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Author Charles Stross: Is Amazon a Malignant Monopoly, Or Just Plain Evil? 405

An anonymous reader writes "Sci-fi author Charles Stross has a post providing insight into Amazon's recent bullying tactics against a major book publishing group. He puts the fight into perspective for the two most important parts of the book market: author and reader. He says: 'Amazon's strategy (as I noted in 2012) is to squat on the distribution channel, artificially subsidize the price of ebooks ("dumping" or predatory pricing) to get consumers hooked, rely on DRM on the walled garden of the Kindle store to lock consumers onto their platform, and then to use their monopsony buying power to grab the publishers' share of the profits. If you're a consumer, in the short term this is good news: it means you get cheap books. But if you're a reader, you probably like to read new books. By driving down the unit revenue, Amazon makes it really hard for publishers—who are a proxy for authors—to turn a profit. Eventually they go out of business, leaving just Amazon as a monopoly distribution channel retailing the output of an atomized cloud of highly vulnerable self-employed piece-workers like myself. At which point the screws can be tightened indefinitely. And after a while, there will be no more Charlie Stross novels because I will be unable to earn a living and will have to go find a paying job. TL:DR; Amazon's strategy against Hachette is that of a bullying combine the size of WalMart leaning on a much smaller supplier. And the smaller supplier in turn relies on really small suppliers like me. It's anti-author, and in the long term it will deprive you of the books you want to read.'"
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Author Charles Stross: Is Amazon a Malignant Monopoly, Or Just Plain Evil?

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  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Monday May 26, 2014 @01:36PM (#47093363) Homepage

    The title of this comment may be provocative, but after buying a Kindle Paperwhite [], something that Amazon does really well (and just keep it in airplane mode all the time so you don't have to deal with Amazon's ecosystem), I have found myself with such a huge choice of classic literature titles from either Project Gutenberg or pirate ebook sites, that I feel I'll never catch up with all the old stuff, let alone hunger after anything new. For Mr. Stross, I'm sorry, but you're competing with the past, and there are a myriad of science-fiction writers like yourself that already have more books out there than anyone can read.

  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Monday May 26, 2014 @01:48PM (#47093417) Homepage

    While publishers are middlemen, at least they are at least some level of quality control. As an Amazon top reviewer, I get several times a week solicitations to review a book self-published through Amazon, and the vast majority of these are appallingly bad -- mispellings and grammatical errors abound, the typesetting is goofy, and in terms of style these authors could not write themselves out of a paper bag. An established publisher would reject the majority of these, saving consumers the time spent finding out that they are dreck, and for the small minority of authors with fledgling talent, there would be an editor who could propose changes for the better.

    Furthermore, the publishers also provide some level of advertising. Often the books I am asked to review are hyped through a marketing agency that the author had to hire at his own expense, and considering how unreadable some of these books are, I highly doubt the authors will make enough money back to compensate for what they paid on marketing. For the vast majority of authors, the new economy is just money down the drain with nothing to show for it compared to the old model.

  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @02:00PM (#47093531)

    Squeezing your suppliers' profit margins is never a good long-term strategy.

    Publishers aren't Amazon's suppliers: writers are. Publishers are just middle-men who get in the way.

    And, oddly enough, those writers only get about 15% royalties if their ebooks are sold through a Big Five publisher, whereas they get 70% if they sell direct through Amazon.

    Maybe you're telling the wrong organization to give everyone a fair share of the profits.

  • by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @02:43PM (#47093831)

    You know what dude? For every well known author like this there are a metric fuckton of authors that get more profit using Amazon's model. Guess what Amazon has competition too and nothing forbids you of using a different venue. You can even sell the books for yourself. So please excuse me ignoring this arsehole.

    Amazon does a lot of bad things but trying to sell ebooks cheaper than paper books isn't one of those things.

  • by funwithBSD ( 245349 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @04:50PM (#47094743)

    With a few "thee"s and "thou"s thrown in, this could be a letter from a scribe complaining about the new German Printing Press.

    Your model is going out of business, Charles, figure it out.

    Hell, you wrote Accelerando, maybe you should re-read it so you can remember the lessons of your own book.

    (what Charles needs is Merch. And he really ought to understand that too)

  • by guises ( 2423402 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @06:57PM (#47095553)
    I fail to see the advantage between your friend's relationship with Amazon and Stross's publisher. Amazon seems to just be acting as a really crappy publisher for your friend - offering no editing, no promotion, just taking a cut of the money because they're the gatekeeper and they can. You can call Stross's model "outdated," but I can certainly see why he'd try to defend it.

    "But we've already had this conversation for music. Didn't we collectively decide that getting away from traditional publishing models was progress?" - Apple doesn't have a monopoly on music distribution (anymore). iPods play DRM-free mp3s. There's a big difference there. If your friend could self-publish on multiple platforms, so it was your friend controlling distribution and controlling (via competition) how much of a cut the distributors could take and how much influence they had, this would be a very different situation.
  • Re:Read his books (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NicBenjamin ( 2124018 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @07:40PM (#47095763)

    By driving down the unit revenue, Amazon makes it really hard for publishers—who are a proxy for authors—to turn a profit.

    Publishers a proxy for authors? As if their interests were the same or something?
    He just wants to conflate them so we sympathize with the poor downtrodden corporations.
    Protip: There is no good guy here.

    And why would he want us to sympathize with the poor downtrodden corporations if he didn't think that the interests of said corporation were a proxy for the interests of authors?

    And the reason he thinks that way is that when he has an idea that sounds really good in his head, but is actually stupid, the person who gently lets him down is his editor. The people who help him do all the things he can't to sell his books are at his publisher. And without that publisher he makes virtually no money, because he's not JK fucking Rowling and he doesn't have millions of fans who will buy his next book even if it's hard to find. He sent them a manuscript, they liked it, and now they do marketing so he can focus on his work. His publisher is his friend.

    It's much different from the music industry. A musician typically collaborates with other musicians in the band, so his dumb ideas all get vetoed by the drummer. They make money by live shows at which fans give it to them directly. They clearly know marketing, distribution, etc. themselves already because you don;t get discovered if you can;t become a major act in your region. It's extremely common that the suits at the label will show up, tell them some totally stupid plan that obviously won't work, condescend to all their objections, and it's far from unknown for said suits to try to bully the prettiest girl in the group into sexual favors.

    I'm somewhat neutral in this dispute, but I tend to lean towards Hachette for the simple reason that I can understand how I'd find good books from new authors with minimal work if Amazon died, but i can't understand how I'd pull that shit off if publishers like Baen disappeared.

Were there fewer fools, knaves would starve. - Anonymous