Not yet, but they damn well should. Yes, I am aware that most authors are starving critters and don’t need yet another entry in the expense column. But here’s the thing: when publishing is free, anyone can do it, and charging peanuts for an entire novel becomes less cost-effective. (Truth is, the price point on a book has been moving toward 99 cents for the past year or two and that’s LESS than peanuts; a bag of those delectable nuts costs more than a dollar). Last week I had a guest post from Sev Winters on the subject of book pricing. I had been itching to blog about this subject for a long while, so I figured I’d give Sev’s words a week to sink in and then throw in my own two pennies.

Why 99 Cents Doesn’t Work

Currently Amazon doesn’t offer any lower price point than 99 cents. You can’t even offer your work for free unless you are an Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select member (which requires that you not sell your eBook anywhere else and gives you five days every quarter to list your book free for download). This effectively makes 99 cents the lowest price for an eBook in the market (well over 90 percent of eBook downloads are from Amazon). So you need to look at it this way: if you charge 99 cents for your book, it is at least as cheap as the worst dreck  ever published on Amazon. Why does this matter? For one, because the numbers no longer give any indication whatsoever between quality product and one that stinks.

It’s a fact that most consumers do use price as at least one of their comparison elements when they shop for products. But not always to buy the cheapest product out there—you’ve no doubt heard the old saying “you get what you pay for”?Well most discerning consumers have, and they live by it to one extent or another.

How many of you will look at several products and depending on the size of the quality range will select the mid-priced brand, leaving the “dirt-cheap” brand on the shelf?

(By “size of the quality range” I mean how much potential separation between the best and worst of the product. For example: chicken broth—not a huge difference between the best and the worst, so were you to select the 49 cents per can versus the 69 cent or 89 cent brand, you probably aren’t going to notice that much difference between the three broths. An example of a large quality range: an SUV—think of the range of just the “crossover” SUVs out there, from the GMC Acadia  to the Lexus RX series to the Porsche Cayenne. You don’t need to know each of the brands to glean the fact that the $100K Cayenne offers the driver a much more luxurious and powerful experience than the GMC model at less than a third it’s price.)

I’m guessing the majority of us can agree that there is a HUGE quality range in the market for Indie Fiction. From the worst book to the best? Enormous range. Light years.

So imagine you are Joe or Josey Consumer and you don’t read all the articles, arguments, and analyses about price points or Indie authors versus traditional published or Amazon KDP. You just buy books; you just want a great read. Are you going to buy many books at 99 cents when the others range from $2.99 up past $15.99?

I wouldn’t. Not if I didn’t know there were a fair number of outstanding Indie writers out there.

Readers telling other readers generates SALES.

And here’s the truth about those who do buy a lot of 99 cent books: at best they’re reading a percentage of the books they buy. Look at the stats on the free Kindle downloads. A large number of those downloaders are no more than book hoarders—consumers who will load up on anything that’s free. And guess what? 99 cents is “free” to a lot of people. I don’t think TWICE about buying something for 99 cents. If a dollar fell out of your hand on a windy day would you run a mile to retrieve it? Dodge heavy traffic to get your buck back? I doubt it. A large number of the people buying 99 cent books are only reading a small percentage of them. And we all know the biggest marketing tool of all: word of mouth.

I’m going to issue a guarantee that a person who hasn’t read your book isn’t going to be telling anyone about it, even if they did pay for it.

(A quick note on Joe and Josey Consumer from above: man do I want to connect with those consumers—they are the Holy Grail of readership, my friends, and there are millions out there just like them. They buy a a large number of books every year, they read every book they buy, and they tell all the readers they know about the reads they really enjoy.)

How Charging for Digital Publishing Helps

Back to the “free” concept: when you make something free, you eliminate ownership of or responsibility for that action. You take all the risk out of it; you make the downside nothing and the upside infinite. Who wouldn’t publish a book with those odds? If it is free for me to publish and I know that sometimes lightning strikes even the sleeping dog’s ass, why the heck would I not throw a book or two out there and pray for a thunderstorm?

Even the simian Shakespearian can get in on the action.

And because it’s completely free, there are tens of thousands of new books hitting the Amazon digital shelves every day. Oh, and because it’s completely free, who cares what they charge? Bargain basement, baby.  The true 99 centers.

Imagine if it cost, let’s say, $500 to publish your first digital book online. And then, say, $100 for every book after that, thus giving a break to bona fide authors—”bona fide” being defined by me as “serious writers”, not necessarily a guarantee of quality there either, but we’re talking about people who have been writing (or wanting to write) all their lives, trying seriously to get published; these are the same writers who in the traditional market were/are submitting their writing even at the cost of facing rejection after rejection.

Back to imagining: A $500 initial investment to put that first book on the digital shelves. How big a reduction do you think we’d see in the firehose flow of books we are currently witnessing? I’m going to make a wild guess and say 75%. Yes, I am suggesting there would be an immediate 75% reduction in raw numbers. Maybe more. Now some of these would be “bona fide” writers taking pause, or not having the 500 bones. So I would expect some of those who were originally deterred to come back and eventually publish a book. But I also believe you would take a huge slice out of the dreck pie.

