Amazon: A Writer's Friend or Foe?

This is Guest Post by Ella Davidson of

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The sweeping technological developments of the past two decades have drastically altered the world of media. Information travels more quickly and in more ways than ever before. One area in particular that has seen major changes, especially in the last few years, is the process of publishing and publicizing books. The advent of the eBook has provided a method by which aspiring writers can take control of their work, and the commercial giant has in turn taken advantage of this new medium. But is Amazon’s model of eBook publishing and distribution ultimately harmful or beneficial to independent writers? Strong arguments flare from both sides:

Amazon is great for writers!

·         On the most basic level, Amazon’s services seem like a godsend to anyone interested in distributing their personal written work, especially compared to traditional publishing companies. The site allows authors to keep up to 70% in royalties on each eBook sold, provided the books are priced between $2.99 and $9.99 each—in the older business model for print books, authors usually receive a comparatively measly 15%.

·         Amazon allows writers to bypass the selective editing process and deal directly with customers. This can be especially great for independent niche writers whose work has already been turned down by third-party publishers; it allows an author to maintain creative control over the content of his work throughout the process and ensures that the final product represents the culmination of his own personal vision.

·         The electronic publishing business is unquestionably booming: from 2008 to 2010 eBook sales expanded from %0.6 to %6.4 of total book sales.  For a writer, the vigor of this rising industry is hard to ignore—and with Amazon still controlling the majority of the eBook market, its establishment as the go-to site for the eager self-publisher is well-deserved.

Amazon is evil!

·         To some, however, Amazon’s near-monopoly on eBook sales (nearly 80% of the market) represents a serious threat to independent writers and other publishing companies. Even if their current practices appear almost completely favorable to the independent writer, the site’s utter control of the market means that in the future they could potentially alter the model to their own ends, unhindered by competing distributors.

·         The set price range that returns the highest royalties to the author, $2.99-$9.99 per eBook, is actually a serious limiting factor. Many of the biggest success stories come from writers who sell a huge volume of copies at a much lower price, say $0.99 each. At this level the writer only receives 35% of the revenue, which is still a solid value, but it also means that these particular successes serve to garner huge profits for the already-giant company itself.

·         The lack of a real quality control filter on material means that the eBook market could easily become flooded with bad writing. For every writer who produces and electronically publishes a real gem of a novel, short story, or collection, there might be several writers pumping out—to put it bluntly—unreadable drivel. In these circumstances it is all too easy for a truly brilliant voice to be lost in the cacophony.

Amazon recently announced a new funding program—KDP Select—that allows writers to receive a fee when their books are borrowed from the Kindle Lending Library. This new model is intriguing but potentially problematic: in order to get paid, authors must hand over exclusive rights to their work to Amazon for at least a 90-day period. And the amount they receive is based on the division of a fund between all writers participating in the program, so those whose works are more successful may not end up with a proportional financial return. So while Amazon currently provides mechanisms of distribution that can be unquestionably beneficial to some independent e-publishers, future developments like these may continue to complicate the issue by gradually shifting control from the writer to the company. Only time will tell.



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