The Great Amazon Debate

My co-author, Andrea, and I had decided to sit out the great Amazon vs. Hachette debate. Then, last month, a local bookstore declined to carry Queen of the Court because it was (in their view) published “by the Amazon Empire”, which (in their view) is cheating authors and squeezing out independent booksellers.

For those of you who are Amish or members of an Amazon (no relation) tribe with no access to technology, Amazon and publisher Hachette have been warring over ebook prices. Amazon says lowering them would drive up demand, and also wants a bigger cut of ebook sales. Hachette claims this is unfair to authors. Amazon has delayed shipping and pre-orders of some Hachette authors to pressure the publisher into agreeing. Both parties are actively asking writers – and readers – to take sides and vote with their book-buying dollars. Hachette is a huge multinational company, although not the behemoth that is Amazon. Hachette is presenting itself as the defender of writers, Amazon as the champion of readers. I think we all know that Hachette and Amazon are really fighting over profit share, which is totally appropriate for corporate entities. However, positioning it as anything else is ridiculous.

So our local bookstore enthusiastically entered the fray on the anti-Amazon side by banning Queen of the Court and any other indie book published by Amazon  its shelves. We were rejected despite the fact that we own our own ISBNs and imprint, so therefore are not technically published by Amazon or its Createspace subsidiary. (The only service we purchased from Createspace was an interior design template for around $250.) Amazon does receive a portion of our profits.

I have absolutely no problem with an independent retailer taking this stand, but last time I checked, this store was selling books by Hillary Clinton and other big name authors who market through Amazon pages, ship through Amazon and fuel the Amazon Empire’s profits. Call me crazy, but I’m willing to bet Amazon makes more from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch than  from our book, otherwise the online retailer would not have named it book of the year. So, in other words, this bookstore is supporting the Amazon boycott by freezing out only those authors who are not likely to make them much money. Way to stand up for the little guy, folks!

I empathize with any author who believes his or her literary work is being devalued and whose livelihood is threatened. I know authors signed with major publishing houses don’t like Amazon’s stranglehold on book sales, but neither do independent authors like the stranglehold  publishing houses have on which works make it to the marketplace and which don’t. The same is true of bookstores. I love and support independent booksellers, and my co-author’s mother owned a bookstore for many years. But most independent bookstores show little encouragement for independent authors. Yet despite all this, we’re being asked to abandon Amazon and market through less viable channels to support Hachette’s case. Throughout history, folks with nothing have been asked to throw themselves on their swords for one glorious cause or another. Usually this involves saving the kingdom for a guy who has a whole lot more at stake than they do, and who isn’t going to invite them to the palace for drinks once the war is over. I don’t think it’s any different this time.

So I’m going to say thanks but no thanks to the boycott. I respect the position of all my friends with conventionally published works who have decided to take a stand against Amazon. I hope they’ll respect and understand my position as well. Right now, Amazon has provided and continues to provide support and market access for my book. So far, publishers and retailers on the other side are doing the opposite. And to my local retailer I would also add: if you expect me to give up Amazon, why don’t you lead the charge? Refuse to sell the work of any author with an Amazon page, and maybe I’ll take your boycott seriously.