HUGE.

Will Amazon Do It?


 
You’d be crazy (and not a very good economist) to believe it’s not coming. Not because Amazon cares about the quality of books on their shelves—they couldn’t care less about quality of product (if you buy a book and it’s crap your first thought isn’t “damn that Amazon”—the writer is to blame, not the storefront selling him or her). Amazon cares about one thing only: profit. Imagine the tens of millions of dollars that are transmitting over their wires and onto their digital shelves every year. Right now they aren’t extracting a single penny. Why? Because they are first trying to own the marketplace, which they have just about fully accomplished (kill off the Nook this year and I’d say it’s all theirs).

As soon as Amazon feels they’ve locked up the eBook market, with KDP Select likely delivering the coveted death blow, they will start charging for digital publication.

I, for one, cannot wait. Bring it on. Make publishing your book an investment. Make people really have to believe in what they are doing to put something in print. No, it doesn’t guarantee quality any better than the “free” model. But it will undoubtedly decrease the numbers, and I can’t imagine any serious, quality writer out there being deterred from their dreams by $500 or even $1000.

So the good stuff will still make it out there. And maybe, just maybe, we can start to turn current, awful market reality of crap and succulent, delectable meat being mixed together in the same 99 cent consumer rice bowl.

 

68 Responses to Phreaky Friday: Amazon Charging for Digital Publication?

  1. Dermot McCabe says:

    If Amazon attempts to do that, it will immedialtely open the door to others who will quickly eat Amazon’s lunch or spawn a completely new paradigm for selling eBooks. The internet does not allow any one entity to dominate a market for very long.

    • Katy Sozaeva says:

      YES! People are naturally going to do what is best for THEM, not for some middle person. If I heard that Amazon was starting to do that, it would be no better to me than a vanity press. I would definitely start finding my eBooks elsewhere …

  2. Rob – It’s an interesting argument, but I’ll have to confess that I don’t agree .

    First, the $0.99 model *can* work, as John Locke, in particular, has definitively proven. It just won’t work for everyone, or every book, every time.

    As for the “pay to publish” argument, I don’t buy that one at all, if you’ll pardon the pun. That wouldn’t help improve quality, it would only limit publishing to people who had enough cash to swing it. This would be absolutely no different than the vanity press model, except in digital form. There are probably a lot of people who are convinced they right reel gud and who have the money to promote their dream. Conversely, there are also some very good authors who would be shut out because they couldn’t gather that sort of scratch.

    And I also disagree that doing so would be in Amazon’s best interest in terms of profit, even when the own the marketplace. The more authors who publish on KDP and the more books they sell (crap or otherwise), the more money Amazon makes. The real money they make is in the long tail of digital publication – no print runs, remember? $500 or whatever up-front is pocket change in the long run, and doing something like that would likely lead to a mass exodus of authors and small publishers to any surviving ebook franchises (and there will be some, even if only a minority of the market).

    So, for what it’s worth… 🙂

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks for the comment, Michael. Obviously we can agree to disagree (although Amazon will either choose to charge or choose not to, which will at least answer one question)! 🙂

      I would have to say that using John Locke as an example of what the average self-published author can expect (even if they follow all of the things John Locke did) is misleading at best and disingenuous at worst. I know hundreds if not thousands of self-published Indie authors and I know exactly ONE who had had that kind of success. We’re probably talking less than one in every 10,000 finds that kind of success and even then it’s not only the pricing; it always requires inhuman dedication to marketing. All John Locke and Amanda Hocking proved is that the first handful of people to sell their books cheaper than a song on iTunes would stun the world and sell a million copies. It isn’t going to happen again. That boat has sailed.

      I also want to address one specific comment you made:

      And I also disagree that doing so would be in Amazon’s best interest in terms of profit, even when the[y] own the marketplace.”

      Amazon receives $0.65 for each sale of a $0.99 eBook. And the $0.65 is not all profit; there is the massive infrastructure, payroll, etc. All the costs of doing business. Let’s say for sake of comparison, however, that they still make $0.50 “profit” per eBook. Taking the $500 number as an example, each eBook Amazon houses has to sell 1000 copies just for Amazon to make $500 in profit. Being an Indie published author on Amazon, like me, I know you know the significance of selling a thousand copies. The average self-pubbed author will never sell a thousand copies. I’ve read that most Indie self-pubbers won’t even sell 100. Regardless, a pace of around 100 eBooks a month will get an author into the top 10K PAID—there are well over a million eBooks out there, so being in the Top 10K puts an author well into the upper 1%! That means the average author (i.e. the one ranked, say, 250-500,000) is selling maybe 5-10 eBooks a year.

