Why Amazon is anti-indie: Part Two…

Why Amazon is anti-indie: Part Two…

Now that I have your attention, in Part Two, I’ll belabor the point that Amazon is anti-indie. We can see that right away when we compare how the retailer compares to Smashwords. Let’s forget how negative Amazon’s KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited are for indie authors for the moment.  Amazon has many other problems that work against indies.

They restrict the author to the propriety Kindle .mobi format for ebooks.  They always try to create monopolies, of course, and this is only one example.  But one format does keep things simple. They offer DRM for that .mobi format, which allows some protection against piracy, but at a cost—most authors turn it off (and should) because it requires one file per reading platform, so it doesn’t permit readers who are family members to share an ebook easily (an advantage of print, of course). The author can create a print version with Amazon (usually the proprietary KDP Print or Create Space) along with the ebook version and take advantage of Matchbook. And Amazon offers some marketing help to authors—for an inflated price, of course (they have sneaky ways to take people’s money, even the money of their content providers).

Millions of users visit the Amazon site, but they’re not all readers, of course.  And reviewers of your ebook are probably writing product endorsements instead of reviews—in fact, they and Amazon will treat your book just like any other product because that’s what Amazon wants. (I once had a review from a person who specialized in lady’s apparel and women’s shoes.  You can imagine the quality of that review!)

Smashwords is a better place for authors—no doubt about it! It offers a lot more. It’s only a retailer and distributor of ebooks (Amazon retails but doesn’t distribute)—people visiting there are only interested in buying books, not other merchandise. There’s no competition from Big Five publishers either. While Amazon treats the Big Five with kid gloves and coddles them more than indie authors and publishers, Smashwords’s ebooks on the site generally originate with those indies. There are good reasons for that.

Smashwords offers ALL ebook formats, and the author can choose (I always exclude plain text and PDFs, the easiest formats to pirate). It has affiliate retailers (Apple, B&N, and Kobo, for example) and lenders (Overdrive, Scribd, CloudLibrary, for example)—in fact, Amazon has no affiliates beyond a few greedy sites that sign up to be screwed by Amazon.

Amazon forces readers to their proprietary services (that monopolistic tendency again)! The author can set up special library pricing at Smashwords too (I do so because I’m a big supporter of public libraries and have donated my print books on both the East and West Coast as well)—Amazon doesn’t give a rat’s ass about libraries or bookstores because they would like to eliminate them!

Best of all, Smashwords doesn’t try to force an author to be exclusive (Amazon is the only bookseller that does!). Along with this comes the opportunity to offer sales via coupons, either general site-wide sales or targeted ones (to reviewers, for example). While I find gifting a reviewer an ebook in return for an honest review easier via Amazon’s Whispernet, it’s really not a problem to do so via Smashwords. And reviewers often want some other ebook format Amazon can’t provide (I don’t hand out PDFs anymore—every pirated ebook of mine has its origin in PDFs).

Amazon and Smashwords have some common problems. First, size—your ebook can easily become lost among all those offered, and neither retailer does much to prevent that. Second, older books—the two retailers emphasize recent ebooks over older ones, which limits readers’ choices and lowers overall sales.  Ebooks should be forever; they’re not.  It’s interesting that Coker complains about them being forever with respect to Amazon (and not on Smashwords) in the sense that older ones just make the number of offerings larger with every passing month.

Third, quality—a lot of an author’s competition comes from poorly edited ebooks that are poorly presented with tacky covers and poor formatting. That can be a good thing—readers are discerning buyers, so they might just prefer your quality ebook over someone else’s poor quality one—but there’s the phenomenon of guilt by association as well as getting lost in all the garbage ebooks found on the sites (by the way, some of those are reprints from the Big Five trying to make a few more bucks off an older book).

Fourth, piracy—an ebook file is just computer software.  Smashwords downplays piracy, but they’re wrong to do so—PDF, ePub, and plain text formats are easily hacked and pirated (authors have to offer ePub, of course, because non-Kindle-using readers want that format, but authors should NEVER offer PDF or plain text). I already mentioned that Amazon’s DRM is not well liked by readers, so authors often turn that off, leading to pirated .mobi files as well (Smashwords doesn’t offer DRM on its .mobis). Neither site allows the author easy access to bookstores either, but most of them don’t like to offer ebooks anyway.  Ditto for libraries, although Smashwords makes it profitable for them to peruse the ebooks on the site because of lower-than-retail prices.

