Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Insider’s View of Amazon, Self Publishing and Traditional Publishing

I attended a major writing festival in the UK recently, including writing workshops as well as a question and answer session posed to literary agents of traditional publishers in the book industry. Some of the viewpoints certainly struck a chord with me, having been published with Amazon for some years now. And here’s what I learned.

The Big Players in the Publishing Industry Versus Amazon

Closure of Book Shops due to the Kindle
It seems a general consensus that Amazon is viewed as a monopoly without democracy. This publishing platform is so efficient, cutting out all middlemen, postal costs and production that no room can be found for opposition. There is no healthy competition and things look set to remain that way. Let’s face it Kindle books and online publishing have basically created a hole in paperback sales. The other digital book platforms such as Nook and Apple just don’t compete with Amazon.

The Future of the Paperback Book

This means many chain books stores are screwed. Amazon is terrifyingly efficient and cuts all the fat. The large, traditional publishers are forever consolidating. The big five: Penguin, Random House, Harper Collins, Simon Schuster and Macmillan are the only big players standing. But one day, the big five might become the big four, as more is consolidated.

The result of this is that there are fewer places to sell your book. Author advances are going down and inflation is up. Gone are the days of huge advances, but perhaps this is not all bad. A huge advance equals huge books sales to break even, and expectation of the author to maintain commercial success is not so high.

And royalties are also down.

Some big authors have actually gone self-published, enjoying the big royalty share of Kindle books (being 70% if priced above $2.99) as opposed to smaller royalties when selling on paperback. Some big author names have come back to traditional publishing after defecting to self publishing on Kindle. However, most big authors will remain with the traditional published route, believing it gives them validation. This is the one big thing the traditional route offers and being self published on Amazon does not.

The Worst Thing about Amazon: Their Rating System Sucks

Amazon's big Problem: its Rating System
The worst thing about Amazon is its rubbish rating system. Anyone with an Amazon account can leave a review whether they have read the book or not. I have received reviews for the Amazon customer service rather than my book. Amazon is rife with political reviews left by shotgun sockpuppets who are competing authors (these leave one or two rubbish reviews and then never leave another). They might leave a five star for a big book to prove they do leave good reviews after all. Meaningless one or two sentences make it plain they have never read the book.

Big Author Sponsors Versus the Single Self Published Writer

Even worse, the moment a big name or celebrity gets a book out, dozens of reviews appear as if by magic, saying what a wonderful book it is. In fact, the genuine reviewer seldom posts reviews like this. I have several books that sell like hotcakes, but have only one or two reviews. And the more reviews a book gets, the more reviews it gets. It is reasons like these that many readers are so disappointed in a book with rave reviews, saying what was all the fuss about? Amazon is rife with books that are overrated.

Amazon’s Big Problem: Its Appalling Book Review System

The sad thing is, Amazon doesn’t care. It only cares about growth and customers ordering products from them. They have branched out to a diverse landscape, including household products, games, films and more. Books are just another limb to its machine. Since many self published books on Amazon have no isbns, sales are difficult to track. In fact, no one really knows how many self published books are selling on Amazon, but is sure to be millions and set to get bigger.

Self Published Authors on Amazon

Amazon has offered a great opportunity for self published writers to get their book out there, but their system possesses many flaws which can actually work against the self pubbed writer. One is their appalling rating system. On top of this, many authors still do not sell a single book because there is just so much out there. Amazon doesn’t care if you publish an epic literary masterpiece or a two-page pamphlet full of typos. All it cares about is growth and profit. And it seems, the trad pubbed writers are being hit too (albeit in a different way).

It all goes back to what the traditional publishers offer: validation – and getting into the supermarket. Yes, Amazon has been revolutionary for the self pubbed writer, but without validation, the indie writer is like a small boat out at sea and a stormy one at that. Few avid readers are going to upload a book by an unknown and untested writer with no validation.

Conclusion on Self Pubbed Route via Amazon

I had come away from the literary festival with a balanced view: how Amazon has impacted upon the self published writer as well as traditional publishing. The self pubbed writer like me has found a way of getting my book out there, but am up against impossible odds when it comes to competition, getting reviews and being noticed. 

The trad publishers are concerned about the monopoly of Amazon, and how it seems to be contributing to the closure and/or amalgamation of book shops and book publishers. Amazon can only get bigger and there seems to be little anyone can do about it. Their review system will remain rubbish. But only time will tell what the future will hold, but doubt much will change in the foreseeable future: competition for the self pubbed writer will get bigger and the trad publishers will continue to struggle to keep afloat.

And of course, the big name authors and celebrities will continue to get hundreds of reviews overnight saying what a wonderful book it is.

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