Saturday, April 12, 2008

This dog won't hunt

If this isn't profiteering and racketeering, I don't know what is.

It used to be that companies were happy with a share of the pie without wanting the whole pie, the plate, all the ingredients and whatever is in your mouth, too. The story broke in Writers Weekly and has even been picked up by Publishers Weekly and hit the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), of which I am a member of longstanding.

Basically, what's happening is that Amazon wants to boost business for it's Print-On-Demand (POD) company, BookSurge, and Amazon is doing this by requiring all small independent and POD publishers to use BookSurge if their books are going to be sold at Amazon. Sounds like the old protection racket to me. The punishment for not signing the contract is having the buy button taken off their page so books can only be bought by secondhand sellers. In addition, Amazon takes a 48% bite out of the pie, which takes money out of the publishers' pockets, and thus out of authors' pockets, and imposes a 55% discount. By my way of calculating, that's more than the whole pie. Of course, technically, and mathematically, it is 55% of the remaining 52%, but that leaves very little for the author who is trying to make a living. The only one who is getting rich is Amazon.

It's not enough that Amazon gets books before they are released to the public or that they discount heavily to start with, but now Amazon also wants to get into POD publishing and take the food -- and money -- off everyone's tables. Sounds a lot like Bill Gates who has turned software into a single use system so that if you get a new computer you have to buy a new program to install and can't use the one you've already bought, or you buy a computer with his software already loaded (bundled) on a brand new computer and you have about 90 days to either buy the program or not be able to use it again. No wonder more and more people are turning to freeware operating systems like Linux and away from the RAM and space hogging Windows. You can only hog so much of the pie and ingredients before people start fighting back, and this is one time that people aren't going to sit still for this.

Amazon has angered authors and alienated publishers, and it's never a good idea to get Angela Hoy, also an independent POD publisher and owner/operator of Booklocker, angry. Even the Authors Guild is on Amazon's tail and looking into litigation. Amazon did a good thing by giving space to POD books and small presses, even with the discount, to give authors a foothold in the market denied them by other big chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks and Borders, but now it begins to look like a trail of crumbs leading to the witch's gingerbread house and right into the oven. I guess when some people, like Jeff Bezos, owner and mastermind of Amazon, get rich they get gluttonous and want to be even richer, but maybe it's about immortality because you certainly couldn't spend two hundred million dollars in one lifetime; you're going to need several. Really, who needs that much money?

Bottom line: Amazon is heading into racketeering and profiteering by way of the protection racket and it may end up regretting that decision, especially since BookSurge isn't equipped to handle printing a book that is worth buying, even at a deeply discounted price. Consumers have been sold books with pages missing or upside down and coming unglued and cover art that isn't worth the deeply discounted price (blurred, upside down or just plain damaged). It's no wonder BookSurge is in financial trouble and daddy Amazon has to bail it out. If BookSurge had been a quality publisher in the first place there'd be no need for Amazon's move to funnel business its way. BookSurge isn't Chrysler and there is no Lee Iacocca at the helm, so even more business when they can't handle the business they have now isn't going to help; it's going to hurt and readers and authors are going to suffer for it.

Amazon says the reason for the move isn't to make a profit (and I have swamp land in the Arizona-Sonora desert to sell you) but to help the environment and give consumers a faster turnaround time in getting their books and cut down on fuel costs for delivery trucks. Hah!! and HAH!!! (this needs more quotes) HAH HAH!!!!! NO. I don't think the environment is going to be helped by consumers sending their defective products back to BookSurge to be redone and it certainly isn't going to be a very fast turnaround time when you have to send the book back more than once. If Amazon was interested in the environment, they wouldn't send a single small paper back book in a great big box full of advertising and air-filled plastic pillows or a half ton of Styrofoam packing peanuts. In the words of my hillbilly uncle, "That dog won't hunt."

Stay tuned. If Amazon doesn't back off, Jeff Bezos is likely to be looking down at a lot of red on his bottom line when consumers flock to Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million for their online purchases, especially since Borders has teamed with Amazon.

That is all. Disperse.

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