At this point in the game, I usually ignore readers who complain about e-book prices being “too high” at $4.99, or even lower, since it’s seen as “easy money” for writers. But it’s gotten harder with some things I’ve been watching and reading lately, including YouTube videos lamenting authors not releasing a book and then forgetting about it since it’s seen as something that belongs to the readers post-release, as well as about authors who aren’t on social medial while also complaining about authors who start getting political. There are only so many times authors can use #amwriting or say “today I’m editing” before it’s just so dull that we wish social media would dive into the dumpster fire that is the current industry. Many authors don’t want to share much about their private lives, so resort to entertainment, which often runs in with politics these days. You’re damned if you post, damned if you don’t, damned if you don’t let readers nearly literally own your book as if the rights are theirs, damned if you insist on maintaining some control.
But what’s got me frustrated right now is exclusivity mandates and how those harm authors, especially when readers want books for less and less money when we’re already being pressured by Amazon to go lower and lower, and readers want more and more of them, resorting in many authors pumping out low-quality books that they know aren’t up to par, because the punishment for not is to be considered irrelevant. Grab a glass of wine and settle in for this month’s edition of Alys Rants because I have thoughts to think and fingers to type (the word that flows better doesn’t really work there).
On the topic of exclusivity, when Amazon started Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), it sounded great, an easy way to publish ebooks. But then it turned out they required exclusivity with Amazon, and a lot of other mandates. You don’t get to opt out of Kindle Unlimited, which is s system currently being gamed by scammers to the financial detriment of honest authors, you technically can’t have give-aways unless you buy a gift card through Amazon so that Amazon gets a piece of it, and then send that to the winner, who can technically do anything they want with it (not doing this is why Sacred Blood was kicked off of KDP), and you absolutely can’t distribute your own digital books through any other avenue. We lose control, and there’s little we can do about it. Bizarrely, while checking on the current pricing for my second book, I saw that Amazon reinstated Sacred Blood, and at a different price than I originally set it for.
Now a well-known video game website is starting down the same path. Offering a larger cut that you’d get elsewhere, but mandating exclusivity. This exclusivity thing really has to go. Perhaps require an incentive for it, like a higher cut, but mandating it no matter what is very problematic. It’s not like the print book world, or the world of cartridge games, where someone else was investing tens or hundreds of thousands. This digital era has minimal, it any, cost to these companies doing the selling, with it all being on the shoulders of the creators instead. We create it. We format it. We test it. We make sure it works and is the best it can be. We service it and make edits or repairs if necessary. We foot all the financial investment. Then we had it over to a company to sell with them having the sole say from there on out, despite putting nothing into it. If these companies want to pay for assistants and editors and such, then fine, they’ve got money staked in it. But they don’t. We just hand them the fruits of our hard labor, knowing they’re going to keep the bulk of the harvest to themselves. We invest in the products, sometimes incurring debt to do so, for someone else to reap the bulk of the rewards on top of making very important decisions about selling. We may as well be independent contractors making products for another company to sell when that company offers no compensation at all to help cover the costs. Would you hire someone to paint your house for you, then tell them you’ll only pay for your personal labor, but you’ve got to pay for the paints and all supplies, and any assistants you may need, and no, you won’t compensate for any of it. That’s Amazon. They’re hiring that painter.
A lot of authors would do print-on-demand for print copies, or order a supply of their books for print purchases, since they ended up with a much larger cut of the sale this way since Amazon was merely the platform facilitating the sale and purchase, and had total control over pricing. Then Amazon bought Createspace, the main place authors were using, and started offering those same books on Amazon Prime for less than the cost an author could buy one at “wholesale” for, meaning the authors get a much smaller cut of a smaller amount they can’t control, with Amazon getting the larger cut for being the platform that facilitates the sale and purchase as well as fulfilling the order. This isn’t something I opted into when I started offering print books.
Regarding pricing, I’m so glad Nora Roberts touched on this. It’s epidemic how many people want books for next to nothing without so much as a thought for how much work and money goes into them. It’s gotten so bad that countless authors have banded together to offer boxed sets for sometimes as low as $4.99 for six books. Amazon’s push for books to be $1.99 or under comes with the punishment of your ranking in searches being lower if you don’t agree. They make money by moving millions of items at small profit margins. But for those of us moving tens, hundred, maybe a few thousand, at smaller profits, we don’t come out ahead, and often don’t recoup our expenses. Free-to-the-reader books even have their very own best-seller list, which many writers try to get on for the exposure. Unfortunately, that doesn’t usually convert to paid sales of other books. People looking for free books want free books. Amazon is aware that getting people to Amazon for free stuff increases the chance of a sale of something off the site.
If you’re a reader, please give authors a break. Throw us a bone every now and then. Don’t participate in the crowd that will only buy books if they’re almost free or free. Be patient between books instead of wanting a book a month badly enough that you’ll move on to someone else who pumps them out that fast. It’s literally not possible to write 70,000-90,000 words, have an editor go through it, then the writer make edits, and have it go back to the editor (at which point it could need further editing or be okay to go out), in a month. There is a lot of time involved, a lot of money, Amazon henpecking us, everyone henpecking us. In the end, the people who get money LAST are the very people the industry literally couldn’t exist without, and when we are lucky to even break even, insisting on lower prices, new books frequently enough that it would take more overtime to even push out first drafts fast enough, and demanding ever-lower prices burns us out. Folks, I know some authors who’ve done decently well, but who are close to quitting because of the amount of pressure and how much fighting has to be done to keep a few dimes per book. Amazon already puts mandates on writers that cause a loss of control and makes earning money hard enough. Please, PLEASE, be kind to authors, remember authors are people working their asses off, often on top of day jobs, and appreciate the money that authors put into books that come with so little pay, often no pay, very often in the negative, that creating books have become a labor of love and display of passion for the craft.