Thursday, July 14, 2022

Why I Doubled Down on Amazon

 Amazon takes its share of abuse, and deservedly so. I have several problems with them myself. This is not why I am writing today; there’s no lack of places to read Amazon bashing. This blog is about writing, typically my own, so what we’ll discuss today is Amazon’s relationship with my writing.


First, a brief digression. I can’t remember going to a mall back in the day without browsing both B Dalton and WaldenBooks. Local bookstores are wonderful places to get recommendations from knowledgeable staff in a relaxed and friendly environment. I love small, independent bookstores.


The problem is, they don’t love me back.


First off, they won’t stock my books. Even when I am able to talk my way into an event, book sales are on consignment. I have to take home anything that didn’t sell.


I understand the reason for this. My publisher doesn’t accept returns of unsold copies. Small stores can’t stay afloat without this consideration; my publisher can’t stay afloat with it. Where does that leave me?




I know the arguments.


“People can order your books from the local bookseller if they don’t have it.”


“People can order it online from the store’s web site.”


That only works if the potential reader is specifically looking for my book. They can’t come across it while browsing. Speaking for myself as a reader, local bookstores tend only to stock either new releases or classics. The great majority of books I like to read are neither, so the odds are the store will have to order it. (I understand their space and inventory restrictions. Bear with me.)


Let’s look at a real-world example. Say, for the sake of argument, I have seen the film The Drop and want to read the novel by Dennis Lehane, a bestselling author. I could drive to the store only to find they’ll have to order it. (I checked the web site for my bookstore of choice, which is, by the way, 32 miles distant. The Drop is not in stock.)

I could order it directly from their web site and save myself the trip. The book is $16.99 plus $1.02 tax, then another $6.05 to ship via media mail to arrive in four-to-seven days, for a total of $24.06. Or I could order it on Amazon for $10.90 plus $0.65 tax (total $11.55) and have it the day after tomorrow. (I’m not counting the annual fee for Amazon Prime, as it covers lots of other things as well.) Multiply that by the fifty or so books I buy in a year and we’re talking real money to support someone who won’t stock my book. ($12.51 times fifty books comes to $625.50 a year.) Throwing that kind of support to a store where the business model prohibits carrying my books is a bad business model for me. (My writing income has never been $600 in a year.)


The bookstore I noted above is a pleasure to work with; no one treats writers better in person. Not all are so friendly. A few years ago I appeared at a local book festival. The bookseller who handled sales for the event was willing to take five copies of my newest book on consignment, but they wanted 60% of the sale price instead of the standard 50%; I can only assume because they are “D.C.’s premier independent bookstore and cultural hub” and who the fuck was I? I cruised the sales area before I departed for the day, saw none of my books and left elated in the hope they’d all sold.


Several weeks later I contacted the store to ask about my check only to learn none of the books sold. I requested their return, and a mere six months later I got them back. It’s possible I missed my books when I looked for them, but I also have to wonder if the seller even put them out, crowded as they were for space.


I understand independent bookstores’ business model. I have a business model of my own, and it involves getting my books into the hands of people who want to read them and are willing to pay for them. Amazon does that. So, whatever my problems with The Big A may be, and however sympathetic I am to the plight of the indies, I’m not going to commit professional suicide and take my business away from Amazon and place it…where?



1 comment:

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