Kindle Direct Publishing Select is a lending library of e-books. In exchange for a cut of the proceeds, authors must be exclusive to Amazon and take down their books from competitors’ sites. Smashwords weighs in on the subject.
A promotion for the Price Check App rewards bookbuyers with $5 for going into local stores, scanning the prices and then buying the book on Amazon. Nate Hoffelder gives his thoughts on eBookNewser.
Cynics, capitalists and libertarians will no doubt say; that’s business. Too bad for the weak if they can’t compete.
But is it? Is the bloodthirsty dismembering of your competition really the best way, the only way, to conduct business?
Running a good business vs. operating only to undercut the competition
Like many Denverites, I associate bookselling with The Tattered Cover Book Store, one of the largest independents in the country. Famous for terrific customer service, the store also has a tremendous commitment to conducting business in an ethical, sustainable way.
Take returns. In bookselling, it’s been the practice of publishers to allow bookstores to return books that don’t sell. The returns policy is criticized by some, but it’s the only way some bookstores have survived. Best practice; a healthy returns rate of 10-12%. This allows everyone to make a profit without placing undue strain on publishers and authors.
When the superstore model of bookselling swept the nation, the focus was on building as many stores as possible to drive the existing stores out of business. The superstores took advantage of the returns policy, stocking up on books to fill all that shelf space and never run out of anything. Returns rates regularly ran at 35-40%, causing big problems for publishers and authors, putting some small presses out of business. Like independent stores, superstores are currently suffering greatly because of Amazon and other online retailers. But the superstore model was never designed to build sustainable, ethical community businesses, but to target those who did.
Short-term gain vs. long-term costs
One of the hidden costs of Amazon’s latest move is that they’re paying you to undermine your own local economy in favor of supporting their virtual one. Buying online already takes money out of communities and gives it to somebody out there who doesn’t pay taxes to support your town, who doesn’t employ your friends and neighbors, who adds nothing to the local economy.
Okay, but so what? Buying online is easy, cheap and everyone does it.
True, but Amazon’s relentless pursuit of cornering the book market goes a step further than healthy competition. If they had their way, there would be no brick-and-mortar bookstores left standing, no place else online to buy books and no other place to e-publish them. The kind of total dominance they’re going for is never a good thing in the end, no matter how attractive the short-term payoffs might seem.
A business vs. a corporation
The Tattered Cover is a business. Amazon is a corporation. The movie The Corporation (watch here) examines the culture that evolves when the bottom line overrides all other considerations. The filmakers conclude that if a corporation were really a person, as the Supreme Court has declared, it would be a sociopath.
But isn’t that just human nature? Why shouldn’t I get in on the advantages Amazon is offering?
Humans are naturally competitive right down to our DNA. But we’re also naturally social and naturally altruistic. We can choose to feed whichever side of our nature we want. After the USS Indianapolis went down in shark-infested waters, 1100 men went into the water, just like Quint said in Jaws. After 4 days, 300 men emerged alive. The stories they told of their ordeal varied wildly. Some were a part of groups that put the injured men on the outside, sacrificing them to the sharks. But some chose to draw their bleeding fellows into the center, to protect them from the predators even at the risk of their own lives.
The best and worst of human nature, all in the same group of American servicemen. What determines which way we’ll go? It’s a tough question with no easy answer. But I know that I don’t want a corporation that behaves the way Amazon has to be the only entity in charge of what I read and what I might publish someday.
Like a lot of Americans, I’m as poor as can be at the moment. But I’m not going to sell out ethical businesses and my belief in the devastating consequences of ruthless monopolies for $5 a pop. Jeff Bezos and company have already shown their stripes, and there’s no price high enough to make me willing to open my throat to them.