The end of an Amazon pricing policy

Amazon will end a practice that threatened to put the company in the crosshairs of antitrust enforcers:

Amazon will no longer tell third-party merchants that sell products on its platform in the United States that they cannot offer the same goods for a lower price on another website, according to a person with direct knowledge of the company’s decision.

Why it matters: Critics have said the so-called “most favored nation,” or “price parity,” provisions could violate antitrust law. But even without them, the company still faces a broader set of attacks on its size and power in the United States and around the world.

I do most of my selling on Amazon, so this doesn’t affect me at the moment.

Nevertheless, I know authors who have received angry emails from Amazon when their books were discounted on other retail sites, often without their direct involvement, or even knowledge. (This seems to happen a lot on GooglePlay.)

Jeff Bezos is no idiot. He realizes that the 2020 Democratic challengers are are all lining up against the tech giants (especially Elizabeth Warren).

Donald Trump, too, has been less than friendly toward Amazon.

This is a far cry from 1998 or 2000, when no politician wanted to take a position against anything that was being done on the Internet, short of outright hate speech or child porn.

The Internet and ecommerce are just normal parts of the landscape now. Ergo, they now are fair game for politicians on both sides of the left-right divide.


Amazon drops Tommy Robinson’s book, ‘Mohammed’s Koran’

Egads, another free speech controversy involving a tech giant. This time, it’s Amazon:

It’s the British government and the BBC, rather than CAIR, that are likely behind this, but Amazon has just dropped the book Mohammed’s Koran by the renowned British activist Tommy Robinson and Peter McLoughlin — and apparently only because its censors dislike Robinson.

Amazon should sell any tome that doesn’t incite violence (which might, incidentally, require them to ban sales of the actual Quran….oops!).

Yes, I understand that Amazon is not the government. Amazon is a private corporation, blah, blah, blah.

But there is a bit more to it than that, in 2019: Amazon’s increasing monopoly power in the book retailing sector now gives it near governmental powers. Fifteen years ago, there were three Borders bookstores within a short drive of my house. Now there are none.

For a growing number of consumers, Amazon is the only (practical) option for purchasing books.

This means that Amazon has a responsibility to act beyond narrow partisan considerations. We can certainly make the case that neither Facebook nor Twitter are essential to the intellectual life of the nation. Book retailing is different.

I understand that among folks of a certain political persuasion, pointing out the links between Islam and violence is regarded as a not-very-nice thing to do. We are all supposed to join hands and sing Kumbaya, then tap our heels together and repeat in unison, “Diversity is our strength.”

But the headlines of the last 30 years (beginning with the Salman Rushdie affair in 1989 provide evidence for another interpretation. If we must live with Islam, so be it, but we should also be able to frankly discuss and critique Islam…just like we can frankly discuss and critique Christianity, atheism, or any other worldview.

It’s called: the free marketplace of ideas…and it’s a wonderful thing, when either corporate or government censors don’t get in the way.

If Mr. Robinson, et al’s book is pure bunk, then I’m sure that will come out in the reader reviews. If his book makes worthwhile arguments, well…that will come out, too.

But we’ll never know, because Amazon’s corporate censors have arbitrarily banned it.

Amazon, do your duty as the world’s largest bookseller, and allow Mr. Robinson to sell his book at your store.

Books, ads, guns, and trigger warnings (no pun intended!)

There’s been a fair amount of kvetching on author forums of late, regarding  ads for books being rejected by Amazon because of something “provocative” on the cover.

I’m not talking here about the obvious stuff: frontal nudity and chopped up bodies. I’m talking about a cover like this one: for W.E.B. Griffin’s Death at Nuremberg.

Yes, that’s right: An indie author would not be able to run an AMS ad with this book cover.

Why? Because it has an image of a gun pointing at the viewer!

(I know this firsthand, btw, because an earlier version of my crime novel Blood Flats had a similar cover, and it was rejected.)

Facebook is just as draconian. I’ve learned the hard way that when creating an ad for a thriller novel, I am pretty much wasting my time if I submit artwork with any depiction of a firearm.

In defense of Amazon and Facebook: I’m sure these companies would like to accept many of the ads they are rejecting. They’re concerned about liability, of course. We live in an age in which being traumatized is actually quite fashionable. If someone can find a pretext to complain and raise a stink, they will. That’s all it takes… a pretext.

Don’t blame Amazon or Facebook for this nonsense. Blame the first university professor who used the term “trigger warning” unironically.

Paperbacks, paperbacks

There are now paperbacks available on Amazon for all of my horror and most of my thriller titles.

