Amazon’s growth in the book industry has publishers and writers facing more challenges than ever. While Kindle Publishing provides a simple enough format to upload books, this accessibility comes at a price. The publishing market has become stretched thin as each publisher vies for the biggest portion. Amazon itself is responsible for 70-80% of the book sales in the US. This significantly large stake leaves smaller businesses at a disadvantage, while simultaneously causing remaining publishers to push to stay in competition – leaving only major publishing houses able to stay in the game.
While it can be said that Amazon has provided a steady stage for self-published authors, its massive growth is making it increasingly difficult to work with any other platform. The problem with this success is that it isn’t growing the industry – it’s making it smaller. As we currently stand, publishing companies of all sizes are being bought out (such as Amazon buying out Createspace, and PRH purchasing Simon & Schuster). This pattern is treading dangerously close to monopoly territory. With Amazon driving the bulk of self-publishing sales and acquisitions, it enables the company to change the market to suit their interests. This in turn will mean less competition for authors, wherein the industry can decide they require lower offers and fewer royalties.
As of March 2021, Amazon and Big 4 publishing houses are facing two separate lawsuits. One accuses them of price fixing e-books, while the other accuses them of price fixing in the retail and online market for print. The lawsuits are being handled by Hagens Berman, the same law firm that won a case against Apple and Big 5 back in 2011, for similar price coercion.
Despite their dubious business dealings, Amazon’s control of the market as well as regular updates still makes them useful to self-published authors in numerous ways.
Pros of Amazon
- Ease of access: It can’t get easier or better than free publishing, and that is what Amazon has to offer. According to their self-publishing page, they have three publishing services available: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), a publish to print through Createspace, and an audiobook distribution via Audiobook Creation Exchange. All of these services offer free upload and free tools to format your books. There are additional features that cost money, but they are the standard costs to self-publishing an author would face regardless (marketing, editing, etc.).
- Large platform: Not only is it easier for authors to get their works published, but when considering the speed of digital uploads, the accessibility is heightened for consumers as well.
- Investments: Because you are not spending thousands of dollars with a vanity publisher (anywhere between $2,000-$4,000), where dubious ones will charge you for every microscopic service, you can take your extra money and put it towards campaigning the book (if you plan to do marketing off Amazon), as well as towards a cover artist and an editor.
- Marketing: Amazon provides a page of marketing tools and references for authors to use on their FAQ for KDP. Such things include a how to create an author page, advertising purchase options, putting up sample chapters, and more.
Kindle Select: Kindle Select is an additional service that Amazon offers from KDP. This one is considered in between a pro and con. Kindle Select is a 90-day contract that authors can sign off on, which grants Amazon exclusive rights to their book. In return, Amazon offers more variety for promoting their book, helping it to place on higher visibility pages and grants higher royalty return. The potential for the book to get swept up is there, but also not. It also severely limits where your book can be sold digitally, solely to Amazon for the duration for those 90 days. After this expires, the author is allowed to opt out should they choose to do so.
Cons of Amazon
- Competition: There will always be competition when trying to get a book published, whether through traditional or self-publishing means. Listed on their Kindle Unlimited page, there are over 1 million titles to choose from. While an in-depth study of Amazon’s data claims that there are over 6 million Kindle books (more so today, but in recent years Amazon has removed the ability to view their data directly). In contrast to tradpub, where authors are provided with a marketing team, on Amazon it would be entirely up to the author’s efforts. It’s important to understand what categories and keywords will provide any book with the advantage. It will be an uphill creep to have a book gain traction on Amazon, between the author’s own off-site efforts as well as utilizing the promotions and marketing campaigns that KDP has to offer.
- Amazon Algorithms: While Amazon provides a wide array of marketing options to choose from, getting these marketing plans to bring in a profit can be tedious and at times ineffective. An average of 90.5 million people in the US own e-readers, and around 72% of those own Kindles; this is both a great breadth of readership at your reach as well as a great deal for a self-publishing author to contend with. Without a solid marketing plan, you could end up paying for just a chance that your book would reach more people and hit a front page. Even though authors pay for marketing space, the algorithm functions through downloads and reviews, and those reviews are only allowed by paid customers. There remains no guarantee how many readers who buy a book on Amazon will then take the time to review it, and without those reviews your book could fail to reach a wider audience. As the author, it will also be up to you to figure out which Amazon genre tags will reach your novel’s target audience.
- Budget: Authors that choose to self-publish have to do a lot of the leg work that goes into making and pitching a book, even with the offer of free publishing. So while the book may be published for free, an author’s budget must still be carefully applied to maximize the marketing potential. Even with the options on hand from Amazon’s marketing services, an author may find that they are not garnering the attention the book needs to succeed and thus will need to publish the book wide – through other self-publishing avenues such as Ingram Spark. The need to pull a book out of Amazon’s exclusive KDP Select program will then further limit sales and marketing options through Amazon in the process.
When all is said and done, Amazon has been both a boon for the self-publishing industry as well as a growing problem. If allowed to continue in an unimpeded course, Amazon will likely go on to choke the market until consumers and authors alike will be pitted against overpriced paywalls that will only benefit publishers and distributors, and not the authors who make all of this possible. However, with a majority of readership existing solely through this online behemoth, they remain a necessary evil for both traditional and self-published authors today.