      I submit Amazon would make a killing charging $500 a book (that’s $500 million for the next million self-published). Heck, they’d at least turn a profit at $50 an eBook (an author would have to sell 100 eBooks for Amazon to make $50) and as I said (and showed from the averages versus rankings) the average digital self-pubber will never even sell 100 copies.

      So I disagree with your “profitability” assessment. The bulk of people publishing digitally for free and charging $0.99 are actually losing Amazon money on average. The only way FOR Amazon to make money off the self-pubbers is to charge them to publish digitally, and I think they will. Soon. Like I mentioned earlier, we can certainly agree to disagree, but I am betting Amazon won’t continue with their current “profitability” model on digital self-publishing. They’re much too profitable a company to do that. 😉

      Thanks again for commenting, Michael. Cheers.

      • Katy Sozaeva says:

        You said: “Amazon receives $0.65 for each sale of a $0.99 eBook. And the $0.65 is not all profit; there is the massive infrastructure, payroll, etc.”

        I highly doubt Amazon has a “massive” infrastructure – I’m guessing they have a lot of people working for small change just for the prestige. Also, that they get MOST of the money for that sale is outrageous, when you consider that all they are doing is basically selling “digital” shelf space – they don’t have to maintain a warehouse, they don’t have to ship out copies of the books (so they don’t need to pay people to package them, nor do they have to pay the postage costs), they don’t even lose shelf space that could be taken up by more profitable books from trad pubs. So, if anything, indie and self-pubs should find other ways to sell their books – Smashwords is one that I like to use when I can. Rather than looking to raise prices so they (you) can make more money on your eBooks, maybe you need to rethink letting Amazon have so much of YOUR hard-earned money! They can afford it more than the consumer can, in most cases.

        • I disagree on a few points.

          1. Amazon does have a massive infrastructure. It may not seem like much selling digital goods, but there is a lot to maintain — not the least of which is security, since one major security breach could devastate consumer trust in Amazon.

          2. There is nothing outrageous about Amazon taking 65 cents of a 99-cent ebook, because they have a baseline cost to fulfill that ebook. The points you make about digital shelf space are true, but remember that Amazon has to pay for the credit card transaction when someone buys that 99-cent ebook. Visa, MasterCard, etc. don’t allow that for free. Further, if you’ve ever built and run even a rudimentary website with ecommerce, you’ll know there is a lot to keep up, as I touched on above in #1.

          3. Amazon only takes 65% of the cut on an ebook that’s priced under $2.99 (and over $9.99). If you publish your ebooks at $2.99, as I do, then your cut from Amazon is 70% — YOUR cut, not theirs. So, I get over two dollars per sale, which is far higher than a trade publishing deal. When you think that the reader gets the book for $2.99 (compared to $10+ for most print books) and the author gets over $2.00 of that, it’s a total win-win.

  3. Becca says:

    A well thought-out argument with some fair points. My concern is that it would make Amazon a LESS viable option for self-publishing for those who are talented by don’t have $500 (or $100 or even $50 for that matter). Or maybe they do have $500 they plan to invest in their book, and then they have to choose between hiring an editor or putting their work out there. Charging would narrow the market, making it easier for those of us who could afford to pay it to get more leverage, so trust me, it would benefit me in some ways if that were the case. But I don’t necessarily think what would benefit me is exactly *fair*. There are probably more talented authors out there than me (Actually, I’m sure of this LOL) that don’t have nearly as much money as I do. This would make it easy for me to get out there but wouldn’t give those people a chance.

    Hey, I get it, no one said life is fair! But no need to make things worse.

    That said, I agree there is a problem with the whole pricing/quality issue. Sometimes I’m tempted to put my book from $2.99 to $0.99. But I think $2.99 is MORE THAN FAIR. But how do you compete with the freebies and $0.99 books? How many people just want a cheap read. I mean, they are dispensable at that point. If they don’t like it, no big deal. They’ll take a chance on a book that is free or only $0.99, even if the book that is $1.99 would be five times better.

    I do like that Amazon separates paid kindle ranking from free kindle ranking. But at $0.99, you’re almost free. Anyway, not really 100% sure what my point is there beyond agreeing with your it’s an imperfect system, even if I don’t agree with the solution. I try to think of a better solution, though, and I don’t see one, so maybe you are right that the only possibility is weeding out those who take it seriously from those who don’t. But again, the money thing you could nix some people who do take it seriously as well, or cut into pre-publishing budget (such as editing).

