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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Why I'm Leaving My Abusive Relationship With Amazon And Getting A Nook

This may sound hypocritical, it may sound desperate or like a case of Sour Grapes, but they say the first step to curing an addiction is acknowledging that there's a problem.

World - I have a problem!

My relationship with Amazon began several years ago when my father introduced me to wish lists. Up until that point I wasn't an Amazon consumer. I used Amazon to browse book descriptions, and then bought the books on Half.com (which may or may not be owned by Amazon - I honestly don't know). On Half, or Ebay, I could feed my reading habit on the cheap; usually paying $5 for a $7 book after shipping and handling. Even when I left the world of used books because I felt guilty that authors weren't getting their cut I went to IndieBound and Powell's to buy my books.

That wishlist though? It suckered me in. I set up an account so I could window shop on Amazon. I never planned on buying there, most of what I want is still way more than I can afford, but it was fun to window shop and hope that someone would send me a present of my wishlist. And oh what dopamine filled my brain when a present I wanted arrived serendipitously at my doorstep! It was like someone knew me! Or at least knew my email and could order things off my wishlist...

... Give me a moment to reflect on how sad the need for wishlists are... Okay, we're good...

You know what? Dopamine is addictive! (Meh, semantics, drugs play off the need for dopamine blah, blah, blah... we'll get to that later) That wishlist was my gateway drug to Amazon use. I held out, sure, but it was so easy to use Amazon. Especially with the 1-click buying option. It's the perfect system... hit a button, get a treat! Yay! I feel like a lab rat!

But even the wishlist and 1-click purchasing couldn't get me to love Amazon. There was even a point where I walked away from Amazon during the whole Gay/Lesbian Book Scandal back in 2009. I wasn't the target audience for those books, and I don't write for that genre, but there was nothing stopping Amazon from one day blocking science fiction or any other genre.

I stayed with Powell's for a time, buying my books there when I couldn't get to town and go shopping at an actual brick-and-mortar store.

In fact, it wasn't until I upgraded my phone that I became an Amazon Addict. My new phone came with a Kindle app. It was the worst possible situation for an addict, my drug of choice in easy reach 24/7. With 1-click purchasing a new ebook could be in my hands at any hour of the day. No shipping charges. No wait times. No reason to not buy.

Well... I tell a lie. There were several reasons not to buy. Not the least of which is that e-books are loans, not purchased items. A fact Amazon proved by erasing purchased books from e-readers in 2009. A person stealing my paperback would get arrested for breaking and entering, but Amazon could remotely access the e-readers and erase a book. Yes, Amazon paid everyone back. But they stole the books back first. You can read more on the fine print HERE.

Still, I was addicted.

That's how you can tell I was in a bad relationship. Even though I wanted to walk away I couldn't do it. I couldn't NOT buy my e-books. An e-reader app on my phone had opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Novellas, short stories, books from e-publishers that I never would have read otherwise were all purchased from the comfort of my home.

I was getting ready to format REAL LIES for Amazon when the news broke that they were giving away self-published e-books without the author's permission. For free. Like they owned the novel. Imagine someone handing out free copies of a paperback or hard cover, it would never happen. But Amazon can give away an e-book because e-books don't really exist? Or they planned on erasing them from everyone's e-readers? Or they just hate authors?

I don't know. The whole mess scared me into rethinking my plans for REAL LIES though, and that's where the heavy abuse comes in.

Ask any self-published author where the bulk of their sales come from and the answer is universal: Amazon.

I'm going out on a limb and guessing most e-book authors make a bulk of their sales on Amazon. Everyone has an account there. Everyone has the 1-click option ready and waiting. Nook sales didn't go well last year, I have yet to meet anyone locally who owns a Sony or KOBO reader. Everyone has Kindle or iPad, and that's why authors need to sell with Amazon.

So here I am, wanting to get away from this huge bully, but being told my career as an author depends on working with Amazon.

Even while Amazon is pulling titles off the market because of contract and pricing disputes, I'm expected to sell my titles on Amazon. If I want my e-book to reach international markets like the UK or Australia, Amazon is the only way I can. If I want to make money selling books, Amazon seems to be the only way I can.

This is the very definition of an abusive relationship in a work environment. To succeed in Business A I must do Thing B. It's like telling someone they can have a promotion if they give the boss a blowjob.

So, yeah, whipped whore of an author that I am... my traditionally published and Indie press work will be on Amazon. I need to pay my bills. My self-published short stories won't be there until Amazon changes it's business plan. That means sales will be nonexistent, but I'm okay with that. EDIT: As of this summer my short stories and self-published works are on Amazon. For every one book I sell with B&N I sell 100 or more on Amazon. I hate it, but I have bills to pay.

And my money? Last night I deleted the Kindle app from my phone and downloaded the Nook app. It took me ten minutes this morning to set up my new account, get my credit card information on file, and start buying books. Nook has a one-click buying system too.

Maybe I'm giving up one pimp for one that is equally bad. Maybe I'm on the losing end of this fight. Maybe I should let Amazon take over, tell me what to read, and grovel when they steal my hard work in the name of their bottom line, but I'm not going to. I'm voting with my dollars and moving to a company that I feels is a little more ethical.

With any luck the universal e-book format is just around the corner and next year I'll be able to buy my e-books from the local store in town instead of some worldwide giant. But that might just be a fairytale.


  1. Many companies seem to be performing actions that seem logically inconsistent. Netflix breaks streaming and DVDs into 2 businesses, then combines them after a backlash. Bank of America adds $5 for simply using an ATM card. Amazon gives away author's property. Whoever comes up with these ideas appears to have a degree in Questionable Business Ethics.

  2. *bangs head off keyboard* This is why I keep telling people not to put all their eggs in one basket!

