Amazon: A Friend Or Foe For Writers And Publishers?

I’ll be honest—I’m not a trendsetter. At least not when it comes to the publishing revolution. I’m cautious. I like to spend a lot of time gathering facts, weighing options, learning from those more opinionated and in-the-know than I. One thing I do know is that Amazon’s name is on everyone’s lips these days—a result of Kindle Direct Publishing, CreateSpace, and their newest publishing imprints. This is great! Isn’t it?

I’m not totally sold, to be honest. Let me tell you why.

I used to be completely intimidated by the thought of publishing directly through Amazon KDP. I can do a fair amount with my computer, and I love learning new things, but formatting and creating an eBook seemed like a rather daunting task.

When the crew at AgentQuery Connect posted their fabulous guide to publishing with Amazon, I thought Hey, I think I could do that! And I almost did, too. I came thisclose to self-publishing my first manuscript. But after some amazingly supportive beta readers encouraged me to keep my handwriting functional, I’ve decided to continue pursuing a traditional print deal a little longer. But that’s beside the point. I was certainly enticed by the idea of 70% royalties, creative control over things like cover art and word count, and finally being able to say I have a published novel. If I was so gung-ho about it just a month or so ago, why does the thought of it make me feel a little dirty now?

One thing for sure irks me, and that’s the issue with potential plagiarism on Amazon. To be fair, they seem to have favorably resolved every issue of plagiarism I’ve heard of, but the fact remains that it is simply too easy to do. When was the last time a check-box stopped anyone from doing the wrong thing? Oh, it says checking here means I have the authority to publish this material. I’d better stop, then, since I actually stole it from someone’s blog/website/whatever. Sure. In what reality does that happen? Not mine.

If they valued intellectual property like my handwritten originals as much as they say in their Conditions of Use, I’d think they would incorporate some sort of detection controls in the KDP uploading process, and/or make it a little easier to report plagiarism/copyright infringement. As it stands, you have to scroll way way way down to the very bottom of the product page (which, depending on the length of product details, reviews, discussions, etc. can be immensely long) to find out how to report an infringement. But guess where the option to report a lower price is located? You probably guessed it. Much higher up, right after the product details.

Plagiarism potential aside, the recent announcement of Amazon’s latest publishing imprint was the thing that really put this bitter taste in my mouth. On the surface, this is encouraging to writers. The largest online book retailer is getting into the publishing game! They’ve been a pioneer in the world of self-publishing, making it accessible to everyone and giving authors a chance to earn money and see their name in print. They must care about writers and the future of publishing, right? Well…

Amazon has several imprints. Their career listing has openings for acquisitions editors and more, implying expansion and growth for this aspect of their business. And yet there’s no way to submit to the imprints for consideration. It appears Amazon hand-picks the titles to which they’ll lend their marketing prowess and brand recognition. In other words, if you want a shot at being considered, you’d better get your book on Amazon. Instead of a slushpile where writers are hoping to get published and be presented to the buying public, we’ll have a slush pile of self-published writers hoping to be vetted by Amazon. Just when the stigma surrounding self-publishing was beginning to let up, I fear this will create a backlash and I will have to be more creative in my writing. But what does Amazon care? They make money either way.

Because that’s what I fear this boils down to. Money. I don’t think Amazon cares one whit about publishing as it relates to writers and writing. If I can channel Jessie J for a minute, this IS about the cha-ching cha-ching. The allure of KDP is that it has the potential to give voice to many excellent writers who have been overlooked by the traditional publishing industry. But now they want to get INTO traditional publishing? It just doesn’t make sense on any level other than a monetary one, in my rather humble opinion. And let’s be clear on that: they’re much more interested in putting money in their own pockets than they are in yours.

Going back to the title of this post, do I think Amazon is a publishing friend or foe? Let’s just say that they aren’t looking so friendly on my radar right now. I don’t think I’ll be self-publishing anything on Amazon in the very near future. Does that mean I won’t purchase anything from my friends and fellow writers on Amazon? Not necessarily. I rarely shop on Amazon to begin with, but I’ll gladly support a friend if I can. Does that mean I’ll refuse any part of a traditional deal that involves Amazon should I snag an agent? Hmm… I can’t say for certain. There may be a day when you can call me a hypocrite, but for now, for me, it’s a matter of principle. I’ll be keeping my eye on you, Amazon.