March 1, 2012

“Anyone who thinks Amazon is in this to help authors is a fool”


Schlock writer Jim C. Hines, in a commentary on his website, notes, “A certain champion of self-publishing recently decried all of the ‘whiny bitches’ complaining about Amazon, and argued how Amazon treats authors so much better than commercial publishers.” Says Hines, “While there are certainly advantages to Amazon’s program, anyone who thinks Amazon is in this to help authors is a fool.”

He goes on to detail how, trying to sell his own book, Goblin Tales, on Amazon, he noticed that one day, for no apparent reason, Amazon had decided to sell his book for $.99 …

This wasn’t the first time I’d had trouble controlling the price of my own e-book. I put Goblin Tales on sale over the holidays, then returned it to $2.99 in early January. Rather, I tried to do so. Only Kobo was slow to raise their price, and since Amazon’s Terms of Service allow them to match any competing price, Goblin Tales stayed at $.99 with its reduced royalty rate for several more weeks, earning me about 1/6 of what I normally made for each sale (35% royalties based on the $.99 price-matched price).

So when I saw that Amazon had dropped the price again, my first step was to check other listings. Everywhere else, the book was on sale for its list price of $2.99. I saw no external reason for Amazon to drop the price.

His conclusion? “Amazon can calculate royalties based on the sale price, not your list price.” That’s for his self-pubished titles, not for his titles published with an — ahem — traditional publisher, such as his book Libriomancer. As he explains, “Amazon is selling Libriomancer for pre-order at almost half-off, but I’ll get paid my full amount for every copy sold. Not so with self-published titles. Looking at my reports for last week, my royalties were slashed by 2/3 for every copy sold, because Amazon paid me 70% of the $.99 sale price, not my list price.”

HIs conclusion? “Bottom line? They make the rules, they can change the rules whenever they feel like it, and they aren’t liable when they break the rules.”

Unless, of course, you publish with somebody other than yourself.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.