    Maybe if they in some other way could make it just a little harder…but I’m not sure how they could do that.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Good points, Becca. Thanks for commenting. Yes, it would definitely hurt some writers (i.e. ones with talent who don’t have the money), but the reality is we are talking $500 to publish a book. Not $5,,000 or $10,000. (And who knows what they will charge? Could be $100, could be $50.) I just think when they do start charging it will at least deter anyone who was only throwing their words in the ring because it cost nothing to do so. I just think a person ought to invest a little something in their career. And if they are publishing for “fun” they should be posting their work for free. Amazon is a place of business where consumers expect to buy quality for their hard-earned dollar. When it’s free to publish, anyone can (and will) do it. That a pricing model can’t conform to every writer out there just makes it the same as everything else in the world. I don’t believe Amazon would set the price point any higher than $500 and I am guessing it would be even lower; I don’t see $100-500 as an unreasonable price point for an author to publish their book and have it presented to millions of customers worldwide. I’d love to won a bar, but they want $50,000-$2,00,000 for the liquor license. If “some people won’t be able to afford it” were an argument that worked, I’d be tending bar right now!! 😉

      Thanks again. Cheers, Becca.

    • Katy Sozaeva says:

      If what you are selling for $2.99 is a full-length novel, then I agree that price is more than fair, and if I have the available resources and the book looks interesting to me, that is a price I will not hesitate to pay. However, I’ve seen “books” listed for that and have done some looking around and discovered they were LESS THAN 20 PAGES LONG. THAT is not reasonable, IMHO – those are the sorts of things that should be 99 cents or free.

      • rsguthrie says:

        You are so right—there really does need to be some sort of gauge for page count, etc. I did not mention (but have said elsewhere) that I think $0.99 is a really great price point for short stories, small essays, some poetry, etc. It’s also a great “promo” price, too. But yes, I totally get being disappointed spending $2.99 (or more) for a “book” and finding out it’s 100 pages or less! In a previous comment you mentioned a “middle-ground” between $0.99 and the prices Sev suggested (i.e. more or less matching the prices of well-known authors). I could agree more. It is definitely hard to invest a lot of money in an unknown (and you are also correct in pointing out there are some real gems out there in the Indie market). I realize there are plenty of people who don’t have $5 to spend on a latte, but then again I see the lines at the multiple Starbucks on every street corner: there are also a lot of consumers out there willing to spend that $3-5 on their morning swill. I guess in my mind i see something like $3-5 for an Indie starting out (book length, of course) and then once the author is popular, more established, etc. he/she could consider raising the price a little more on subsequent books. My fear now is simply that we are all being driven to offer books at $0.99 and for the writer, who has invested hundreds of hours of work in a novel, selling it at the dollar store seems a little low. 😉

        Thanks for all the great comments! 😀

        • @rsguthrie — Amazon *does* list an estimated page count (at least for some of their Kindle books). Here’s one of my ebook listings as an example: 🙂

          http://tinyurl.com/7c9ntft

          You’ll see the estimated (and accurate) page count a couple lines below the price. I noticed this had started at the beginning of the year and wrote about it on my self-publishing blog because I also thought this info was much needed. Glad to see it’s come about.

          • rsguthrie says:

            Wow, you are right! (Could they make it any smaller or less conspicuous, though?) 🙂

            I actually used to just use the size of the digital file and make a rough estimate…not great for exact pages but at least in the ballpark. Thanks for pointing out the new feature!

      • Katy — My perspective is different. While yes, generally there is a correlation between page count and value, that’s not always the case. I have found many non-fiction ebooks that are short (say, 20 pages or fewer) where the info is well worth the price. For example, if I pay $4.99 for an informative ebook that saves me $50 in some way, or saves me hours of effort on something, then that’s well worth the price.

        Also, since my time is limited (and whose isn’t?), I really value when authors can condense what they are writing — I don’t want to spend hours reading some author blathering on when it could’ve been edited to a half-hour read.

        Now, maybe you were commenting only about novels, and I can understand that. Unfortunately, Amazon hasn’t really promoted their “Amazon Singles” program, which was intended for short works — short stories, poems, or what at one time would’ve been called a novella. In fact, I’m not even sure the Amazon Singles program is still going.

        Hopefully, now that they are starting to list estimated page counts (see my comment below), this will address the situation. Also, of course, reader reviews often mention if an ebook is too short for its price or simply not worth it.

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  6. Paul Daniels says:

    I think some level of vetting is required for the uncontrolled surplus of books pouring into Amazon, something that doesn’t require manual human intervention – having a entry barrier fee does tend to filter out a fair number.

    As for the 99c being potentially viable, sure, maybe for some – however overall as a majority view it just doesn’t look viable. I think $2.99 will become the new ‘defacto’ level as many writers find they’re starving a little too much at 99c or below (it’s okay if you’re in the top-100, but outside of that you’re doomed).

    I think $100 setup +$25/bk would be a reasonable sane pricing structure and close to that provided by LightningSource/INGRAM.

    I do not believe this will impact significantly on Amazon’s dominance, as that is primarily driven by Amazon’s ability to provide what customers want, something they do exceptionally well overall.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hi, Paul. I agree—your pricing structure is probably similar to what they’ll come out with (maybe a bit higher, but they certainly will do it for less than $500). I don’t think the $0.99 price point is viable either—frankly, I don’t know why any author would want their work to be forced to be nearly given away. When I was a teen and young adult, I had to pay $15-25 for the hardcover of my favorite read (or wait a year for the paperback, which still cost me $10-15). A single song on iTunes is now $1.29! This is a world where people stand in line to pay $3-5 for their morning coffee and a novel should be priced at $0.99? No way. I’m not saying it will fix itself, but I sure hope it does. A writer receiving $0.35 a book not only can’t be profitable short of several tens of thousands of copies sold; for most writers it won’t even break them even.

