About a year ago, I wrote a series of articles about the state of publishing, the influence Amazon has over the entire book industry, and what we can do about it. This week, with articles popping up about how Amazon is cracking down on companies that are, reportedly, Amazon’s direct competition, my thoughts of last year come back to me. This time, I think again about how our own (pub. industry professionals’) actions have helped to facilitate yet another Amazon foothold. But, do we have the right to complain?
While Amazon shouldn’t bully businesses and individuals, there’s nothing wrong with Amazon enforcing its terms of service. Even if, as the article in The Digital Reader discusses, Amazon may not have cracked down on violations in the past (and for self-serving reasons), we can’t blame Amazon for the demise of our own businesses or distribution if we’ve violated the terms of service to which we freely said we’d abide. If we’re breaking the rules, we’re just asking for the hammer to fall! (To be clear: I’m not saying these companies actually did break the rules; I have no direct knowledge of these companies’ actions. I’m merely making an observation about if/when we do break the rules.)
But here’s the thing: I see rule-breaking all the time on Amazon. The most obvious being indie authors and others who add keywords to titles and subtitles. This is a clear violation of Amazon rules, since Amazon clearly states that subtitles should only be actual text that appears on the book’s cover, and not keywords. But the strategy works! Those books do see a higher search result placement, which in turn gives them more exposure to readers and a better chance of garnering a sale. Still, at what cost? Especially if we’re talking about the Christian realm. Will God honour our choice to “cheat” or are we opting to receive our reward now instead of eternally? (Only God knows.)
In the here-and-now, what will happen when Amazon decides to crack down on that rule? Will it result in being completely blacklisted? Will it mean that all our efforts to sell great books will be erased in one fell swoop? One author is already dealing with the wrath of Amazon cracking down. Even though this unfortunate author may in fact be a victim of a click farm and hasn’t broken rules herself, her plight illustrates how quickly Amazon can change the life of an author. . . or a publisher, for that matter (Even when innocent). And in the recent past, we’ve already seen upheaval over Amazon removing reviews and Amazon changing the Kindle Unlimited payment structure. (Which, by the way, they are perfectly entitled to do. Amazon can do anything Amazon wants to do with Amazon's website and the rules by which it runs its programs.)
So, what’s Next? And what can we do about it? For starters, we can make sure we’re not violating any of Amazon’s terms of service. We can do business the right way, even if it means fewer sales, and then we can take a long, hard look at whether our own actions are helping to facilitate the ever-increasing foothold one retailer has on the industry, because as I said last year, Amazon is not the big bad.
Amazon is a retailer that is entitled to make its own rules for its storefront. It isn’t wrong of Amazon to show its customers Amazon-produced products first (it’s actually good business). It isn’t wrong of Amazon to dictate what products it will carry. It isn’t wrong of Amazon to dictate the prices in its own store, or to define its store's return policies. And even though it’s a tough pill to swallow that Amazon forces product producers pay for returns when Amazon should be paying for its own policies, we product producers aren’t forced to distribute to Amazon. We choose to in spite of having to take returns on products that we feel shouldn’t be returnable, and in spite of having to hoop-jump the ever-changing landscape that is Amazon's constantly changing rules.
Publishers, distributors, indie-authors, etc. have every choice in the world: We can choose to be dictated by Amazon or we can choose not to be. We could find—or create—alternatives to reaching readers. If we choose the former and we suddenly wake up one day, and Amazon has pulled the rug out from under us, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves!