If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know all about my dysfunctional, love-hate relationship with Amazon. And what follows is not a rant: My bond with, or bondage to, the big A is too complicated for that. But paradoxically, if you choose to be an “independent” writer—i.e., publish your own work—then you must become a serf on Amazon’s vast retail fiefdom. You must obey them to the letter or risk being kicked off into the oblivion; and if you follow their rules faithfully, you might be rewarded with a moment or two of decent sales. The real problem is all those other damned serfs.
But I’ m not complaining, because as the increasingly hackneyed cliché goes, it is what it is. And I get so used to the reality of things not changing, that when they do, it’s a bit of a shock.
It seems that Amazon is, slowly, glacially, beginning to change, and perhaps for the better. Just yesterday I received an unsolicited email from them, which almost never happens, apologizing for an error I wasn’t even aware of in my book-promotion account. As compensation, I was given a $25 “click-credit” to use for additional advertising. Great, except that the credit had to be used by Sept. 12, and the email arrived Sept. 13th. Thanks anyway, Amazon.
Just a week or so ago, Amazon announced it was going to build a second sort of headquarters somewhere in the US, an adjunct to its offices in Seattle, I imagine. Of course, this announcement was cannily aimed at starting regional tax-break bidding wars across the country. Everyone wants the giant Amazon metropolis (and with over 10,000 employees, it will be an actual city) and my home state of New Jersey is no exception. Minor politicians here are falling all over themselves trying to entice the big A into the heart of Jersey, and seem to think we have an edge. They cite Amazon’s apparent desire for an “educated” workforce.
Now think about that, self-pubbers. You don’t need a special degree to carry boxes of books around a warehouse. So this suggests to me that Amazon is going to boost its editorial staff. Right now anyone can publish just about anything for free on Amazon, and sadly, just about everyone is. But could it be that the ’Zon is about to make that process more…stringent? Could it be they’ve realized this whole thing has gotten out of hand, and instead reaping big profits, they’re simply stuck with a huge amount of unreadable books?
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict what might just possibly happen. I don’t think they will dispense with the slush-pile form of publishing entirely. I’m thinking, though, they’re going, like the TV-cable companies, to a tiered system of service. (Just a guess—I don’t have any inside information whatsoever) At the top will be their own Amazon and Kindle Publishing houses, of course, which will continue to handpick their authors; in the middle will be those of us deemed worthy enough to publish according to some sort of pre-set standards, perhaps for a modest fee; and the bottom will be a kind of vanity press for everyone else, with a fairly hefty fee attached. And these tiers would be marketed accordingly, the last probably not at all.
In other words, Amazon becomes the Ultimate Gatekeeper. Don’t you think it’s been heading in that direction all along?
Well, that’s what I would do, if I ran Amazon. But I don’t, so I’ll just keep working in the back quarter for a while, and see what happens up front.