      Thanks for commenting! 😀

      • Katy Sozaeva says:

        Well, consider that when *I* was a kid, I remember paying 99 cents for a book. I also remember being shocked when they went up to $1.99. Outraged when they jumped to $3.99. I will hardly ever pay full price for a book; after all, why should I? Now, with clubs like BOMC2, where you can get a hardcover book for $9.95, why pay the $25 price points being offered elsewhere? Or the $8.99 – $9.99 for a paperback?

  7. Nick Marsden says:

    Amazon makes money off all the books self-published. They make 30% or 65% depending on the option the author chooses. They also make money off the big 6 published books on the racks as well. This model works for Amazon because it allows unfettered access to authors. Amazon works in quantity, not quality. Look at what they are doing with the Kindle Fires. Losing money to make money. Amazon is playing with all sorts of models. I don’t think they want to limit the amount of books authors self-publish because that would limit the amount of money they can bring in. butting a “fee-barrier” in place would only hurt Amazon in the long run.

  8. Hey there, Rob. You’ve probably read my Huff Post articles on the 99 cent debate (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/20/ebooks-cheap-price_n_1160383.html?ref=books#comments) and why indie authors aren’t taken seriously (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/indie-authors-struggle_n_1242935.html). As much as I hate to say it, there really does need to be a gatekeeper for editing, and/or a degree of seriousness so authors think before they publish.

    99 cents is a great one/two day promo if you need a kick-start for your book, but as a permanent price it is detrimental to all authors. Some Indies are so competitive with each other they are driving themselves into the ground — maybe out of fear? The hype is being stirred by a group I won’t name who is now charging $100-250 to list your FREE book on their promotions and making it mandatory that you list for 99 cents for three days following the promo.

    Serious authors need to step back and look at what their writing is worth–if their writing is polished and well written. Again – for a promotion – 99 cents works, for permanent pricing, it is not a viable option for anyone who takes writing seriously.

    Think of it this way– not too long ago, ebooks weren’t around. We’re writing the same books that used to only be available in paperback or hardcover. The product hasn’t changed, only the format has.

    One has to wonder if the big six and their no-discount pricing isn’t a smart move in the long run. If indies banded together to offer a fair price to readers, as well as a fair price for authors, the literary industry might be a better place–but that can only work if there are gatekeepers to insure all books are up to par in their degree of professionalism. So…does that put us back to agents and trad pubs? Probably not. A verification of editing would be a great start.

    Wow a diatribe – sorry. It’s midnight — you got my tired rant.

    xo,
    M

  9. Dicey Grenor says:

    Though you make good points, I agree with Michael R. Hicks: “As for the “pay to publish” argument, I don’t buy that one at all, if you’ll pardon the pun. That wouldn’t help improve quality, it would only limit publishing to people who had enough cash to swing it.”

  10. Hey Rob,

    I agree. If a writer has talent and wants to see their book on Amazon and has to pay $500 to do so, they will make the sacrifices necessary to see it happen. I had to give up a LOT to be able to pay for the editing, copy editing and cover art neccessary to make sure that my books are as high a quality as I can. Could I afford it? Not really, but I made it happen, because that IS the reality of being a writer, sacrifice of time and money. So for me, I think that it would weed out the writers who aren’t serious, who as you say, are just hoping for a thunderstorm.

    Thanks for this great post. 🙂

  11. N.V. Binder says:

    Hi Rob. Thanks for this post. I think you’ve touched on several important issues here: the possibility of paying Amazon to publish, the 99 cent pricing scheme, and the quality question.

    To the first, let me just say that the day Amazon asks me for $500 is the day I leave for greener pastures–not because I don’t have the money, but because I won’t spend it on that. Like most writers, I’m the opposite of rich. So when I spend $500, I expect to get something back. Like $500. If I don’t get $500, then I better get some great editing, or fantastic cover art, or a personal head masseuse or something.

    There are lots of vanity presses in the world willing to take $500 from me, and there is no way I would ever work with any of them. And that’s *because* I stand behind the quality of my book/s. I don’t bribe publishers. In addition to being bad business, it’s unethical. I think (hope?) Amazon understands that.

    Second, I agree that 99 cents is not sustainable for writers. It’s a pretty good deal for *Amazon*, which is why they set the floor at 99 cents and not, you know, $9.99. It’s fine with Amazon if there are a million 99 cent books the each get bought only twice (by the author and his mom). Each author would make like 70 cents, and Amazon would make like $1.3 million dollars! Now that’s what I call business.

