Saturday, August 09, 2014

So Amazon asked me to express my thoughts on cheap ebooks…

ep-logo-onblueI’ve remained mostly quiet about the issue between Amazon and Hachette, although this is NOT only between the two companies; this involves all book companies and all authors. Since they decided to email directly and ask me to email Hachette to side with them against the publisher, gloves are off. Fine. Here’s my response, which I will also email to both companies at the addresses provided. You can read their letter here: Readers United (an Amazon page)  [A caveat: I have no affiliation with Hachette whatsoever. I publish under my own company.]

Dear Amazon,

Since you requested my thoughts concerning your dispute with Hachette via an email sent to my personal address, I will gladly share my thoughts.

I’ll admit you nearly swayed my opinion with your argument that less expensive makes for more sales. That does sound
reasonable. However, what George Orwell understood clearly and too many apparently don’t yet is that what people get cheaply and easily they don’t value greatly. That is a fact of human nature. There are exceptions, of course, and some who buy cheap do actually appreciate the work and years of learned craftsmanship that went into the product they got for a song. In general, though, people do not value what comes easy and cheap. Those cheap paperbacks were of certain genres made for certain readers. They were not putting War & Peace out for 25 cents. 

As an avid reader for the past 40+ years, I can personally see that the quality of books has dropped. I believe the ease of publication and the free and $0.99 cover prices you have pushed and promoted have contributed to this in the same way the quality of education has dropped in recent generations due to trying to make the standards more “fair” for students for whom schoolwork comes less easily. Education is not supposed to be about ease. It’s supposed to be about learning. The same is true of books. We each have our own level, our own genre, and we cannot demand all books play at the same level just as we should never pull some students down to the lowest level of education in the name of “fairness,” since there is, in actuality, no fairness in that whatsoever.

Already readers across the globe are asking themselves why they should bother to buy books when they can get so many of them free, and many don’t care much about quality since quality is a thing of the past, for the most part. That is what George Orwell saw, along with other warnings (within his fiction) that he was obviously not mistaken about. We should be lifting readers up, not dragging them down. That’s much of the purpose of fiction. Readers should care about quality. They should use stories to elevate their own minds and worlds. Of course there is a place for quick entertainment fiction and I don’t mean to degrade it, since there’s plenty of room for everyone, but it needs to stay in that place and not overwhelm the rest of literature. And even quick entertainment fiction should be held to a certain standard of quality.

”The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization
from destroying itself.”
Albert Camus

Let me tell you just a bit about myself. I started my publishing career as an indie, and by that I mean independent. It was back in 2003, long before indie was cool, but even then I could see the value in not allowing some big company to dictate what I could or couldn’t get out in print. I had spent ten years writing consistently and studying the craft, taking a novel class, reading avidly as I have since I could read, and all of this was after having been obsessed with Stories and the written word ever since I was read to as a child and then learned how to form sentences correctly. I am very serious about my craft, which is also my art, and along with learning how to write fiction specifically, I studied how publishing was accomplished. That’s why I become indie. The big pub path didn’t fit my own path. That doesn’t mean there is not a place for it. There absolutely is. I was glad to have another option, however, and it has been a hard uphill climb, but that was my choice and I was willing to take the risks and put my own funds into making it happen.

I have no qualms with the big pubs. They are doing business and it’s their right to do business as they choose (within legal bounds). Free market is the only right answer for overall success. Anyone who does not want to join in or support that business has the right to choose not to buy from them.

I stopped purchasing anything from you the moment you made your intentions clear of monopolizing and ruling over the book world. I do not link my books to you from my site or anywhere else. My prints are there only because my printer sends them automatically, but sales from your site have been nearly non-existent. My sales come from BN, Kobo, and other retailers [likely because that’s where I link to – a lesson other authors might consider]. I have lately experimented with putting two novels under my pen name (faster write novels that have taken less investment on my part) on the KDP site but only at the 70% rate and non-exclusive, and again, sales there are nearly non-existent. I will not put my novella there since I can’t price it at $1.49, which is what it costs at other retailers, without dropping to 30% profit, and .45 each is not worth my time to format and upload. 

I understand that exclusive books get far more help from you and I understand that’s why authors do it. I have nothing against authors jumping on opportunities that look helpful if it fits their needs. I will not do exclusivity, however, because I believe in free market, and my strong belief in that, which is supposed to be the staple of American society and why we got as strong as we used to be, far outweighs my need for book sales.

I fully object to your exclusivity clause which is a monopoly attempt. Even if it is “only” for six months, you know after six months, a book is no longer a new release and has less selling power. I fully object to the way you pull books from certain companies off your retail site just because they won’t play the way you want them to play, to include small pubs. I fully object to you buying out everything book related you possibly can in order to increase your monopoly hold. I fully object to being forced to make my books available for lending since I won’t use your exclusivity program. I fully object to authors getting their royalties docked due to ebook returns, which allows readers to read and not pay (we have libraries for that). And I still resent your attempt several years ago to force all indies and small pubs to republish their books through your then-newly purchased publishing company, which would have cost us money most of us could not afford just to suit your bottom line better.

