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Why I'm Breaking the Amazon Habit...And Why You Should Too

Kudos to Mark Suchomel and the stance he's taking with Amazon at IPG. As Don Linn mentions here, this is indeed a gutsy move but I hope Suchomel holds firm. I've written before about Amazon's formula and how it's slowly locking me into their platform. Interestingly enough, if you take a closer look at that formula post you'll see I was Mr. Amazon Advocate in a fun Apple vs. Amazon debate I had with Kassia Krozser.

A lot has changed since that friendly debate last fall. In a few short months I've gone from Amazon fan to Amazon critic. One reason I've become disenchanted has to do with Amazon's Kindle Owners' Lending Library. As Amazon stated in the Lending Library press release, compensation to publishers for "the vast majority of titles" is on a "fixed fee" basis. I strongly feel this should be an uncapped, pay-for-performance model similar to what Safari Books Online and Books24x7 offer. Unless you have a perfect crystal ball anything less than a pay-for-performance model risks underpaying publishers and authors. And yes, it also risks overpaying but I seriously doubt that's happened up to now.

Then there was last December's showrooming debacle. Even though bookstores were excluded, did Amazon really need to take such an over-the-top approach and poke brick-and-mortars in the eye with the price check incentives on December 9th? This, after all the years of having a built-in price advantage over many of those brick-and-mortar stores because of state tax deals and loopholes. I'm glad my home state of Indiana is addressing this issue but I think it's ridiculous it won't take effect till 2014.

And now Amazon is reportedly leaning on IPG for even more favorable terms than they've agreed to in the past. Good for you, Mark Suchomel, I just became a big fan of yours.

Many of you are probably shrugging your shoulders and saying this is all about choice. Publishers can remain out of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library program if they don't like the terms. And customers were showrooming long before Amazon released their app; if I don't like it, I shouldn't do it myself and/or I should buy from other vendors. IPG's choice was to take a stand and now their Kindle editions aren't available on Amazon.

You're right. This is about choice. I've been choosing Amazon for all my ebooks up to now and it's time to put my money where my mouth is.

It's unfortunate that when you buy an eInk reader you're pretty much locked in with that vendor's content library. But that's not the case with a tablet, at least the ones that aren't tied to a single e-bookstore. Now that I have this terrific new Asus Transformer Prime Android tablet I'm beholden to no single ebook retailer. It's time to start buying ebooks from, Kobo, or anyone else with an Android reader app. It's less than optimal to manage an ebook library across retailers but it's also very liberating.

So as of today, Monday, February 27, 2012, I'm officially breaking my Amazon habit. How about you?


Shannon LC Cate

I've been avoiding Amazon for books for a long time. But then, my father's independent bookstore was run out of business by B&N and Borders long ago, so my anti-mega-store/bully stance is personal.

I do use Amazon's "subscribe and save" program to have certain grocery items delivered on a regular basis, but I've even cut back on that, since lately, they've been raising the prices on the items I want and the benefit is dwindling.

In the area of books, I think there could be nothing worse for publishing and literature in general than a monopoly which is pretty clearly what Amazon wants. I won't support it. I'll gladly pay a price that represents the actual cost of production and keep my local indie store in business. The store offers me all kinds of value beyond mere price point.

Kelly McClymer

Joe, I went and read a few of your other posts on Amazon first, before I commented. I'm still an Amazon customer, and I support strong competition (readers and writers benefit from a strong competitive market; corporations benefit from a weak competitive market). The negotiations with IPG and the app showrooming seem like business as usual to me (I very much enjoyed the TV series Chuck, and was glad they aired all the way to a proper closing, even if they needed to do annoyingly obvious Subway product placement to do so).

I think that everyone, like you, who takes your business from Amazon, is a data point in this new evolution of publishing. The problem I see is that Amazon seems like the only one to really be paying minute attention to the data points. If enough people don't like something that Amazon does, the data crunching will indicate a change in course for the Amazon ship. I can't see enough people caring about this kind of business dispute, but it doesn't really matter what I think -- the data will speak for itself, and that's what Amazon will listen to. *That's* what I think Amazon's competition needs to be paying attention to -- and emulating.

For example, KDP Select. I'm hearing it isn't working for authors (in general). We're getting close to the time when the earliest adopters will re-up or redistribute to all the other ebook retailers. If authors are not interested in re-upping in large enough numbers, Amazon will respond by scrapping, re-tooling, or re-inventing. I would have an old-fashioned fainting spell if they responded to reduced participation by exhorting authors that "it's a good system, just try it for a bit longer" and made no changes. That's not the Amazon way.


Great post on finding alternatives.

I believe that ebooks are moving to tablets and smartphones over this decade, and dedicated ereaders
will collapse in price and sales by 2014.

Since DRM will continue to fail for music, it is likely to fail for billions of users with video and ebooks.

The explosion of cloud computing and cloud storage means that curation of ebooks will eventually be in the mobile cloud.

Will it be the mobile carriers that do this or firms like Dropbox or Amazon ?

It is my hope that mobile cloud ebook stores will also be mobile cloud ebook storage firms.