    The point is that it’s up to the author to decide what her writing is worth. No one is forcing writers to list at 99 cents, and if you’re paying cover artists & c., you shouldn’t list there (except for promotional purposes). I need to make at least a dollar from each sale, and I’ll be pricing my books with that in mind.

    Finally, there’s the quality issue. This causes a lot of anxiety among indie writers and readers. I wish there were fewer bad books in the world, but I don’t think Amazon needs to take severe measures. The people who are no good will try it once, fail, and move on to something else. Their books will drop to the bottom, or never rise, and after a few months, that will be that.

    If writers are serious about improving the quality of indie books, then we need to step up. Amazon isn’t an editor, and has no obvious ambitions (except in their more traditional publishing imprints) of ever serving in that role. Writers and readers are going to have to work something else out. Genre-based professional associations, maybe. Or maybe just leaving it up to the readers will work out. Who knows?

    P.S. It is possible to list your book for free on Amazon without joining Select.

  12. Interesting. But wouldn’t it also be an idea to offer authors something in return for that $500? Like some kind of read through-proofreading and/or checking formatting. Then the standard of publishing at Amazon would improve and the reputation of authors with books there would also benefit.

  13. Dawn Torrens says:

    Another great post Rob! I think you are right yet again on this subject. 🙂

  14. Dawn Torrens says:

    P.s I have also realized that you have to shell out to make your book as perfect as possible. With my second book “Obsession” I have shelled out for a prof editor and complete interior design of the paper back book and e-book formatting. So it’s as prof as it can be. Could I afford it “Not really” but I am serious about self publishing and my writing. So it is a great investment. When my new book is read by people, I know it will be of good quality. 🙂

  15. Kellianne Sweeney says:

    Good points Rob, spoken with your usual helping of passion. 🙂

  16. Ron Leighton says:

    Not crazy about the idea. It just means Amazon end up with some crappy books from people who can afford the 500-1000 bucks.
    Personally, if they’re going to do it, I like the idea of getting editing services for your money. After all, I assume your main point is to improve the quality of indie books, not merely to shut the door on people who don’t have extra G laying around.

    • rsguthrie says:

      I’m not sure when it is that we all decided we had a right to have our writing published and distributed for free, regardless of how much G we have (or don’t have) lying around. Just because that has been the first stage of the business model doesn’t mean that is the long-range business model. The crack dealer will give you a nice little taste or two, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get it free forever. 😉

      What honestly amazes me is how so many writers are honestly talking about “free publication” as if it should be the norm. I think a liquor license to open my bar (as well as the land, building, etc.) should also be free…I don’t think that’s going to fly, though. Seriously, why are writers exempt from the market rules that have governed “payment for services rendered” for a couple hundred years of Capitalism? I mean, I get why people LOVE the idea of publishing for free, and it’s definitely at least arguable how much impact such a move would have on the quality of the books in the marketplace, but we can’t honestly think Amazon (or anyone else) owes us a free ride.

      • Ron Leighton says:

        Exempt? I think it would a ridiculous stretch to say artists have been given a free ride by publishing corporations, in music, writing, or the like–ever. There is nobody doing anything for free. The author pays for Amazon’s infrastructure every time Amazon keeps 69 of the 99 cents, or whatever it is. And the author gives them some profit too. In general, companies have tended to do VERY well off of someone else’s art for a long time. With all due respect, it is absurd, not accurate, to say that writers have gotten a free ride, ever. You pay somewhere. Except perhaps the ghostwritten, sure-to-sell-no-matter-the-quality types. Everyone else tends to gain only a relatively small part of the profits with the publishers. When has this not been true?
        And free? The profit is generally built into the sale. I know you know this. 🙂 What you are talking about is, as far as I can see, helping Amazon to make money on books that otherwise make no money. But that is helpful to who or what really? Not writing? Am I missing something?

        • rsguthrie says:

          Calm down, Ron. 😀 I did not say artists ever got a free ride—I am suggesting just the opposite. The “old” model had the Indie author (read rejected writer) paying for a print run of 1000 books at approximately $4-5 per book (this is before POD, which still costs around $1000 upfront). In that previous scenario, the Indie author held all the product (1000 books) in his or her garage until they all sold (which in most cases they never came close to doing). And yes, you are missing something: the average Indie, self-pubbed book on Amazon sells a handful of copies a year. A large percentage of authors will never sell 100 books (which, BTW, would garner Amazon a whopping $65 for their huge share of said book). It would take an author selling 1,000 books for Amazon to collect $500 for any single eBook, and only 1-2% of eBooks will ever sell that many copies.

          The other thing you are “missing” is that Amazon isn’t “taking” anything when they have GIVEN you your publishing free of charge; you are “taking” 35%…you didn’t invest anything to see your book “in print” and distributed worldwide.

