I have shifted focus from Amazon to Kobo as my main ebook repository. To some, this may seem somewhat curious; foolish even. However, I have a very good reason. I have come to understand in a very impactful way that putting the bulk of my ebook eggs in the Amazon basket is maybe not the best strategy for me. It all seemed so very lucrative and perfect at first, only to reveal increasingly annoying detriments over time. Part of the revelatory process for me was the realization that Amazon cares mostly about Amazon. Now, some of you might say "Well, that's obvious because they are a corporation and they need to make money!", which I get. But stay with me.
Firstly, let me be clear: This is not about how many books I have sold (or more accurately, not sold). I accept full responsibility for that as should every writer. Any independent author will inevitably come to the reality that writing books and selling books are two completely different things requiring likewise completely different skills.
We need proficiency in both to be able to create any sort of sustainable financial return on our efforts. This requires nothing short of collossal amounts of hard work and dedication; the kind of hard work and dedication where sleep becomes a luxury and our loved ones wonder if we will ever return to them from our self-imposed, literary exile. There is simply no way around it. But you already know this, because you have lived it. And yes, we independent authors must be willing to utilize every tool and every opportunity available to us in order to find our particular path to sustainability. But tools are just that: tools. Ultimately, it is the culmination our choices that will have the greatest impact on the long-term outcome of our work.
So why am I being precious about this? Well, it is a matter of sociology, really.
1. Amazon is way too big.
Few in modern society escape the crushing gravity of Amazon's influence on our lives. Especially in the U.S., Amazon is so integrated with our social order that it has taken on sociological qualites more akin to infrastructure or utility rather than a company. As a consumer, this seems fine, since costs can be relatively low for goods and services like books. But as a bookseller, more especially ebooks, I have found that Amazon effectively holds all of the cards and through their initiatives, such as Kindle Unlimited, has effectively reduced the hard-won intellectual property of writers to a basic, barely consequential unit of fuel to be burned by their massive engine.
True, Amazon and the internet in general has revolutionized who can be successful in many spaces, including selling books. However, over time Amazon has grown so huge that they have been able to not only influence, but actually redefine the rules of success for writers. In the early days of the ebook boom, this served writers well. But it is a system of diminishing returns. The larger Amazon gets, the less a writer with a decent mount of engagement will prosper. Instead, access to success on the platform requires more and more of the writer's daily time, which takes the writer away from other opportunities. So in effect, Amazon forces writers into an increasingly dedicated mindset. Having already invested too much time and money to waste, writers generate ever more marketing content on social media, pointing to Amazon, trying to get ahead or at least break even which ultimately keeps the conversation within Amazon's sphere of influence and maintains their supremacy, especially with first-page search results online.
2. Amazon does not need to listen to you.
Because they are so enormous, Amazon does not fear individual writer attrition. To them, the intrinsic value of the average independent author's work is miniscule at best, and they know they already hold enough social and economic capital to carry on as though we never existed at all. It suits them fine because there will always be more meat for the grinder. And remember, Amazon's model rewards those, albeit increasingly meagerly, who are above average in their devotion and fealty in terms of time and engagement. So if we don't like Amazon's terms, well then we know where the door is. So if we are done complaining, then we should get back to our computers and start producing for them. They just don't care, because they don't have to.
3. Amazon will do what is best for Amazon.
An example, and the impetus for this post, is my year-long battle to make my ebook perma-free on Amazon. In theory, an author should be allowed to set whatever price they want for whatever reason they want, including a price of $0.00. If Amazon is the "marketplace" it claims to be, then the freedom for a seller to set price should be a given. Look, there are times when writers want to give away their book either for personal or financial reasons, or because it is good marketing. This is the author's choice to make, and ounce-for-ounce the author has the most to lose. In theory, the market will decide if an individual author's short and longterm choices will lead to sustainability for that author. But when it comes to this issue, Amazon routinely intervenes on its own behalf and refuses to allow authors to set a price of $0.00 for their ebooks.
For the longest time, this was a mysterious phenomenon that had writers buzzing and trying to figure out. Little by little, people started posting about how to get around Amazon's draconian methods. The most common hack is to list a book as $0.00 on other platforms and then request a price match on Amazon.It works sometimes. However, there is no way to know when Amazon will make the change. It could be days, months or longer. Maybe never.
Why would they do this? It could be because of their Kindle Unlimited initiative, which is a subscription service. If an author's book is enrolled, then readers have access to it and many thousands of other books as part of their monthly subscription and the author receives payment based on number of pages read. Again, this is great for consumers which is fine. But that is not my point.
My point, is that Amazon discourages authors from giving away their books because it de-incentivizes readers from enrollng in Kindle Unlimited. An author making their ebook free still is a good deal for the consumer. It might not matter on an individual basis so much, but the success of Kindle Unlimited is literally informed by the number of titles that are available to a subscriber. So when it comes to Kindle Unlimited as a separate initiative, attrition matters more. If a reader can just download my book directly and not pay for it, then Amazon is cut out. And while Amazon overall might not even notice, Kindle Unlimited is affected. Ok, well many out there might be thinking there is nothing wrong with Amazon's method in this regard. And that might be true if, as I mentioned previosly, Amazon was not such a huge entity that has become a utility and central to the way we shop and consume media. It creates a catch-22 for writers. We either capitulate and trade away complete control in exchange for such an enormous amount of access or we take our chances on our own. At least, that is what they would have you believe.
4. Amazon is not going away anytime soon.
I am going to continue to use Amazon mostly as a search engine boon. For that reason, not using Amazon at all is not wise in my opinion. They are just too ever-present to completely divorce, and with no end in sight. However, I have decided to put the considerable, extra time and attention I would have to spend just to receive crumbs from Amazon into other, less onerous platforms. Namely, Kobo.
5. Kobo is way better in the longterm for independent authors.
What started out as a way to get more control over the pricing of my book, became a quest for a better way to participate in the society of writers and readers. Where Amazon has taken the route of my-way-or-the-highway concerning independent authors, Kobo has embraced more inclusive methods. According to a Financial Post article from 2019, 25% of ebooks on Kobo at that time had been written by independent authors.Additionally, Kobo's focus is innovation. And although they are growing quickly, they are taking independent authors along with them as part of their main strategy, which is exactly what I need right now. Also, they are nice, which matters. My interactions with them are always pleasant and they make me feel like my book, thoughts and concerns actually matter.
6. My ebook is perma-free on Kobo.
So after much pain and frustration in dealing with Amazon, my ebook has found a new home at Kobo where my labor and time is honored rather than devalued and exploited. If you like dark fantasy and you are in for a good story, then you are more than welcome to download my book, The Crimson Coil, for free...forever...on Kobo. Here is the link: The Crimson Coil