Amazon has kept me happy thus far by letting me read books on my Android phone, iPad, MacBook, and even online. Maybe I'm like the frog in the pot being slowly boiled?

I think the Amazon moves you mention above make them seem like a lamb compared to the way Apple locks you in and otherwise abuses publishers (including app developers). iBooks is a non-starter for most people, and rightly so.

But what about bn and Kobo? They just aren't offering me enough to endure the inconvenience of having my books in multiple places. They're too "middle of the road" in terms of openness, price, or even features (when will book annotations become truly social or accessible?)

I'll sometimes be a martyr in the name of supporting a more competitive market. I defend my Android phone for this reason, but Android gives me more than any of Amazon's competitors do.

Carla Hall

Joe, perhaps you've seen this already, but an interesting article on the early stages of a European coalition initiave to counteract Amazon's growing ebook hegemony from Javier Celaya in today's Publishing Perspectives:

All the best,


Carla just posted the very thing I was going to mention about Javier Celaya's excellent guest post in today's Publishing Perspectives. I think big US corporations sometimes forget that there is an even bigger rest-of-the-world out there, and the world is thinking in a more collaborative fashion now when it comes to data and information.

The tight-fisted hold that large corporations have had on society are quickly becoming outmoded and disfunctional considering that most people just don't want that sort of control anymore...mainly because we don't NEED it. When people are allowed to work together collaboratively, they usually do so quite well.

Maybe the best business model arise out of these discussions will be a form of global cooperative.

It would be awesome if the groundwork for that was laid this year, since 2012 is the UN's International Year of Cooperatives.

Thanks for your leadership, Joe! You set a fine example.



I meant to add this to my comment:

The best way we publishers can support local indie bookshops and keep ebooks (and print books, actually) available on a widespread basis is to become a member of the Google Books Partner Program and publish our books there (as well as with all the major ebook retailers). I have been a member since transitioning from editing only to editing and publishing last year.

With your book listed on Google Books (print) and the Google eBookstore (ebooks), someone can walk into a local bookstore (if the store is also a member of the Google Books Partner Program) and place an order for that book, and the store gets some credit. Or, the customer can click on the Google Books logo on the store's website, and again, the store benefits with a percentage of the sale and the customer gets what he/she wants. Also, since Google Books is an aggregator that shows links for ALL the places where your books can be purchased, no one merchant becomes a monopoly as a result.

Take a look at the Schuler Books and Music website to see the Google Books clickable logo on the righthand side of their homepage:

We just have to keep thinking creatively and not fall into the trap of conducting business by rote.

Janet :-)

Francis Hamit

Dear Joe:

I will support local independent book stores when they support me. Currently, only one in the entire country has my latest novel. "The Queen of Washington" on the shelf. That's Russo's Books in Bakersfield, California where I am doing a book signing on March 17th. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the books do no one any good sitting in our distributor's warehouse. It is designed to be sold from the shelf, cover out. It can be ordered through Baker & Taylor and Ingram. (ISBN 9781595951717) sells it at a steep discount (24%) and orders it in depth. They also have my previous novel "The Shenandoah Spy" stocked in their warehouses, ready to be shipped. I have been told that Ingram cut the discount on that book to 30%, so I can understand why an independent bookstore might be reluctant to order that one. On the other hand 30% of $22.50 is $6.75 which is still a nice profit on a single book. And $22.50 is what now charges for that book. Full list price.

Maybe counting dollars rather than percentages would be a better approach for retailers. It is what and the warehouse club stores do. They sell a few titles in volumes that amount to most of the books sold in the nation. All the "best-sellers". The independent book stores want to sell those same books at full price, based on some romantic notion that they are the "little guys and deserve special treatment by customers. Some of those customers are also authors like myself who try to arrange book signings with them, and immediately get hit up for a three hundred dollar fee in addition to the retail profit. I suppose they can get that from a big publisher who is pouring promotional and co-op dollars into a new "best-seller" but small presses simply cannot afford to do that, and won't. (I was recently asked for that fee by Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ. The person asking said she had never heard of me and was apparently not willing to look up either book or do a Google Search.) The only reason I will be in Tempe is that I am a speaker at a science fiction convention there in April. I've done a lot of book signings and never paid to appear at any of them. I can't imagine any lesser-known author who does not have a deep-pockets publisher supporting them doing this.

So this tactic, while it might help the independent bookstore's overhead short term, plays right into's agenda to destroy their business. Events are what distinguish independent bookstores form the online retail sector-- and even the warehouse club stores know this and do them. If an independent bookstore competes only for the volume best-seller market and ignores the other 99 percent of books which give it a chance to be unique and distinguish itself from the competition, I don't see how they can win that game. Especially if it shuts out the lesser known and newer authors who do not have a big publishing house behind them. Given that these authors are also the kind of customers who are likely to browse and buy at an independent, it strikes me a short-sighted in the extreme. I don't buy from Amazon all that much unless my local bookstore doesn't stock the book.

You have to have it to sell it. Amazon usually has it. You guys usually don't. End of story, and if you don't wise up, end of your business.

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