I’ve been surprised to find that, despite the Kindle being over ten years old now, many readers still prefer to read on old-fashioned paper.

Which is fine with me. I’m rather attached to reading on paper myself.

Check out the paperback edition of 12 Hours of Halloween on Amazon!

David Gaughran’s post about the Amazon “also-bought apocalypse”

David Gaughran is a constant source of valuable information for anyone publishing in this brave new world of indie publishing. One of his recent blog posts concerns the Amazon “also-bought” apocalypse.

If you’re a writer/indie publisher, the post is well worth reading in its entirety.

But here’s my quick take on the  matter:

For years now, thousands of indie authors have made themselves wholly dependent on the Amazon ecosystem. This trend has accelerated nonstop since Amazon established the KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited program in 2011.

At least one of the indie author “gurus” now states that indie authors no longer need individual author websites.

Why? Because the only thing that matters now is gaming the Amazon algorithms!

Many indie authors no longer think in terms of any kind of “platform” beyond Amazon.

Rapid release into KDP Select….

Rapid release into KDP Select…

Rinse and repeat…

I’m not anti-Amazon. (I rather like them, in fact.) But as David Gaughran’s post illustrates, it is dangerous to build a consumer-focused business that is solely reliant on a single channel of distribution.

What is the solution? Forget about silly “boycotts” and online petitions. Those things don’t mean squat, at the end of the day.

The solution is to spread the risks: Go wide, and work with other retailers–in addition to Amazon: Apple Books, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.

Let me make clear: Amazon is not evil. But Amazon is a large company that will, like all big companies, act in its best interests.

How do you think Amazon got to be the world’s largest retailer?

If you’re an independent author, you need to act in your best interests, too.

And acting in your best interests doesn’t mean relying solely and entirely on Amazon.

Is John Grisham slipping?

Late last week I received my hardcover copy of John Grisham’s The Reckoning from the folks at Amazon. (I had preordered the book.)

Before I jumped in, I was curious to see how the reader reviews had been running.

The early reviews are less than stellar. The average, based on Amazon’s 5-point scale, is running at 3.1 at the time of this writing. There are quite a few 1- and 2-star reviews.

What might account for this?

Well, first of all, what doesn’t: No one dislikes John Grisham for being John Grisham. He isn’t political. So the negative reviews weren’t made in retaliation for something Grisham said or did outside the printed page.

(Grisham, unlike Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates, mostly stays out of the culture wars. He did test the waters with speaking out on a (very) inflammatory issue a few years ago, got burned, and promptly re-devoted himself to fiction.)

Nor does anyone, in 2018, purchase a John Grisham legal thriller with the expectation that they’ll be getting a fantasy novel or a romance. Everyone knows who he is and what he does. They either like Grisham’s schtick, or they don’t.

And for the most part, John Grisham does what he does brilliantly. But even he can have lackluster books.

For example, I was bored to tears by John Grisham’s 2010 novel, The Confession. To my reading, The Confession was a blatant piece of agitprop that Grisham wrote to oppose capitol punishment, and to attempt to SAY SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT ABOUT RACE IN AMERICA.

The Whistler, too, I found to be a little slow, though it was free of socio-political virtue-signaling.

But when Grisham hits one out of the park, he really hits one out of the park. His last two efforts, Camino Island and The Rooster Bar, have been among his best books ever.

So to answer the question posed above, no–I don’t believe that John Grisham is “slipping”. But the guy has been cranking out novels, at a rate of about one per year, since before Bill Clinton was president.

Not all of them are going to suit your tastes–even if you’re a diehard Grisham fan. And where taste is concerned, your mileage may vary. I absolutely loved Camino Island, but plenty of reader-reviewers panned it. Likewise, not everyone disliked The Confession.

Which brings us to another issue: Grisham has legions of longtime fans, people who have been reading his books for decades. Many of them have very high expectations for every Grisham novel. And they have their own proprietary ideas concerning exactly what a John Grisham novel should be.

Amazon earnings and indie authors

Today Amazon missed it’s earning estimates, leading to a fall in share prices.

Many indie authors are entirely reliant on Amazon. They are Amazon-exclusive, placing all of their titles in KDP. (Amazon makes this tempting, by dangling various cookies.)

I’m not anti-Amazon. On the contrary: I love Amazon–both as a reader and as an author. And under the current structure of the market, it would be virtually impossible to avoid any reliance on The Zon.

Nevertheless, as today’s news demonstrates, Amazon–just like any other company–has its ups and downs.

Amazon has also been known to make abrupt policy changes.

This is yet one more argument for “going wide”–or for making one’s titles available across multiple retailers.