Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Amazon - love them or hate them?

I have long had a somewhat ambivalent view of Amazon. Like any successful organisation which has established a dominant position in its market sector, it tends to make its own rules. I don't like that, just as I don't like the fact that Amazon has been so reluctant to pay its fair share of corporation tax in the UK.
So I am somewhat surprised to find myself tapping out a blog that is a partial defence of Amazon.
It all started with article by Lee Child published a few days ago in the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/12/lee-child-amazons-real-life-bookshops-why-we-should-be-worried). It really annoyed me. It was an attack on Amazon's rumoured plans to build 300 book stores in the USA, not to mention a stinging dismissal of the world of e-books.  Nothing sells books better than physical displays in bricks-and-mortar locations, he states. Read his full comments at your leisure. But boy did they annoy me!
Lee Child has probably sold more books in a week than I will sell in a lifetime of writing. So when he publishes his latest thriller, real bricks-and-mortar stores queue to pile them high, with the obvious consequence that a lot of people buy them. Bully for him!
But I, like many other minnows in the authorial pond, are lucky if our own local bookshop takes a few copies. Getting paper copies (what Child would call real books) into bookshops scattered round the country (I am talking UK, but I imagine the same applies to the USA) is for many of us lesser authors close to impossible.
I discovered my place in the pecking order when my third book was published by Robert Hale Ltd. I approached my local independent bookshop. Would they like to host a launch for me? I reckoned I had established a loyal local following and could pull in quite a few punters.
The bookshop agreed.
Then the bookshop changed its mind. Another more widely known author (TV appearances etc.!) had hove into view from over the horizon, so they dumped me for her.
The fact is that Amazon for all its faults is a lifeline for lots of lesser authors like myself. It helps us build an audience. Most of our sales come through Amazon and via our own efforts. If we can't get a paperback deal, then the e-book route offers a massive opportunity to get read and to make a very modest income to back up the day job.
My first crime novel Blood on the Cowley Road was published in 2008. It was reprinted (very modestly) three time. Yet in the last few months, my e-book sales for this book and my other "Blood in Oxford" ones have taken on a new burst of life thanks to the success of my most recent book Dead in the Water. This was published by Joffe Books, initially only as an e-book (sorry, Lee), though it is now also in paperback. No-one expects a hardback novel costing £18.99 to have an extended life, but an e-book at under £3.00 is a very different story.
If there was one sentence in Child's article which really irritated the hell out of me it was his demand that "e-fanboys agree to discuss the real world, not their pretend version! Deal?"
What makes an e-book less real than a book made with paper and cardboard. The story remains the same. If you have poor eyesight or travel a lot and like to take several books with you on holiday, the e-book reader is the easy, obvious option. That isn't to deny that lots of people (myself included) enjoy the sensation of a physical book. What I would deny is that one means of reading a story is better than another one.
So although I will continue to wish Amazon was more straightforward about paying taxes in the UK and other matters, I will also as a writer remain glad that they are continuing to spread my books to a wider readership.