When Amazon Publishing announced it was expanding to Europe, they announced it via a letter to a list of literary agents. Currently at war with traditional publishers for under-pricing books and distributing books digitally via the wildly popular Kindle thereby undermining sales, Amazon has steadily focused on bypassing publishers to create a direct relationship with agents and writers.
It started with Amazon launching a publishing arm in May 2009, initially aimed at distributing self-published authors. Then Amazon gave authors access to Nielsen Bookscan sales numbers* in an easy-to-understand dashboard. Soon after, publishers like Random House and Simon & Schuster introduced Author Portals making sales figures immediately available to authors who were formerly only getting hard to decipher royalty statements once or twice a year.
Nine months after they gave writers Nielsen, Amazon announced it had signed a deal to publish author Timothy Ferris‘ new book The 4-Hour Chef. Ferris told the New York Times, “I don’t feel like I’m giving up anything, financially or otherwise [by signing with Amazon],” adding, “Our success will only help the rest of publishing.”
Now, TheBookseller reports that UK-based literary agency Curtis Brown has partnered with Amazon to launch a digital self-publishing program through Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace. Curtis Brown CEO says the program is about “reach[ing] new audiences for our authors” and author Adele Parks is certainly pleased, telling Bookseller.com “My US fans have been continually calling for an e-book offering, so fingers crossed they’ll be as pleased as I am.”
I’ve been following the Amazon-Publishers war somewhat closely for the last few years, and it’s hard to know what this all actually means for writers. On one hand, Amazon represents innovation. As more and more readers defect from print to eReaders, and Amazon reigns as the biggest retailer of books by sales, writers can’t afford not to be in bed with them. Agents, of course, understand this intimately. But as Barnes and Noble’s refusal to carry Amazon print titles has shown, authors can’t afford to be on the wrong side of traditional publishers either.
In the next 10-15 years, business realities may force Amazon and Publishers to get in bed with each other, but what writers must realize is the current war is really about us. Without us creating the content, there is no Amazon Publishing, no Traditional Publisher, or Agent for that matter–yet we as writers have been largely silent, leaving the fight to the big boys.
Representing writers’ interest, the Authors Guild has been tangled in lawsuits with Hathi Trust and Google, suing against the right to surface scanned books in search results and library research without compensating Authors. But, where is the grassroots groundswell from writers?
The digital age has given us as writers unprecedented power. Why are we not using it?** It’s safe to say the publishing industry is going to operate very differently in the next decade, but how the changes will impact writers is up to us.
*It’s important to note these sales numbers don’t include Kindle sales which Amazon could furnish if they wanted to, I’m assuming.
**I know, I know. We’re busy writing the Great American/African novel, or just too scared to rock the boat as we seek validation from the agents/publishers we just queried/sent a submission to. Because we need that validation–we need to know we’re good enough. I know. But [insert last paragraph above].