There’s been a bit of commentary on this blog post, which is already too long, so I thought I’d make it longer. The post wasn’t about KU being bad. I’ve blogged already that I think KU is great for many authors, that subscriptions are a disruptive force, and those who are disrupted are going to complain while the disruptors do well for themselves. I applaud that. KU has been good for me. I’m just looking at ways I would tweak the structure if I were Amazon. Not to benefit myself, but to provide the highest quality experience for their customers. (Any game of suggesting tweaks for a retailer must be taken from their perspective, otherwise it’s just wishful thinking.)
The post was also not an attempt to equate abuses of KDP with indies. Or to suggest that indies who do things the right way deserve anything less than stellar treatment from retailers. It was an attempt at a pragmatic view of the entire landscape, which I think helps explain business decisions that may seem wonky when viewed from within our immediate bubble, but might make sense when seen from a greater height or another perspective.
I’m not a fan of most of what is suggested in that blog post. My ideal publishing world would look much different from the current world. But how is that useful? If we are going to demand things from retailers like Amazon, we have to take their motives and needs into account. Motives such as: The customer comes first. Motives such as: We don’t want to give away products, but we also don’t want competitors to take market share by undercutting our prices.
I’ve seen it suggested that Amazon is all for perma-free, why else do they allow it? They allow it for the reasons stated in the previous paragraph, as a response to the actions of other retailers. If Amazon was truly for a free price-point, they would make this an option in the KDP dashboard. If they thought free should be easy to attain, they wouldn’t have limited us to 5 “Free Days” as part of our KDP Select membership. Think about that: The reward for exclusivity in 2011 was a mere 5 days of “free” out of every 90. That tells you what you need to know about how Amazon views free ebooks. Again, the fact that they price-match has to do with the fear of losing market share to competitors. We seize this as an opportunity.
When Hachette refused to negotiate with Amazon, Amazon responded by taking away pre-orders and predictive warehouse stocking. These were free features that Hachette and other publishers use to their great advantage without pausing to appreciate. Amazon pre-orders reshaped the publishing landscape. They are used to drive hype among sales staff, set print runs, and make all kinds of marketing decisions. I know, because I saw this in my publications with two of the largest publishers. They constantly updated me on how things were looking by referencing Amazon pre-orders. This was the sort of info that other companies might pay a lot of money to marketing firms or polling firms to deduce for them.
Predictive warehouse stock allowed same-day and two-day delivery of books to customers all over the country. When publishers ship books, it takes two weeks to get them (I know from working in a bookstore where I placed these orders all the time). If you go to a bookstore and place a “special order,” you’ll probably see that book in a couple weeks. That was the reality before Amazon spent billions of dollars on distribution centers and honed their predictive algorithms. Big publishers just take these things for granted. It made their negotiations with Amazon seem ludicrous to many observers. Why should Hachette expect these things, plus better margins, without offering anything in return? My blog post was simply raising the possibility that some of us fall prey to the same tendency to not see all that we are being offered — only what else we want. We fall prey to seeing how others treat us without delving into how our actions (as a group) affect others.
As I said in the original post, it is cosmically unfair for all KDP users to be lumped together. That’s the conundrum. I don’t see an easy answer to any of this, just more problems. But for me, thinking about it this way at least makes the issues observable so I can contemplate them better. I wish I could offer solutions or even hints of ideas for solutions. All I can offer is my own confusion and thoughts. For what that’s worth. :)