    I own a Kobo, btw... and I love it. :D

  3. Just as an aside, not all of us make the bulk of our sales on Amazon. Amazon is only around 50% of my sales, overall. The other half is split between other distributors, Barnes & Noble included (and accounting for about 30% of sales...some months more than Amazon).

    That doesn't mean I'm pulling my books off Amazon, but I thought it might be a slight glimmer of hope for you that your books may very well sell just as much in other outlets. :-)

    Many authors are starting to sell from their own sites now as well (as I do), which is another option you have. Amazon might be the loudest game in town, but it's not the only one.

  4. On the subject of Kobo and Nook, in Canada, our major bookstores (Chapters, Indigos and Coles) only sell Kobo ereaders. Finding anyone here with a Nook would be difficult to impossible, but Kobo is what people use here if they don't want a Kindle.

  5. I'm glad I held off on buying the Kindle Fire! I'm saving up for an iPad now.

  6. Constant - Ethics classes aren't in vogue at the moment. :P

    Darke - I wondered where Kobo was popular. It hasn't caught on here.

    Jamie - That is reassuring, actually. I'm not in a rush to put anything on Amazon unless I have a publisher backing me. If something goes wrong, I want someone who knows how to deal with it.

    Thea - Good to know.

    Charmaine - It's hard. I want universal e-book formats so I can transfer all the Kindle books I bought to something else. But, we shall see.

    Diane - I think the iPad has more versatility, but I'll probably stick to just reading on my phone for now. Maybe when my kids aren't young enough to wash my electronics I'll consider an upgrade. :o)

  7. As a quick "other aside" - publishers don't actually do as well dealing with Amazon these days. Amazon actually caters to independents more at the moment (naturally that could turn at any time, but for now, that's how it is). With Amazon, you're actually better off on your own as far as royalties and disputes go. They are generally very responsive when things go awry.

    Odds are, a publisher isn't going to have any more luck than you will in dealing with issues.

  8. Jamie - The problem there is the thing like the free giveaway of the one author's book. Yes, you could argue he wouldn't have had those sales if it wasn't free. And you can argue that it gave him great publicity. But as the author he had the right to set the price, and once he did Amazon has the responsibility as his distributor to sell the book at that price.

    If the scenario was played out in a brink-and-mortar store with a physical book the author would have been paid and the store would eat the loss. What Amazon did by not paying those royalties when it was their mistake was say, "This isn't a real product. It has no real value. This thing is worth nothing."

    As an author I know that's a load of manure. A story in any format is a unique product. What one person imagines and creates is unique as the individual, and if they want to share that story they should be compensated for what they have created.

    That said, if their business practices change and they address these issues I'll happily publish with them because people happily buy from them.

  9. I use Smashwords to publish my books. They have apps for all types of e readers, Nook, Kindle, Apple and etc. I also use Amazon for international sales, but I've sold nothing. I am selling more books on Smashwords.

  10. Juanita - That is encouraging to know! The other authors I'd talked to said a bulk of their sales were on Amazon, but maybe that's just how they market?

  11. Thanks for sharing your reasoning. As someone on the market, this is very helpful. I'd also be interested in hearing how you feel the apps compare some day, now that you'll be versed in both :)

  12. When it comes to buying e-books, I only buy from Amazon as a last resort because I don't have a Kindle. Or a Nook (can't get them in the UK) or an iPad (can't afford one).

    But as an author I can't ignore it, especially not after the recent furore over Smashwords/PayPal. I have to have a finger in every available pie and hope it doesn't burn me.

  13. Wulf - I'll let you know what I think when I've played with the Nook a little more. It's a slightly different layout, but same basic idea.

    Misa - I like that summary. Right now I'm trying all the publishing venues and weighing my options. I figure the best way to get paid is to make my writing available in as many places as possible.

  14. Kobo is based out of Canada, so I assume it's bigger up there. I exchanged a couple of emails with their new self-pub/author relations director last month, and they'll be adding a KDP/PubIt-style page where authors can upload their work directly. Maybe we'll see more sales after that happens (right now, they're very slow to update through Smashwords -- the cover art they're displaying for one of my books was changed almost a year ago).

    As for Amazon, boy, it's a tough one. As a consumer, it's easy to simply say, "No, I'm not going to support them if I don't approve of their business practices," but as an author... you know, you can either side *with* the 600-pound gorilla or against it, and it's probably going to be better for your career if you're with it.

    I bowed out of KDP Select, but I have to admit I'm intrigued by the idea of publishing a title with their SF/F imprint just to see what they could and would bring to the table.

  15. Lindsay - Experimentation is the key to success. :o) I'm curious to see how the imprints work, but I'm still doing my shopping elsewhere. The Nook works fine.

  16. Well said! I use Amazon to purchase many items for the same reason I use Facebook to connect with people...it's the lowest common denominator, even though it isn't the best option. However, I own a Nook because it's a superior e-reader and purchase nearly all of my ebooks through Barnes & Noble (although occasionally I find one that's only available through Amazon, for which I use the Kindle app on my iPad).

    When I begin self-publishing my work though (it's going to happen any time, really...), I've contemplated exactly the problem of which you speak. The Kindle store is the store to be in if one wants to make income. Yet many self-published authors have similar complaints to yours. Thanks for relating your experiences...its helpful to those of us with these decisions still on the horizon.

    1. I'm always torn on this, especially with a novella coming out with a publisher. Amazon readers won't see anything else under my name, readers with Nooks will see my short stories. I have no way of knowing whether this hurts me or not.

    2. Interesting. Of course, there's also a point at which one can drive oneself crazy thinking about it...I don't look forward to launching into the marketing part of writing in earnest.