Thursday, August 14, 2014

Publishers are Wrong and Amazon is More Wrong

Response to: On Amazon, Publishers, and Book Prices

In the question of who is right between Amazon and publishers I side with neither. In this specific issue, as far as I understand it, I think Amazon is more wrong.

I don't publish my book, Management Matters, on Amazon because they wouldn't let me sell it how I wanted. They want to add on all sorts of restrictions instead of just selling my book.

I do like being a customer of Amazon. But they are pretty obnoxious about being the seller of your books. They don't just want to provide a platform for users to buy your product or service. They want to control your business and how you do business if they are going to sell your product. Which seems absolutely crazy to me. But they have lots of customers they can direct to your door so I understand why people choose to let Amazon dictate the terms of how the seller will run their business in order to get access to those customers.

I also find the annoying ever increasing book prices to be stupid and counter to my interests (for my father's book, where I get royalties). I would rather sell more copies and get a lower cut per copy but the publisher relentlessly jacks up the price. As an author you can about maximizing your income and likely maximizing the spread of your ideas. The publisher cares about maximize their overall revenue (which isn't the same as maximizing one book's revenue) and also their bias it toward higher net profit per book even if that reduces the market for the book. The publisher also doesn't make it available electronically which is also annoying.

I am perfectly happy to avoid both publishers and Amazon as an author. I imagine that decision is much more difficult if you count on your earnings from your writing. I would be happy to make it available through Amazon if they just wanted to sell it not dictate how I chose to operate (LeanPub is a great platform for authors that allows you to control how you will behave and has cool features like letting you set a suggested retail price but also letting users decide what they want to pay).

These huge companies constantly change the rules and are not transparent about it, but other thing I very much dislike about Amazon is obnoxious DRM messing up customer's lives. Maybe they have changed to let authors not bother customers with DRM junk but I don't think that was the case last time I looked.

I also very much like letting users pay a lower prices, but Amazon wants to say if I want to experiment with this innovation I have to fix the price on Amazon at the lowest level. Like many stodgy bureaucracies they have reasons for their rules which make sense to the bureaucracy. I can see if you are not interested in innovation and experimentation as a stick in the mud bureaucracy that such rules make sense. But I am interested in innovation and experimentation and Amazon's bureaucratic mindset doesn't fit with that type of thinking. Which is a shame given how they like to see themselves.

I also want to let buyers get updated copies of the book. Amazon doesn't (or at least didn't when I looked) support this, which is fine. But it is another weakness of very old school thinking that doesn't seem to be keeping up with even 5 years old technology. Again lame for Amazon, thinking they are customer focused and innovative.

I agree the high prices on many ebooks are crazy and should go down. The publishers are being lame about that. I think forcing everything into arbitrary sales prices based on how many fingers we have is idiotic (Amazon's $9.99 rule). The publishers are wrong from keeping ebook prices so high. Amazon is more wrong about how they want to deal with that. I do believe Amazon should have the freedom to favor products that meet Amazon's desires so favoring books priced at $9.99 or something is within Amazon's rights. And choosing to stock less of books that are not in line with Amazon's desires is within their rights. Being super obnoxious about how far Amazon goes about things though can tip the balance into something being within their rights and reasonable behavior to being within their rights and unreasonable behavior. Amazon is past that already.

And it doesn't seem to me this is a mistake by Amazon. It is the manifestation of their view that they should control their suppliers business models. Amazon doesn't need to just change the decision here to be less unreasonable. They need to realize the idea that they should be determining their suppliers business models is a bad corporate policy and they should return to focusing on providing customer value and value to their suppliers. Work with suppliers to help them understand better ways to operate in the unfolding new ways or working but let those suppliers make their decisions about the business models they want without Amazon resorting to extremely obnoxious behavior if they don't chose to decide every detail the way Amazon wants them to.

Related: Leanpub Podcast on My Book, Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability - Interviews about Management Matters - Innovative Thinking at Amazon: Paying Employees $5,000 to Quit - Poor Service from Amazon (2008)

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