Capitalism is an odd beast. In the short run, capitalism rewards the hardy, the stubborn, and those clever entrepreneurs who find their way through the harsh rapids of today’s economy. In the long run, the little guys are shoved aside while the most successful, such as Amazon, Apple, Walmart, and countless mega-corps go on to rule the world.
This isn’t an indictment of capitalism. I live in ‘Merica, after all. Capitalism is the American way, and for that, I am happy. But it does place the small business owner in a tough position. Do you fight the powerful, many-headed hydra, or do you hitch a ride on its back waiting for one of the heads to reach around and swallow you whole?
In my new book, For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher, I outline my troubles with the publishing distribution system. Because the returns system is archaic and unnecessary (and certainly not environmentally friendly for a greenie like myself), I elected to turn away from the IPGs and DBDs of the world and opted for the print-on-demand business (POD) model. The POD model is viable due to the force of nature known as Amazon.com.
If you’re not familiar with the POD model, let me give you a brief description. POD allows a publisher to keep very little inventory while maintaining the ability to reach customers via 3rd party vendors such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Chapters. Because digital publishing has become an integral part of small press revenues, I lump it into the overall POD model as a subset. Basically, the model has two arms: trade paperback and digital.
And guess who has the easiest POD service to use for trade paperbacks? Createspace (owned by Amazon). And guess who has one of the easiest and the highest royalty rates for eBooks? The Amazon Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP) program.
Both are wonderful services, and I praise Amazon for making them user friendly. Both have enabled the tidal wave of self-publishing to occur which has benefited of many, many authors. But…
What if the hydra wants more? We’ve seen the power Amazon has exerted over the Big 5 publishers by removing various publishers’ books from their online store when they want a better contract. What happens should the hydra want to pay less royalty to the small publishers and authors who used KDP and/or Createspace? If KDP drops the royalty rate from 70% to 35%, then what can we do?
I see a lot of Amazon evangelicals stating with certainty that this will never happen. I sincerely hope they’re right, and perhaps they are, but having the health of your business reliant on the whims of one megacorp strikes me as a dangerous game, toeing a dangerous imaginary line that flickers back and forth.
Two weeks ago, I did some quick analysis on Apex sales figures by all vendors so far in 2015. For all digital sales, the percentages broke down like this:
Direct Sales 5%
Weightless Books 4%
Even though Apex provides product links to the Amazon, Nook, Weightless, iTunes, and Kobo editions on every product page, a huge majority (a whopping 79%!) still buy our books and Apex Magazine from the hydra.
It’s been pointed out to me by my well-meaning accountant that if Apex focused strictly on Amazon, we would probably increase our revenues. Perhaps that is true, but the thought horrifies me. It would place Apex firmly on the wrong side of “don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution” equation.
I always tell our customers to buy from whichever vendor they like the best. If pressed, I will suggest buying from an independent vendor, like Weightless Books, or directly from Apex. I realize that Amazon pays the bills, but in a capitalist economy, competition provides a better shopping experience for both businesses and consumers.
As Apex has done, many small press publishers have embraced the multiple independent vendors (though quite a few small publishers are Amazon exclusive). The Big 5 think only in volume and that leaves a lot of quality indie vendors in the cold. Making all titles available over multiple indie market places would be a good start, but not the only answer. Readers need to seek out sites like Weightless Books and, instead of giving their money to a megacorp, consider supporting the hardworking indie folks.
Other than continuing to carry the banner for indie stores like Weightless Books and Drivethru Fiction and choosing to turn to B&N and Kobo for megacorp purchases, I’m not sure what else Apex can do. It is possible that small press and self-publishers have reached the point of no return. We’ve engineered this hydra. At this point, with 79% of our eBook sales going to Amazon, is our only option is to continue to feed it?
From my end, that may just be Apex’s only option, but it isn’t the only option open to the readers. Money, in our society, speaks louder than words. Therefore, might I suggest buying an Apex book or For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher from Weightless today! That will be a great first step toward helping create a fair market…
ABOUT THE BOOK:
For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Born the son of an unemployed coal miner in a tiny Kentucky Appalachian villa named Big Creek (population 400), Jason fought his way out of the hills to the big city of Lexington. He attended Transylvania University (a real school with its own vampire legend) and received a degree in computer science. Since 2005, he has owned and operated Apex Publications. He is the editor of five anthologies, author of Irredeemable, a three-time Hugo Award loser, an occasional writer, who can usually be found wandering the halls of hotel conventions.