Friday, December 9, 2011

Up the Amazon Without a Paddle

I own a Kindle and do most of my reading on it. It’s a great way to keep up with authors whose books are hard to find or out of print and beats hell out of loading up a suitcase with multiple books when taking a trip.

I published Wild Bill to Kindle last August and have several more books in the pipeline. (Wild Bill was also published for Nook, but I have since learned the middle two characters in “Nook” describe my first three months’ sales there.) The 70% royalty is a good deal, and it was easy to do. I’m in the process of formatting my next book, and it’s not rocket science, either.

As you can see, I’m tied to Amazon both as a customer, and as an author. Now I feel a little icky about the whole thing.

It started last summer, when word got out about the inhuman conditions workers at Amazon’s Lehigh Valley (PA) had to endure or face dismissal. (Note to too many journalists: the word is “inhuman.” “Inhumane” is how animals are treated.) Earlier this week I learned of Amazon’s efforts to evade California’s attempt to get them to pay sales taxes like every other retailer, which included paying a company three dollars per signature to get a referendum on the ballot. (Amazon has since come to an agreement with California pending the resolution of federal legislation. I wonder how many campaign contributions will be made each way on that issue?) Yesterday’s bombshell was my learning of The Evil Empire’s newest campaign to undermine brick-and-mortar stores by offering shoppers discounts for reporting competitors’ prices back to Amazon via smart phones.

It’s not like Amazon is just trying to level the playing field. They already have dramatic advantages over traditional sales outlets due to lower overhead (which is fine, a direct result of not providing personal assistance, a choice retailers make for themselves) and not paying sales taxes (which is, frankly, an unfair competitive advantage for Amazon). Isn’t making money hand over fist enough? Do they have to subscribe to the Michael Corleone School of Business and crush everyone else? And, when they do, what can we expect from them when we really have no place else to buy or sell?

This kind of decision has been easy for me in the past. I don’t care for Wal-Mart’s business practices, so I don’t shop there. I think the economy in this allegedly Christian nation will not be brought to its knees if the families of retail and manufacturing workers can have one day a week to spend together, so I don’t shop on Sundays unless there is no way around it.

Now Amazon has proven the old saying is true: I laid down with a pig and got dirty. I feel like I joined up with the Imperial Fleet to see the galaxy and found out I'm working for Darth Vader, The question is, what do I do about it? Doing nothing is the same as saying I’m okay with Amazon’s rapacious business practices. Doing too much will hurt only me; Amazon won’t care if I set myself on fire on the roof of the Library of Congress.

  • Here’s where I am today (I mean “today” as I write this. I’ve already changed my mind on this half a dozen times, so this is a fluid position):
  •  I’ll continue to publish to Kindle. I make more money per sale than they do, and no one has to work in triple-digit heat to ship my books.
  • I' ll pick a short list—ten, maybe—of writers whose books I’ll have a hard time getting elsewhere and buy them for my Kindle. See warehouse note above.
  •  I’ll buy the books of other authors who are in much the same boat as I am, on the premise that I’ll hurt them more than I’ll hurt Amazon by boycotting the site altogether.
  •  Other books will be read either after purchase from a brick-and-mortar store or from my public library.
  • I’ll bust Amazon’s balls at every opportunity.

Am I fooling myself into thinking this will making a difference? No. It might if enough people do it, and someone has to go first.

Here’s my question: is my level of rationalization/hypocrisy too great to overlook? I freely admit there some in here, but I have to make my peace with the world as I find it, not how it would be if I were In Charge.

Please comment, and solicit comments from others if you’re so inclined. I’m genuinely curious about this. What do you plan to do, if anything? Why, or why not? Am I making too much of this? Not enough?


John McFetridge said...

A long time ago I worked for an importer in Montreal and my boss woild go on buying trips to the far east. He was always conflicted, he didn't want to support the companies and their awful treatment of the workers but he felt if he didn't buy something the workers' situation would be worse. There's no easy answer. (I just reread John Sayels' novel Union Dues and some of it is about West Virginia coal miners and the UMW - it's always a tough situation).

My opinion, worth what you pay, of course, is that you should continue to buy the books you want to read and you should continue to make yours available any way you can (I admit, reading about the coal miners I was wondering, "When will Dana start putting out that series in the small town?)

Dana King said...

Thanks, John. I wasn't aware Sayles wrote novels. He directed one of my favorite movies (EIGHT MEN OUT), and a little quick research shows UNION DUES looks interesting as well. If only there were a major gift-giving holiday on the horizon and someone (like maybe a wife and/or daughter) needed a gift idea...

I'm flattered you remembered my small town series. I'm formatting one of the books now, and plan to have it available by early March.

John McFetridge said...

March, that's great, looking forward to it.

Yeah, Sayles has written a few novels and some short story collections. The Anarchists' Convention is also very good, but I think Union Dues is still my favourite.

Mike Dennis said...

Dana--John Sayles wrote an excellent novel years ago called LOS GUSANOS (The Maggots) about Cuban exiles in Miami in the early 1980s. Reading that one inspired me to use carefully-selected Spanish dialogue in my own books WITHOUT translating it in the next sentence.

Charlieopera said...

One advantage to being a complete slacker on all things kindle/publishing these days is not knowing any of this stuff ... until I read your blog today.

Oy vey ... workers of the world unite? Maybe workers of the world give up ... I don't know anymore.

I guess it's kind of the way I'm feeling about politics of late (how I feel about the kindle/publishing stuff) ... i'm exhausted. I have zero faith in our governmet ... and the sideshow of the GOP debates coupled with a President who continues to secure his ties to Wall Street has absolutely exhausted my passion of late (or maybe it's the voting public that insists on voting for either party) ... but the same goes with publishing. I'm happy where I am with crime, doubt I'll ever get anywhere with literary fiction (but am enjoying the attempt way too much to worry about publishing/free market ethics) and I've gone back to writing plays (maybe because I've accepted my writing fate as a word processor/writer first) ... I don't know anymore. We're all involved in the struggle to make it day to day (emotionally as well as financially) and maybe that takes away the drive (or is it my need) to know anymore. If I had the rights to my books from Pegasus on kindle, I'd put (and will put them on kindle) the day I get them ... if I never get them back, I won't slash my wrists.

What John said is right, I think ... put them out there and let people enjoy your talent ... don't sweat amazon and their "free market" ability to crush their competitors ... you want readers first and foremost ... you're doing your thing and they're doing their thing ... it is what it is.

Dana King said...

The WIP is based in Chicago, where there are about a million Spanish speakers. This is good to know.

Two days ago I didn't know John Sayles wrote novels. Now I'm already two books behind in my reading.

This Internet thing might have legs, after all.

Dana King said...

I think you summed up my feelings best in your first sentence: I'm just tired of everything outside my family and a close circle of friends. The bastards just wear you down. Every day it's something new.