent I understand monopsonies, which isn't much, but I use them myself sometimes.
Jun. 1st, 2014 10:14 pm (UTC)
Re: continued
I can't argue with that. Unfortunately I'm no expert in monopsonies either. In other news that you may find of interest if you haven't seen it already:

There is a very good New Yorker article from february very much worth reading http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/02/17/140217fa_fact_packer?currentPage=all&mobify=0

B&N is having a Buy 2 Get 1 Free paperback sale, in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category (at least) all of the books are by Hachette.

It's been overlooked, but Amazon and WB are having a dispute too, and several upcoming DVD's & Blu-Rays were made unavailable over a month ago for pre-order, and it looks like Amazon won't be carrying them when they are released starting Tuesday. The initial titles are Falling Skies Season 3 and Pretty Little Liars S4, with True Detective to be released soon as well.
Jun. 3rd, 2014 11:44 pm (UTC)
Re: continued
And the Redondo Beach location is closing in less that two weeks.

Jun. 5th, 2014 06:10 am (UTC)
Re: continued
Thanks very much, I appreciate it, especially as I would have missed that. Possibly even until after they'd already closed.
Jun. 2nd, 2014 01:24 am (UTC)
Amazon's more than a book store, as you know - they also process payments for Kickstarter, for example. Then again, I'm not sure any of the payment processors behind crowdfunding platforms have stellar records.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )