When I originally decided to use CreateSpace as the print-on-demand (POD) publisher for my short story collection, The Year of the Elm, one of the main attractions was its tight distribution integration with Amazon.com. (CreateSpace is a subsidiary of Amazon, and an amalgam of two companies that were acquired by Amazon in 2005.) I have always been opposed to proprietary e-book formats, so making my work available for Amazon’s e-readers was less of a draw. However, because I already offered the collection in multiple e-book formats on Smashwords, adding a Kindle version was essentially adding a market, not a product. Offering a print-on-demand paperback and selling it through Amazon, however, was a whole new proposition.
The conventional wisdom about distributing a book through Amazon is that every independent author should make their work available on that site. In fact I’d wager that every person reading this post believes that to be one hundred percent true. And as someone who felt a definite thrill when I first saw my work for sale on Amazon I understand the appeal. Instead of waiting for a publishing-industry gatekeeper to green-light participation in the market on an equal footing, Amazon makes it possible for you to green-light yourself. Who’s gong to turn that down? (I mean, other than Groucho Marx, and, apparently, me.)
Over the past two years or so, much to my surprise, I have slowly come to the realization that my work doesn’t and probably never will belong on Amazon.com. Incongruously, this evolution was accelerated and crystallized over the past couple of months while trying and ultimately failing to compel the Bing search engine to find my work on CreateSpace’s out-of-the-way e-store pages. Yes, the fact that royalties are higher on CreateSpace than on Amazon is a plus, but that’s about the only obvious business-related advantage in choosing CreateSpace over Amazon. Yet I’m still convinced I’ve made the right decision.
Before exploring my rationale in detail, however, a couple of stipulations. First, there is no question that Amazon.com long ago became the default bookstore for the country if not the world. Tell most consumers to order a book and they will, without thinking, click over to Amazon because the association is that complete. Second, it is also clear that Amazon does an excellent job of facilitating purchases and fulfilling orders. Since many people already have an Amazon.com account, and because Amazon does everything possible to make purchases effortless, there is literally no easier way for most people to buy a book.
Given those two truths, it should be obvious that any self-published author who chooses not to make their work available on Amazon.com is an idiot. And for a long time that’s how I felt as well. Until, that is, I started thinking about what I’m trying to do by self-publishing my own work, and about the relationship I want to have with my readers. That’s when it dawned on me that what Amazon.com wants and what I want are not the same thing, which in turn led to the realization that how Amazon gets what it wants is not something I want to be part of. [ Read more ]