Many indie publishers (small presses) use Amazon and Smashwords for ebooks and Lightning Source for print because Ingram services bookstores (KDP Print and Create Space don’t—Amazon would like to put Ingram out of business too). This also might be a good choice for indie author. (Contrary to early opinions, print hasn’t disappeared.  That’s partly due to the Big Five dinosaurs still pushing it, but many readers also still prefer print.)

But back to my poor ebook sales.  There’s the possibility that I’m just a crappy writer.  The few reviews I have are generally positive, though, but that doesn’t translate into sales.  There’s the problem of piracy—I have no way of knowing how many illegal copies are circulating here and abroad.  Smashwords allows downloads.  Do readers pay for those?  Do they abuse them?  Hopefully yes and no, respectively, are the answers, but they run 100 to 1 over buys on Smashwords.  Because Smashwords doesn’t worry about piracy, I have to wonder.  Note, however, that buys plus downloads sum up to more interested readers than I have on Amazon, so I have to wonder about Amazon penalizing me for non-exclusivity. And the Smashwords downloads v. sales stat helps explain why my ebooks do better on Apple, B&N, and Kobo. I know that rankings on Amazon on Amazon are irrelevant considering the number of all my readers, legit or pirated.  Is that a badge of honor?  Not for my wallet!

As an indie author or indie press author, I care more about my number of readers than making tons of money. I ALWAYS reinvest royalties into financing my next book. But the situation is so bad that I’m always in the red. That situation can’t continue, hence this painful analysis. Given my bad situation, I don’t expect other authors to heed my advice too much, but I’ll still offer it.  In general, readers will consider it non-productive whining, and it will not pay attention…until a few years pass and more authors come to my same conclusion: Is it really worth their time and effort to put content out there for readers?

Newbie authors, if you’re testing the waters or looking for the one best online retailer for your ebook, go with Smashwords. They offer all ebook formats, including .mobi, and their system of affiliated retailers and lenders is incomparable. Amazon is the indie author’s worst enemy (that’s also true for any author, but V.I.P. Big Five authors don’t seem to care).  At the very least, an author should ditch exclusivity. As Coker points out, Amazon is doing exactly what traditional Big Five publishers have been trying to do all along: control the content readers can access and who provides that content.

The content creators, the authors, don’t need anyone in the middle; readers should realize they don’t either. That’s the entire reason for having an indie movement! Indie authors and indie publishers (small presses) are democratic; Amazon, Smashwords, and the Big Five trend toward uncontrolled fascistic capitalism following the Chinese model, more so as time goes on. Of the three, Smashwords is the better for combatting Amazon’s anti-indie policies.

I love to write fiction, but I’m not willing to give in to people like Bezos and others who work against the indie movement. I’m tempted to sit on my stories and tell the anti-indie people to go to hell. I’m already headed in that direction because you can get some of my best fiction in PDFs free for the asking and as blog posts. There might be more of that in the future. Thank God I don’t have to make a living with my writing.  I’m sorry for those who do. It’s not a great time for content providers. But I don’t think any indie author or publisher should sell their souls to the Amazon devil in their attempts to make a living. Resist Amazon. Support indies.


Smashwords sci-fi sale. More than Human: The Mensa Contagion is about the strangest first contact you’ll ever encounter in your sci-fi reading. A benign ET virus creates homo sapiens 2.0, and society goes through major change. One consequence is that this new society becomes more motivated to colonize Mars.  Rogue Planet is the story about a rebellion against an oppressive theocracy. It has “Game of Thrones” fantasy elements, but it’s still hard sci-fi. If you missed either book, now is your chance to download some good reading to cure the cabin fever caused by all this bad winter weather because these ebook prices are reduced from their already low prices. All formats are available, including .mobi. Use the Smashwords coupon codes at checkout.

In libris libertas….

Comments are closed.