Daily Archives: February 4, 2010

A Quick Interview of Me, By Me, To Catch Up With Everything Amazon

Q: Hey, you.

A: Hey, me.

Q: How you holding up?

A: Well, I think you know.

Q: I do, but this isn’t meant to be an internal dialogue, asshole.

A: Fair enough. Aside from the fact that the largest online bookseller is continuing to refuse to sell my Tor novels, everything is fantastic. Thanks for asking.

Q: Have you seen some verifiable drops in sales from Amazon’s actions?

A: I had a friend check BookScan for me, it having a tally of my sales through about 70% of the nation’s book retailers, including Amazon. This week six of my seven Tor titles are down in sales, in percentages ranging from low single digits to 30%. Whether those drops are attributable to Amazon’s actions directly is an open question, but I suspect at least some of it is. On the other hand, Zoe’s Tale is up 8% from the previous week. Go me.

Q: How are you feeling about Amazon at the moment?

A: Frankly at this point I’m simply puzzled. It’s been seven days since it yanked Macmillan titles, and five days since it announced that it knew it would eventually have to accept Macmillan’s terms. So that’s five days that Amazon has been punishing a whole range of authors to no particularly good or useful end. I can understand if not condone yanking titles as a negotiation tactic, but when you publicly say you’re going to give in, the major point of your negotiations is done, isn’t it? Everything from that point forward looks like a temper tantrum, and I don’t see how that’s useful in Amazon’s relationships — with its vendors, with authors, with shareholders or with the public, which still can’t buy everything it wants from the store and is realizing it has to go elsewhere for it. In that respect, I imagine other retailers want Amazon’s snit fit to continue, because it’s good for them.

Q: Do you hate Amazon?

My Amazon Prime account suggests that I really don’t. But, you know, look. What this is about to me, and what it’s always been about for me, is the fact that Amazon is punishing authors — a lot of them — for something that fundamentally doesn’t have anything to do with them, that being top-level trade negotiations between two corporate entities. Amazon can choose to do whatever it likes under the law, but admitting “Amazon has a right to do this” doesn’t mean I can’t say “and it’s being dicks to a lot of innocent writers” as well. Both statements are true. As for me, it’s pretty simple: When Amazon reinstates the “buy” buttons to all the Macmillan titles it’s stripped them from, I’ll consider buying something from it again. Until then, I’m taking my personal business elsewhere. I’m not suggesting others have to follow my example. But this is where I’m at.

Q: What do you think of the argument that Amazon is doing consumers a service by fighting to keep eBook prices at $9.99?

A: Leaving aside the fact that eBooks more expensive than $9.99 were already for sale on Amazon before all this, I think Amazon has done a fine job convincing Kindle owners and fans of eBooks that it’s leading this epic struggle for $9.99 for their benefit, and that’s the one PR victory it’s had in this. But I think it’s also not telling the whole story, which is that if Amazon wins the argument that $9.99 is the correct price point for eBooks, than all eBooks will likely be $9.99. Which is to say that if publishers can’t make money above that price point, they’ll recoup it from below. As it happens, my Kindle books all sell — well, sold – for less than $9.99. I’m not entirely convinced, if Amazon has its way, that their cost wouldn’t migrate upward in the aftermath. Amazon has done a fine job of making all its partisans focus on the idea that $14.99 eBooks might be on the horizon; it’s sort of skipped over the idea that $5.99 eBooks might be going away.

Also, you know. I think it’s kind of funny Amazon can initially sell the Kindle at $400, and then eventually drop the price to $259 when it makes sense for Amazon’s business to do so — and yet appears to maintain that the content for the Kindle has to have a single price point.

Q: But some folks say that will never under any circumstances buy an eBook for $9.99.

A: That’s fine with me, just like people only wanting to pay paperback prices is fine with me. I just don’t think there’s a problem in seeing if some people will pay more first. I see a lot of people maintaining the market won’t support eBooks above a certain price point, but the fact some of them also seem militantly unwilling to let the market actually try is a bit weird to me.

Q: There are also people who want to boycott Macmillan and its authors for this.

A: Well, if they own a Kindle, they don’t have a choice whether to boycott or not, do they? Amazon’s already made the choice for them. If people want to personally boycott a publisher or author, that’s one thing, but a retailer using its control of a sales channel to enforce a boycott? Insert your own totalitarian allusion here.

Q: How do you respond to the belief that you’re just a Macmillan sock puppet in this thing?

A: I think it’s kind of funny. To be sure, I make a lot of money from Macmillan (and it makes a lot of money from me), and I’m both fond of the people I work with at Tor and generally happy to be published with them. I have a history with them. On the other hand I have a history with Amazon, too: Folks might recall the METAtropolis audio anthology, which I edited and wrote for. Its original publisher was Audible, which is owned by — anyone? Anyone? It’s owned by Amazon. And you know what, I made a lot of money from that, too, and I’m fond of the people I work with at Audible and am generally happy to be published by them as well. Likewise, I’m also published by Subterranean Press, by Penguin and by Baker & Taylor. The lesson here is that working writers have a lot of business relationships.

I can understand why people want to accuse me of being a Macmillan sock puppet, since my own philosophical stance and personal concerns dovetail into Macmillan’s separate concerns. And if it makes people happy to think that, fine. But out in the real world, it’s me speaking my own mind. It’s not like Macmillan folks are telling me anything more than they’re telling anybody else. I have to scrape for rumors like a common troll.

Q: Well, I think that about wraps up my questions. Anything else you’d like to say?

A: Yes: Folks, remember to keep supporting the authors affected by this. Real people are getting really hurt by this, and they need your help. If you’re in the mood to get a book, consider getting one by a Macmillan author, at bookstores offline and online. It’ll make a difference to them.

Q: Thanks for you time.

A: Thank you. And may I say, you are one excellent interviewer.

Q: Aw, shucks.