          And what I am suggesting is when there is no charge at all for publishing your book, you can do anything you want at the expense of the integrity of true, struggling artists. Did you know that there are many cases out there on Amazon (more in the beginning than now) where people published books with one or a few words repeated 50,000 times and sold copies because they were listed so cheaply? I’m saying when you provide a service to people free of charge, there are plenty of people who will abuse it (or, at the very least, not be serious about the venture) and that charging a nominal fee might be a first step in weeding out the less-serious “authors”. Nowhere did i say my intent would be for Amazon to make more money—I am simply stating the fact that THAT is what Amazon is in the game for: profits. And they will do whatever it takes to maximize them.

          • Ron Leighton says:

            I almost said calm down too. Haha. Amazon IS taking something. And so is the author. I think your opinion is a little heavily weighted towards Amazon, and less toward the authors, which is a little surprising. The poor dears are not lambs in the woods. They take on the task of publishing and distributing not as an act of charity, but with thought towards ultimately controlling as much of the market (re: authors AND readers) as possible and wringing out the highest possible amount of profit, whatever the quality of the work. They do it because they feel they WILL make a profit–a healthy one, even if it means not making anything on a large number of things they push through. The surfeit of low-quality work is a product of Amazon’s choices. Now, the Amazon model of late has sort of bridged the gap between the vanity presses and trad publishers of old (I hate to speak of the latter in the past tense!). Amazon is taking a gamble on distributing anything and everything because, frankly, they can. They can take chances the trad publishers and distributors can’t. If your main beef is the glut of low-quality books, I still think offering editing services and a vetting process would be a better way to go than just charging to get in the door. This could be paid for out of the price of the book or upfront, I suppose.

            The trad pubs kept the gate in the interests of quality. But not by charging authors money! I don’t know why you are going the way of charging money. The old system, as far as vetting goes, is not broken and they never charged authors (upfront, that is)!

            If I keep the gate by allowing in quality and you keep the gate by allowing in those who can pay, who is doing more for the craft of writing? My point is your model would definitely further enrich Amazon without necessarily improving the quality of writing. I’m sure that’s not your goal.

            • rsguthrie says:

              You are mixing apples and oranges. I agree, if a trade publisher accepts your book for publishing (then or now) they don’t “charge” you anything. But that means you aren’t an Indie—we are still talking self-publishing here. If you were rejected by every trade publisher out there (as were/are most writers, not just the poorly-qualified ones) then your options (pre-digital publishing) were to pay to self-publish. I costed self-publishing in the late 90s, early 2000s and it was $5,000+ for a minimum print run (usually 1,000 copies). I did the research and decided I wasn’t going to be stuck with 1,000 copies of my great novel gathering dust in my garage and me out the $5,000 that would have paid for something much more useful—however, had the technologies existed as they do today, my decision might have been different.

              As far as me seeming to be on Amazon’s side, well. I wish I held enough stock in Amazon to care how much profit they make off me. I am saying two things only:

              1. That I think they will eventually charge some nominal fee for self-publishing.

              2. And that it’ll be okay with me because I would appreciate my “profession” not being available to anyone without some kind of qualifier and/or investment to at least partially ferret out the serious writers.

              It’s all conjecture anyway. I don’t disagree that no matter what, there will still be huge quality control issues. It’s unfortunate to me that the traditional publishers (at least the “big six” or however many it is/was) became so over-selective. In some respects I suppose they had to with their slush piles becoming almost a joke with the ratio of unreadable to halfway decent skyrocketing. It seems to me that all has happened is the slush pile has moved from the publisher’s desktop to the marketplace and now the consumer is expected to wade through the dreck to find the gems. Not a pleasant prospect to us or them, i am afraid, pricing and costs notwithstanding.

      • Ron Leighton says:

        Just to emphasize or reiterate, I would say the vetting process of traditional publishing would accomplish the goal of publishing quality writing while the only thing charging authors would do is make an up-front profit on work might not be high-quality OR profitable.

  17. […] rather quickly. Thing is, there were so many excellent (and adamant) responses yesterday to the Amazon Pay-to-Publish post that I really thought it would benefit people who missed the “Comments” section to […]

  18. Ed Robertson says:

    So Amazon is going to change their business model–a model that’s led to the biggest ebook sales in the world, with tons of incentives for both readers and authors to participate, including some so sweet that writers happily provide their content exclusively to Amazon–in order to become the world’s largest vanity press?

    Meanwhile, do you really think even a $500 entry fee is going to discourage people from posting bad books? Or for people to stop pricing at $0.99? For a professional self-publisher who prices at $0.99, what’s an extra $100 compared to the several hundred they’ve already put in on art, editing, formatting, ads, etc.?

    So there are still bad books. There are still books at $0.99, both good and bad. And Amazon’s content suddenly shrinks drastically while authors turn to all the other markets out there that don’t charge a penny to publish. You really think this is an inevitable decision for Amazon?

    • rsguthrie says:

      Yes, Ed, I do. 😀

      • Ed Robertson says:

        Hah, fair enough, then. But I think there is zero chance that ever happens.

