Is Amazon Select Really The Big, Bad Wolf?

This post, by Andrew E. Kaufman, originally appeared on The Crime Fiction Collective blog on 1/27/12 and is reprinted in its entirety with that site’s permission.

I woke up Wednesday morning to a barrage of emails. It appeared an independent author’s sample anthology, to which I belong, was being taken down. The reason was that it violated the terms of Amazon’s new Select program (several of the authors are enrolled in it). The anthology offers excerpts from our books, and according to the exclusivity agreement, enrolled work cannot be distributed digitally elsewhere. This includes excerpts shown on websites (that’s right folks, if you’re a Select author and running excerpts from your book on a website or anywhere else, you may want to take them down).

Word of this sent the emails a flyin’.

Very quickly, the discussion turned hostile with lots of anger aimed at Amazon and its Select program, as well as the authors enrolled in it. Some complained that they were being punished because of the actions of a few. Others insinuated that Amazon is underhanded, manipulative, and self-serving. One person even went as far as calling them an “evil empire.” There was even talk of staging an indie author boycott of Amazon. For my part, I chose to stay out of it. I didn’t agree with much of what was being said and felt the facts were being skewed.

Now I realize I’m going to take some flack for this, but I’m having a hard time understanding all the anger directed at Amazon. I mean, let’s face it–we wouldn’t even be here having this discussion if it weren’t for them. There would be no indie movement, no platform to showcase our work, no audience to read our books. Many of us would still be on the outside looking in, trying to break through those iron-clad gates, the ones kept locked up for years by the mainstream publishing industry.

Amazon helped us find our audience much more than any traditional publisher ever did. They gave us a platform, then they gave us the tools necessary to make money at it, offering an unprecedented seventy percent royalty for our books, something previously unheard of with traditional publishers.

In short, they let us in and put the power where it belongs: with the readers.

As for  the Select program, I don’t understand the anger there, either. Amazon isn’t forcing anyone to enter exclusive deals; they’re offering them an opportunity. The program is completely voluntary. Those who wish to enroll are free to do so; those who don’t, can go on with business as usual, selling their books wherever and however they wish. For those who do choose to go that route, they’re being compensated with cash which Amazon has taken out of their own pocket.  Many authors would still jump at the chance for an exclusive deal with a publisher, and yet they’re balking at the idea of doing the same thing with Amazon.

Amazon isn’t evil; it’s a business just like any other. Lest we forget, they invented the e-reader. Everyone else jumped on board after that with their own versions. Is anyone faulting them for trying to cash in on the craze? Of course not—it’s business. So what’s so wrong with Amazon trying to stay competitive in a market they created? I say, nothing.

Are they forcing a monopoly?  I doubt it. Even if Barnes & Noble goes under, the Nook will likely live on under another name, and there is this other company called Apple, who, when I last checked, is getting ready to launch their own digital publishing platform. And I’d say they have the muscle to be a formidable competitor.

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