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?