Sunday, 15 June 2014

It's hardly all Amazon's fault...

‘A Living Wage for All Amazon Workers’ (£7.65 is the figure quoted in the Living Wage campaign) sounds an admirable title. And the book itself was placed on the Amazon website to draw attention to the wages paid by the internet giant to their staff.

But the book was a spoof and has now been withdrawn.

No surprise there.

The people responsible are no doubt chuffed with themselves that they managed this.

But while I sympathise with the workers involved, have the campaigners stopped to think that most authors would love to earn a living wage from their writing, but that most have to have second jobs?

This all comes amid a large volley of criticism of Amazon/Kindle, accused variously of being evil, bullying and a whole lot more, responsible for closing down bookshops and vilified across much of the publishing industry.

Hang on. On that last point, didn’t Waterstones do the same? Remember Ottakers (their rival bookshop chain?) The best bookshops anywhere. Bought them, rebranded them, changed them beyond recognition (including stopping authors being involved with readers). Killed them dead. And in the process piled books high and sold them cheap, with 3-4-2s if the publishers were willing to buy the space.
Indies couldn’t compete. RIP many indie bookshops.

I find the whole anti-Amazon campaign surprising, frankly. Especially when millionaire authors are stacking up against them, too. The Pattersons of this world may spit against Amazon, but he’s hardly your average struggling author. The irony is, Amazon has contributed to his massive sales figures.

The fact is, we all have a collective responsibility for the Amazon/Kindle dominant position (and I'm happy to admit that I rely on them like most other authors):
Publishers because they didn’t see it coming.
Agents ditto.
Authors because we (most of us) are listed by and also buy books from them.

But there’s a level of hypocrisy in much of the ranting from the industry and others.

Publishers are happy to use Amazon as a marketing/distribution tool – something which would cost a fortune if they had to do it all themselves. Some have also benefitted from what is as a visible and searchable source for new authors – ie: a slush pile – as the creation of the Kindle self-publishing tool has given them easy access to promising authors, along with a ready-made audience.

So they are both critic and beneficiary.

Agents are in a similar position. They might not like Amazon, but they have to acknowledge that sales via Amazon creates income for them and their authors.
Authors (see above).

Book buyers can spot a book in a bookshop, then check Amazon to see how much it costs, and have it within days or minutes, depending on the platform.

Quite simply, Amazon is a behemoth created by astute businessmen, a lazy industry and modern market demand. The fact that they use clever tax schemes to avoid paying too much money to the exchequer is down to clever lawyers and accountants and not so clever tax authorities and law makers.
But they're hardly alone in that among big businesses.

What will happen if the anti-Amazon crusaders get their way, which is to see the giant cut down to size – or worse, closed?
Will the critics hand back any income derived via Amazon?

Will it help those workers laid off – you know the ones currently 'not earning a living wage'?

Would bookshops be willing or able to fill the gap?

Would publishers spend more on marketing and distribution?

Would authors earn a living wage?

No, is the answer. The horse would have bolted. Close the door and turn off the light.

The only thing that would change is that authors would eventually find another way of getting their work out there. Like the music world, they would change the way business is done.

Because that’s what happens when the existing business model cries 'unfair' but refuses to help.



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