There is a lot of talk in the media about the ongoing dispute between the publisher Hachette and Amazon. It has long since spread to the blogosphere and authors everywhere seem to be taking sides, in general it seems those who are with traditional publishers are siding with Hachette and those who self-publish are with Amazon. Yes, I know that is a generalisation (hence the words ‘in general’) and that there are exceptions to it but it is fine as far as generalisations go. Now, I will admit that I am no expert on the terms between Hachette and Amazon so I won’t attempt to comment on them, however I will share my opinion of Amazon versus traditional publishers. Before I start it is worth noting that I am not, and have never been, an employee of Amazon or of any publishing house.
Is it true that Amazon have a monopoly in the online publishing world? I don’t know, that depends on the legal definition of ‘monopoly’ and I am no legal expert. It is true that Amazon have a large part of the ebook market and I’d imagine a pretty big chunk of print books get sold through them too. This does not make them an evil monopoly, it makes them a good business. People buy print books through Amazon because it is an extremely convenient way to shop and you can often get them cheaper there than at your high street book store. In other words their share of the print book sales market is due to offering customers what they want – convenience and low prices. The fact that others have not been able to compete, either online or on the high street, is because they are not offering customers what they want. I may not watch it myself but I cannot deny that X-Factor is successful because a lot of people do like it and want to watch it, success often starts with giving people what they want.
As far as the ebook market goes, Amazon have the majority of the market. Again, this is because they offer customers what they want. Ebooks existed before Amazon, I tried reading them – most were poorly formatted and had to be read on a computer screen. Amazon effectively created the modern ebook market with the Kindle. With a mixture of the device itself, their sales portal and good prices they got everyone reading ebooks – even my Mum gets all her books this way now. Yes, it has been hugely successful but why? They have given people what they want.
Traditional publishers have fought ebooks from the very start. They have tried to push people to book stores and keep them buying books in a format that is getting less and less popular by the year. When that hasn’t worked they have tried to guilt trip people into buying them by talking about bookshops going out of business and how the publishers themselves cannot make enough money from ebooks. They want the book market to remain as it was before ebooks and, regardless of customer demand, try their best to keep prices high when they do sell them.
As a book buyer I am in favour of Amazon’s approach to the market, as an author I am even more in favour of Amazon. Simply put I couldn’t get my books published in the traditional manner, then I tried self-publishing through Amazon and it was an absolute revelation. The traditional publishers put out a very small output every year, pay royalty rates to their authors that do not bare comparison with Amazon’s and for those lucky enough to be one of the tiny percentage of manuscripts they publish they expect to be able to alter the author’s writing through the ‘editing’ process. Amazon on the other hand will let you publish what you like, give you a good return and let the author control their own output artistically. Seriously, as an author which am I going to support?
Does this mean that Amazon should be allowed to do as they like? Of course not, but as a book buyer and an author I find that Amazon give me what I want – if I have to choose which publishing model I want to win out in the end then it has to be Amazon’s.