Amazon’s new publishing move: bold or dumb?

If you missed this story because you were too busy enjoying Halloween, you didn’t see that Amazon is taking publishing to a new level: Now the public will determine which books Amazon publishes on its Kindle Scout program:

“Launched on Monday, Amazon’s Kindle Scout program provides excerpts of unreleased books. Your mission: Read the excerpts and vote on which books you think deserve a shot at being published and sold through Amazon.
You can nominate up to three books at a time to be published. New books are added each day, so you can check the site on a regular basis and update your nominations along the way. Currently, a variety of romance, science fiction, mystery and thriller titles are up for nomination. At the end of a 30-day voting period, the Kindle Scout team reviews the books that have received the most votes to help decide which ones will be published.
The books that garner the most votes aren’t necessarily shoe-ins for publication. On its Kindle Scout Basics page, Amazon explains that “nominations give us an idea of which books readers think are great; the rest is up to the Kindle Scout team who then reviews books for potential publication.” But clearly the votes will play a role in determining which titles make the grade.If you happen to cast your vote for a book that does get published, Amazon will reward you with a free, full-length Kindle edition of that title one week before its official release. An Amazon video reveals more about the program.”
So basically you put your book up and hope the people who vote in this competition select your book, which must still clear Amazon’s publication team. Whoever votes on your book gets a free copy, though it isn’t clear if you get credit for a sale of this book or if this is the “reward” you get for “getting” your book published.
There’s more:
“Kindle Scout shortens the time it takes for a book to be chosen for publication, according to the company, with the whole process from submission to selection taking 45 days or less. Author contracts offered through Kindle Press include a $1,500 advance, a five-year renewable term, easy rights reversions and the benefit of Amazon marketing. You will have to split the royalties 50-50 with Amazon. But independent and unknown authors may find the program a good way to bring attention to a new, unpublished book.”
I haven’t read the full contract yet (will do for a future post) but $1,500 isn’t great money especially if Amazon takes 50% of the royalties. Normally publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct program gets you 70% of royalties in most countries, though without the whopping $1,500 advance.
My take: On the one hand, Amazon is introducing a new concept here. Traditional publishing means you have to convince an agent to like your book, based on her/his preferences and best guess as to whether your book might sell enough copies to make a publisher profitable. Then the agent pitches the novel to a publisher, who decides based on her/his preferences if she/he likes the book (yes, there are more women involved in traditional book publishing!) and if there’s a chance of profitability.
If all the stars align you get a book deal where, if you are a first-time author, get little in the way of royalty and the hope your book gets enough marketing buzz to hit the best-seller’s list. The traditional “Big Five” have way more marketing power than your typical small publisher but they have more titles to sell. So in a nutshell, your book’s chance at publication and success depends largely on whether a few people taking their most honest educated guess think your book can sell. What Amazon is offering is to bypass this process and let the people actually buying books decide what they want.
There are three negatives with this proposal: One, many books are not good. My favorite ad of all time (not counting the funny Super Bowl ones or Apple’s iconic ‘1984’ ad) is from TheLadders.com. After you watch the ad you realize WHY the website exists: the more people you ‘let play’ the harder it is to stand out. Amazon’s idea will inevitably crowd out decent book ideas because books will become a popularity content. In that sense having ‘gatekeepers’ makes a certain amount of sense, though i personally champion the free-market approach to book buying.
Second, the contract isn’t that great for the reasons I mentioned above.
And finally, remember you’re dealing with Amazon. Now I have no dog in the fight between Amazon and Hatchette, and countless other authors/publishers have weighed in. But think of it as a billionaires vs. billionaires fight. Just because one side is bad doesn’t make the other side better. While I can’t express any love for the “Big 5”, most of which appear to be run very poorly, ceding control of the book publishing market to Amazon is a bad, bad, idea. Monopolies don’t have the incentive to improve quality and the more power Amazon has over the publication and distribution of selling books, the harder it will be to negotiate with them when they have all the power.
Final Takeaway: I like Amazon’s concept of letting the customer decide what they want to buy but I want to see it tested out first to see if the public is good at picking the “winners” and if authors will benefit financially from this deal before i declare it a winner.
Coming up next: Tomorrow is Election Day, so during the day I’ll give my (non-partisan) same-day election projections for the country and for Delaware, where I live.
Coming up soon: I will finally conclude the “Power Cues” Trilogy by wrapping up the book I’ve meant to finish for months.
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