As I see it (and this is simply my opinion), your actions, if not countered, could potentially lead to less freedom in the book world and a tighter hold on what can be published. As an indie who has fought the past eleven years to be taken seriously as an author and artist and who had to do a lot of learning to find the best resources and to create the resources I needed that weren’t already in existence in order to produce professional quality books in the mixed genre non-standard fiction I write, any possible intrusion in that process is not something I can idly and quietly lose to one company making billions on the pittance prices you think we authors (or publishers) should be able to charge.

I will not spend twenty years writing a very long, well researched, well crafted series of six books just to have to sell them for only $2.99 each [half the price of a fast food combo meal or less than one gallon of gas] just because it’s better for your bottom line. I’m sorry, but my 600+ page books are worth more than that and I won’t have you say otherwise.   Yes, I understand so far you are not saying I must price them at $2.99 (etc.), but if you win in forcing the big pubs to price the way you want, we indies and small press authors will have no means to fight if you decide to do the same to us (and maybe you won’t, but how do we know?). I don’t intend to price my ebooks at $10-15, but I do want the freedom to do so if I wish.

For the record, I will not pay $10-15 for an ebook, so I’ll gladly wait for the paperback instead, or borrow it from my library. For those who no longer buy print books, I can understand why they would pay that price and I have no objection to what someone else is willing to pay. A good book is very well worth the cost of one low end restaurant dinner or a quarter of a tank of gas and will last far longer than either. (Neither of those can be resold, either, once consumed.)

Your free and .99 scheme that, yes, is helping a few authors sell big and a handful of others to sell moderately is already hurting my right to sell at a decent price. Why pay even $2.99 for a small name author’s books when you can download a billion free and mostly free books from hundreds of other small name authors? The free pull is wonderful for you since it grabs customers, but it isn’t so wonderful for a lot of us writers. I do not wish to give my work away after all the time and heart I have invested in them, but you’re making it rather impossible not to do so. Of course it’s your right to try to win customers, but it’s my right not to support practices with which I disagree.

I’ve already heard the arguments that giving the first book, or first book of every series) away free gains readers and makes sales. That might be fine and dandy for those writing four to six books a year, but for those of us who put more time into our books (lit fic, upmarket romance, lit fantasy, lit sci fi, etc), giving away even one of them, that likely took two to four years to write and edit, is a huge loss of investment. You are stacking the deck to give fast-written and yes, often (not always) lower quality, books the upper hand. Why should  authors put years of work into their books or bother to worry about high quality if their sales price will be dictated at such a low price it’s not worth their time?

I cannot and will not support that, as it’s bad for my bottom line as a lit-mixed author, and, I believe, bad for fiction in general. As we have clearly seen in recent years, change just for the sake of change is not always a good thing. It must be  a smart change in order to be a good thing. It must be overall good, not good only for a few at the expense of others.

Your bottom line is about profit. That’s fine, since that’s what business is about. My bottom line is about my craft, my art, my heart and soul effort to make my books the best I can and, when they sell, to be able to ask a decent price according to the length, quality, and amount of time I’ve put into them.

No, I will not sign a petition to try to force any publishing company to give in to your demands, since the way I see it, you have no right as a retailer in a free market society to demand such a thing. If readers don’t want to pay those prices, they can buy less expensive books by their choice. It should be their choice, not your demand. Leave publishers alone to price and sell as they see fit and the beautiful effect of free market competition will keep prices low. And if the big pubs collude to price too high, readers may very well gravitate toward indies and small press, since indie is actually cool by now and getting more so all the time. I have no qualms with that, either. There is room for all of us. Some people buy $70 tennis shoes and others buy $10 tennis shoes. Either is fine, and a personal choice they should be allowed to retain, just as the shoe companies are allowed to price as they see fit. Why should books be different? Art must not be considered any less valuable than any other product. In many cases, it is far more valuable and should be seen as such.

a small name indie author struggling every day to find readers who value the art and craft of literature and stories,
LK Hunsaker



LK Hunsaker said...

Ah, and then there is this... Amazon misrepresented Orwell:

Voyager said...

Your argument has so many holes, but the glaring abyss is, whether I've paid 5 cents or 50 dollars for a book, it's never had any bearing whatsoever on the quality of the writing. Good writing is the ONLY reason I value any book. To insist that we readers are so stupid and easily led that we would actually appreciate anyone's book more if we paid more for it boggles the mind.

LK Hunsaker said...

Voyager, I did say there are exceptions and some people do value books for their content only. Agreed. However, there are boards all over the net where people brag about "buying" books on Amazon, reading them, and then returning them, leaving the author nothing. That's fair, you think? Other people don't have to give their work away free. Why should authors?

LK Hunsaker said...

Also, most of the ridiculously rude 1 star reviews are posted about free book downloads. That tells you something.