All The Books That Would Not Be

Begun by one man selling books online out of a garage in 1994, Amazon is we know now one of the biggest companies on the planet and that almost incomprehensible growth has naturally alarmed many. That one man and founder, Jeff Bezos, is now a billionaire about 200 times over and therefore essentially a John D. Rockefeller of the 21st Century; and as one doesn’t get to that level of wealth by being only a “Mr. Nice Guy” it is hardly surprising that, much like Rockefeller was by so many, Bezos is also increasingly similarly despised. Yet if he died tomorrow in attempting to rocket out of the solar system, whatever his personal fate now the Amazon company he started is not going to disappear anytime soon.

So the “Don’t shop with Amazon, shop with small businesses” mantra is unsurprisingly all over the place on (amusingly usually controlled by other giant corporations, such as Facebook) social media. Amazon is now deemed its seems practically the fount of all evil...

[From Instagram.]

However, I am going to choose briefly to be something of a contrarian here on that subject in at least a narrow sense, and being one is not new to me.

First, a corporation as intrinsically “bad?” Those who assert such are in my experience rarely those who have actually run even a tiny corporation of their own.

My wife and I – just the two of us – are the officers and the only shareholders of our own New York “S” corporation for our small business. You don’t need to be “Amazon” or “Apple” or “ExxonMobil” to incorporate your business in the US. Even a single bookshop owner may incorporate the shop and indeed probably should to separate themselves personally from the legals associated with running it; and if they were to do so they would also quickly learn why Amazon (and other large corporations) pays what it does in corporate taxes.

[From Instagram.]

Second, Amazon as a “monopoly?” Let’s consider that one in more detail based on yours truly’s author’s perspective. And why? Given the framing of the matter being Amazon running over “small” business bookshops and the need to shop “local” to “save your children,” this gets kinda forgotten: It is the author remember who provides the books both Amazon and bookshops stock for purchase.

I am an independent author. I am tired of seeing bookshops portraying themselves as some intrinsic moral repository of good standing up to the Amazon vile behemoth. Lest we forget, bookshops stock what they think sells in order to make the “dirty money” too, so those bookshops are not charities any more than Amazon is.

So this is EXTREMELY important to point out: My print versions are NOT usually found in bookshops. It is not that some of my readers have not tried to obtain them that way; I have been greatly moved by some who on their own initiatives have told me that they have rung their local shop looking for them, or just walked in and asked for one… and even gotten an indifferent look amounting to “[Sigh] Another one bothering me for a nobody writer.” Therefore if you are determined to take some personal “anti-Amazon” stand like that (owned by massive Facebook, remember) Instagram post above calls for, please at least use common sense. Meaning, sure, you do not need to buy that, say, New York Times “top ten” best seller from Amazon; in that case go to your local bookshop to buy one of those, for buying it from that bookshop is shopping local and helping that local business.

Like bookshops, independent authors are not charities either. Not buying independent authors’ books simply because they are on Amazon (because you are told by memes that you are supposed to hate Amazon) means you end up simply hurting independent authors. Even if you don’t care about that, you are also denying yourself the opportunity perhaps to discover excellent lesser-known reads that bookshops will NOT routinely stock on their valuable shelf space because those books were not churned out by some “big name” or do not happen to be an “Oprah Winfrey book club” choice. Remember too that books by “big name” authors are marketed at you also by their massive publishing companies that are, like Amazon, not “Mom and Pop” businesses either.

[Copyright page of my uncle’s last book. Photo by me, 2019.]

I hate talking about this stuff, but it is necessary here to provide context. From Amazon I receive royalties that is I think are fair given Amazon does all the rest of the work in producing and shipping the book (Kindle or print) to the reader. For print in particular, I receive about what my uncle twenty years ago made per book sold for his books that were far more expensive than are mine and were published by big publishers such as HarperCollins.

If my print books are available for purchase elsewhere online, they are likely there as second hand books. If new copies they were obtained by some means of which I am unaware; but if so they were likely sourced (assuming they were not stolen) from Amazon anyway. So if a non-Amazon online book seller boosts their price I will earn nothing more than if you had bought it from Amazon. (Indeed if that seller charges you more than Amazon does that seller is merely pocketing the difference so you might as well have gone straight to Amazon to have bought it in the first place.)

As far as my e-books are concerned, I have tried to offer them on digital platforms other than Amazon’s Kindle. That effort fell flat on its face and my e-books are all now once again only available on the Kindle. Amazon has proven over the longer term to be the only place where I sell any numbers of books, be they paper or e-book.

[Novels, 2013-2019.]

As an author Amazon has – in particular since the 2007 introduction of the Kindle – in many respects revolutionized gaining access to the reading public. We all know about how “big publishers” may now be bypassed. Bookshops as well of any size no longer have nearly as much “gatekeeper” power or even a “stranglehold” over authors as was previously always the case and they too understandably don’t like that sudden and dramatic change.

There are always new books pressing for bookshop shelf space, and I recall my uncle once telling me that if a new release of his got “a week or two” of eye-catching shelf display, that was a lot. I like exploring and buying in and supporting bookshops as much as any other reading fanatic, but as an author myself now too what is also clear is authors and even publishers do not NEED any longer nearly as much to grovel to bookshops to stock their books. As a result many writers’ books you would have never found because they could not be gotten into a bookshop are now found through Amazon because Amazon has “unlimited” shelf space.

Amazon is as we also know far from a perfect company. Yet Amazon has also unleashed a new competition among authors, publishers, and bookshops that was NOT there before. While it is huge and “scary” in some ways, in terms of books Amazon is mostly serving as a platform and conduit through which we in the book biz, from HarperCollins down to the independent author, make available our books, so at least in that realm it is not really comparable with Rockefeller’s late 1800s-early 1900s monopolistic Standard Oil… regardless of how many memes and bookshops say it is.

[Grave of the Marquis de Lafayette and of his wife Adrienne in the cemetery of Picpus, Paris, France. Wikipedia. Public Domain.]

If we are going to talk about “anti-competitive” practices, if it were all down to decisions made by the likes of “HarperCollins” and bookshops, none of my books, and perhaps none by a great many other authors of the last decade or so, would possibly even exist. So I am not interested in joining in calls to annihilate Amazon and even “guillotine” its founder – I do NOT find guillotines funny at all – in order to return us to those days of yore in which (often massive) publishing corporations and (often massive) bookshops had authors basically under their thumbs. To borrow from agent-speak, “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to pass.”