Amazon, Macmillan and my online store


While it may seem as though I repaired my online store today because of turmoil in the online bookselling world (for the click-phobic, that’s a WSJ report that the Dept. of Justice is filing a lawsuit against Apple and five of the so-called Big Six publishers because of agency pricing), that’s just a coincidence. For one thing, Random House came to agency pricing later than the others, so the accusation of collusion doesn’t work. For another, it’s not like I’m selling a ton of books at the moment anyway.

No, the truth is that Shopp 1.2 wasn’t working. Now that they’ve released Shopp 1.2.1, I’m hopeful that it will. If you’re interested in picking up a copy of some of my short fiction or the Twenty Palaces prequel, [link deleted]. Just be aware, initial first buyers, that you will be my guinea pigs; I haven’t confirmed that the store works yet. If it doesn’t, I’ll have to pull it offline again.

As for the collusion charges, I’m doubtful about them. I can understand why Amazon wants them to be sustained; their business model relied on taking losses to drive competitors out of the market. Amazon would like to be in the place that Wal-Mart is: they want to be the only retailer connecting large groups of consumers and the people who create products they want to consume.

Of course that won’t happen, and I know it. Didn’t I just put up my own online store again, where I sell electronic versions of my fiction directly to you?

But the portion of the market that Amazon already controls is alarming, and I say that as a person who makes the bulk of his self-publishing money through them. Over Christmas, I earned ten times as much money through Amazon as I did through my own site, and that takes into account the higher royalties I get through Shopp/PayPal.

So I’m not anti-Amazon by any means. I’m also not against the large New York publishers, several of which are already settling the case, according the early news reports. For me, as a writer, I want both to be healthy and vibrant ongoing concerns.

But I also want there to be smaller publishers and smaller booksellers, too, and independent brick and mortar shops where I can browse the shelves, plus online sellers like Indiebound, B&N, all of them. The real threat to this strong market isn’t from the traditional publishers, it’s coming from Amazon and their increasingly draconian contract demands.

A world where Amazon has cornered the market in books and ebooks would be harmful to me, personally. I want them to be out there in the mix, connecting readers to books, but I do NOT want them to strangle everyone else until they dominate the market.

So I’m pleased to see that John Sargent at Macmillan is planning to fight the case. Go, him. And I hope the DOJ moves beyond the accusations of collusion and start looking at the market share that Amazon currently holds, and their own vertical integration issues with the launch of their own publishing arm.

It’s not about being pro-Apple/anti-Apple, or being pro-Amazon/anti-Amazon. It’s not about “liking” NY publishers or an online store. I’m not pro or con any of those things, and I certainly don’t “like” one massive corporation over another. Anyone who says they do is a bit of a fool.

But I do want a healthy market, and I’m not sure the Department of Justice is acting in the best interest of that market.