Sunday, September 13, 2015

Destroying the Profession of Author

By Bonnie Stanard 

In a recent email that came across my desk, Amazon makes another pitch to writers. It offers Kindle Scout, “a reader-powered publishing program for new, never-before-published books.” According to Amazon’s offer, readers will vote to decide the author to be published and rewarded with a handsome advance.

What you may not notice in the details of the offer is that you must give up all e-Book and audio rights to the book. You can get them back if your book remains unpublished or if it earns less than $500 in royalties in a year.

An even more subtle control is presented as a distribution enhancement: “Your book will be enrolled into Kindle Unlimited, the Kindle Owners' Lending Library...”

I have a love-hate relationship with Amazon. Every day, I’m grateful that it has given us createspace and the opportunity to self-publish books. This has blown open the closed doors of elite publishers in NYC. Amazon has also given readers a voice in critiquing books, expanding the world of reviews.

However, as Scott Timberg in Salon magazine points out, there are reasons to be wary of Amazon, among them:
1.      It has closed not just chain bookstores, but has devastated the indies.
2.      It is destroying the profession of author by undercutting advances and royalties.
3.      It has a near monopoly in bookselling.
Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) are two reasons Amazon is destroying our profession. These two programs alone take a whopping cut in authors’ royalties. They are subscription services offering readers access to unlimited choices of books. In Kindle Unlimited, subscribers can download an unlimited number of books by paying a monthly fee. In KOLL subscribers may “rent” one book a month with no due date (is this not buying the book?).

To be fair, Amazon isn’t the only one doing this. Two others that come to mind are Oyster and Scribd. Furthermore, Amazon is merely taking to books what Spotify and other streaming services have taken to music.

But look at the turmoil in music because of streaming services that have cut into artists’ income. In an article in Fast Company, Jonathan Ringen writes, “Many artists have stopped depending on revenue from recorded music altogether, focusing on touring and merchandise, which they can control.” This is an effect of streaming services such as Rdio, Deezer, Amazon Prime Music, AppleMusic, and Google Play.

Can you imagine authors turning to tours and merchandise to make a living? If subscriber services continue and become the standard for distribution, they may prove that what goes around comes around, i.e. books will only be produced by affluent writers who can afford to work without compensation.

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