By now, if you’re following the industry in any way, you’ve heard that Amazon pulled the plug on over 5000 Kindle ebooks distributed by IPG (who handles all of SFWP’s titles). You can read about it here, and here, and here, and probably a hundred other places. This came about because Amazon wanted a larger slice of the pie. Though I see it as an attempt to take the whole pie, and I worry that IPG is only the first of many victims.
Last summer, I wrote a lengthy, multi-part article for the Writer’s Center blog about the future of publishing and indie bookstores. My conclusion favored the electronic revolution (but also warned about the problems to come). Finally, after two years of watching the income from Kindle sales drift in, I decided to embrace this ebook thing. Though I have never bought an ereader, and, frankly, despise the whole thing in near Luddite fashion, I was still glad to cash the checks.
There had been rumors since October that Amazon was planning a Big Push that would change the face of ebooks forever. Some folks theorized it was a next generation uber-Kindle (The Fire was something of a red herring, in that sense), some figured it was going to be the rather exciting growth of the Kindle Singles market (which I felt was a chance to breathe new life into the dying art form of the short story and novella), some figured it would have something to do with the growing “publishing house” that Amazon was putting together. Amazon had created what was, for all intents and purposes, the ultimate vanity press. The next generation of vanity presses, really. Using the millions of authors who signed up as their backbone, Amazon morphed their vanity press into something a bit more robust…and scary as hell.
The lure went out not just to the little fish, it went out for the prize catches – publish with Amazon. Earn more from your sales. Eliminate the middleman.
Shutting down all the IPG titles was done with a flip of a virtual switch. In a matter of minutes, Amazon did more damage to independent presses than the last 30 years of chain bookstores.
In a way, Amazon’s rhetoric is on the mark. Getting rid of the middleman. Sure! Why not? But they’re lying about their motives. The true middlemen in publishing are the big presses. These blind monsters who decide the fate of who and what we read. The giants who pour millions into the creation of fad books that make you throw up in your brain, who blacklist writers, who rip books off the shelves if they dare to sell fewer than 20,000 copies and then sit on the rights so the authors can’t shop their work around elsewhere. The puppeteers of our somewhat diseased literary culture.
Has Amazon pulled the plug on their ebooks? No. Will they ever? No. Because those big publishing houses don’t have a stake. The electronic revolution, for the giant publishers, is almost a hobby. It’s a barely significant source of their income. So why would Amazon try to battle them? Pull the plug and the big publishers will just shrug it off.
The small, indie presses are not the middlemen. They are the dying voice of true publishing and writing. They are more loyal and respectful of writing than the big presses…and certainly more so than Amazon, which invites authors to cast their work adrift in a vast, uncharted ocean. Attacking the indie presses is simply an element we’ve seen in every other facet of American corporate culture. It’s a reflection of the death of the ma and pop shops, the general stores, our neighborhoods, true indie music and film… Big fish eating little fish in some sort of insane attempt to…I don’t know what. It all seems pointless, especially when these big companies collapse in a blaze of horror and shame.
What adds a sinister light to all this is the fact that Amazon spent a couple years convincing the indie presses to embrace the ebook revolution. We were all lured in by the always impressive Kindle sales…especially when the upfront cost for an ebook was pocket change compared to putting a full-on physical frontlist together. Now, finally, small presses saw an opportunity to get back on the tiger. We can do this. Hell, we can go ebook only and move 10,000 copies and it’ll just cost us $300.
One by one, we all got into the windowless panel van with wide eyes on the stranger’s candy. And then we were never seen or heard from again… Though that’s our own fault. After all, Amazon laid out their plan of attack last December.
Take SFWP. As of the end of 2011, about 70% of my income came from Kindle sales. I’m certainly not alone. If my wild conspiracy theories are on the mark and IPG’s publishers are simply the first in what will be a wholesale program of genocide, then it will take just about a year or so for Amazon to become the sole electronic publisher in America. You all have Kindles, right? It’s the king of the market…the sales figures almost completely eclipse the Nook, Apple’s bookstore, and everyone else. And, now, as they draw in big name authors like Stephen King, their gamble for a corporate monopoly might just pay off.
All I can think about is what happens when the next Tropic of Cancer comes along. Assume some dystopian future where ebooks are ruled by Amazon and some author puts together something controversial that some legal entity deep in the bowels of Amazon HQ decides is not fit for the Kindle store. What happens then? A censorship more complete than any other. If there are no small presses left to raise the freak flag, where would that author go? You and you and you with your Kindle reader become a coalition of the willing in support of monopolies, censorship, and the overall death of literary culture.
I beg of you to remember that indie presses, indie bookstores, and indie-friendly distributors like IPG are the backbone of our literary culture. When they die, that’s it. Don’t be fooled by the apparent freedom offered by Amazon. It all may be fun and games now but, when they get tired of you, or when they fold, you’ll all look up and around…and find yourselves alone. Mark my words.
But, you know… Tra-la-la. No point in this rant, I guess. What I have done is create an SFWP page for all of our titles listing alternative ebook sources. So you can get them on the Nook, on your fancy iPad, on your phone, your computer, through Google’s ebookstore, through Indiebound, through our distributor, and so on. Endless choices. You can even hack your Kindle Fire if you want. Don’t let it be said I’m not trying.
Tomorrow: SFWP Kindle Singles fell victim to Amazon’s shenanigans. So what hare-brained plan am I thinking of now?