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.


  1. Couldn't agree with you more!

  2. It is aggravating to read complaints like those from the multi-million dollar authors. That Amazon isn't paying the taxes it should - yes - that's a valid thing for Lee Child to grump about. But as to the rest, it's just plain rude. A book is a book whether it's paper, plastic, film, audio, or digital paper with digital ink. I'm with Sandy Penny for the reasons she listed in that I read my Kindle more than I read hard copies. And, until many of the oldest established traditional publishers decided that e-books should be priced as much as or - in some cases -more than paperbacks, I was much more willing to try a new-to-me author because I could buy their e-book for under $5. I think e-books and Amazon have been a boon to new authors like myself.

    1. Thanks Pearl. I find a lot of older people use Kindles because of eyesight issues and also weight (of big physical books). So e-books are widening the possibilities for reader and author.

  3. The fact is, despite all the bad books published, Amazon is the mid-list and new author's best friend. With 45 of my own (a dozen from NY publishers) and being the publisher of over 400, I can tell you that lots of excellent writers who were flipping burgers with dozens of books (some with hundreds) in their backlist, are now receiving high four figure monthly checks thanks the to new life breathed into novels that hadn't seen a shelf in years. I'm proud of our Wolfpack Publishing and of Amazon, Kobe, Smashwords, Apple, Nook, etc. When would one of we mid-list authors have received a check from a sale in Brazil or India prior to Amazon? It's a new world and new life for lots of old authors. Lee is obviously a bit of an elitist, as is my wife, also an NYT bestselling author. I don't mind a bit sneaking beneath both of them and making $2.00 off a $2.99 sale...and creating lots of new readers for all of us in the process. And putting the occasional filet on the plate of authors who've been eating beans for years.

  4. The big publishing companies only want works that will ensure big sales. They invest in those writers accordingly, and 'niche' writers and new authors are left in the cold (unless their name is Kardashian). Amazon has opened a door for the rest of us. There are many people whose needs aren't being met by 'mainstream' choices, and there is room for all.

    1. I agree Sarah. As apparently do most people who have read my blog.