The Traditional Publisher’s Revenge: Turns out Publishing with Amazon has Drawbacks, too

cartoon credit: Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe. Distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.

On December 27 the New York Times ran an article called “Amazon offers all you can eat books: Authors turn up noses”. The problem starts with a new Amazon program called Kindle Unlimited, which allows readers a.k.a customers to buy into a monthly membership for $9.99 to get unlimited access to a wide range of titles. Needless to say, this is great for avid readers and for Amazon, who gets people to use their services, but a bad deal for authors who depend on selling books even if only for $0.99 a copy.

From the article: (bold emphasis mine)

“Authors are upset with Amazon. Again.

For much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.

Now self-published writers, who owe much of their audience to the retailer’s publishing platform, are unhappy.

One problem is too much competition. But a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less. And in interviews and online forums, they have voiced their complaints.

For romance and mystery novelists who embraced digital technology, loved chatting up their fans and wrote really, really fast, the last few years have been a golden age. Fiction underwent a boom unseen since the postwar era, when seemingly every liberal arts major set his sights on the Great American Novel.

Now, though, the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third.

Revenue from e-books leveled off in 2013 at $3 billion after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012, according to BookStats. But Kindle Unlimited is making the glut worse, some writers say.

The program has the same all-you-can-eat business model as Spotify in music, Netflix in video and the book start-ups Oyster and Scribd. Consumers feast on these services, which can offer new artists a wider audience than they ever could have found before the digital era.

Holly Ward, who writes romances under the name H.M. Ward, has much the same complaint about Kindle Unlimited. After two months in the program, she said, her income dropped 75 percent. “I couldn’t wait and watch things plummet further,” she said on a Kindle discussion board. She immediately left the program. Kindle Unlimited is not mandatory, but writers fear that if they do not participate, their books will not be promoted.

One major point of contention: Kindle Unlimited generally requires self-published writers to be exclusive, closing off the possibility of sales through Apple, Barnes & Noble and other platforms. (Ms. Ward was an exception.)

Amazon usually gives self-published writers 70 percent of what a book earns, which means a novel selling for $4.99 yields $3.50. This is much more than traditional publishers pay, a fact that Amazon frequently points out.

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