        I’ll make this concession–if any vendor could seriously try to pull this off, it would be Amazon. They’re probably the only place where it makes sense for a lot of authors to pay $100-500 to access, because they’re such a big market.

        Thing is, I think that market starts to shrink as soon as you put something like that in place. As Amazon’s ebook market shrinks, the less valuable it becomes to have access to that market. Even if this plan is more profitable in the short term, they run the risk of eventually collapsing and being overwhelmed by other markets.

        I think it would be very weird of them to take that risk when they are already doing so insanely well.

        • rsguthrie says:

          I’m glad you saw the humor in my short response! 😉

          I appreciate your opinion…the one thing I would like to ask you, in all honesty, is this: you seem to be talking about this as if “To Be Published Free Of Charge” is truly an inalienable right and that Amazon is some kind of unethical, cruel company if they steal that away from us. How is it you see writers as somehow exempt from paying for services rendered (publishing our books on their infrastructure and providing us worldwide distribution is certainly a service)? Do you honestly feel that is the author’s right, to have their work published for free?

          And for the record, Amazon makes almost nothing off most Indie-published books (anywhere from a buck for the book that sells two copies, one to the author and one to Mom, as one writer said, to only about $60 in a year for the “average” book that sells a handful of copies per month). Amazon is not doing insanely well on the backs of Indie self-pubbers. They are currently losing money in order to corner the market, yes, but in the end why would it be weird for them to decide they’d rather make several hundred million dollars off the next million self-published books than essentially making nothing?

          I really do appreciate your comments, either way! Cheers. 😀

          • Ed Robertson says:

            It’s irrelevant whether we have an inalienable right to be published. I don’t see where I ever approached that idea. All that’s relevant is whether ebook publishers are providing the means to be published for free.

            They are. So if Amazon begins charging authors, every other publisher has an immediate advantage on them. An advantage they can leverage as hard as they possibly can.

            What happens when Amazon no longer has more content than all the other vendors in the world? How long do people keep paying for the privilege of being added to a library that grows relatively smaller every day?

  19. Dalya says:

    I don’t see Amazon moving to charge us authors for publishing.

    I do, however, see them implementing an advertising program, with fees to appear on certain lists and in targeted customer emails. I would be willing to pay for extra “discoverability.”

  20. Katy Sozaeva says:

    Well, I resisted responding to Sev’s post, but it’s still bothering me, so I’m gonna comment. Please realize that I completely understand about needing to recoup your costs and hopefully make some money in the process, but at the same time, it seems to be to be unreasonable to charge the same sort of prices for eBooks that are being charged for p-books. Why? Well, consider this – eBooks don’t require the additional costs of printing, distribution and storage that p-books require. The more you charge for them, especially through an outlet like Amazon, the more THEY make on the procedure, and I can’t think of any way at all in which they’re being inconvenienced in the process, other than their “digital shelf space.” Admittedly, I’ve become so poor that I resist spending more than $5 on a p-book nowadays – I buy them on clearance sale, or I go to a 2nd hand shop, or buy them 2nd hand on the Marketplace – so that likely explains why I am likewise reluctant to pay more than that for an eBook, unless it is by an author I know well and REALLY love their stuff. Even then I am reluctant and wait until a) I have a gift certificate or b) someone else buys it for me.

    Another reason I’m reluctant to pay more, or even the same, for an eBook is that they are often so SHORT; I can see a p-book before I buy it, and know if it is really only 120 pages, but often eBooks don’t have page counts listed and you really can NOT tell from the file size. I don’t want to spent $2.99 on an eBook expecting a BOOK and end up with a short story.

    True, some of the free/99 cents stuff out there is dreck – but sometimes it is PURE GOLD and I will become a fan of the author and then go and buy everything I can find. But unlike a p-book, where you can flip through it at a store and get a feel for what it is going to be like BEYOND the first chapter or so, with an eBook you are buying on faith and reviews unless you are already familiar with the author’s work.

    All the above (and more) is why you will see me only readily buying eBooks at a lower price point; those at a higher price point will be either purchased as a used p-book for less, or put on my wishlist for the time when I have a gift certificate to spend, or for someone to buy for me. Only if the work is by a proven author, and is something I desperately want to read NOW, will I let lose a bit of the money I might otherwise spend on silly nonessentials like rent, food or medication …

    So, I think there needs to be a middle ground. eBook writers need to realize that readers are starting to resist paying more money for what is essentially a computer program – and something that can be lost if, for example, electricity suddenly stops working, whereas a p-book will survive that, at least, and still be available for years, for CERTAIN (unless book burnings come back). Also, in this uncertain economy, people just don’t have the disposable income. Readers will always find a way to get books – Goddess knows I always have – but they will be willing to spend a lot less for them. Thinking that eBooks should cost as much as p-books seems … unrealistic.

    On another subject, Sev mentioned the costs that even eBook writers incur – editing, cover art, formatting. But realize that there are GOOD editors out there who will work with independents and self-pubs to help them get their work edited at a reasonable price. I know at least one who will do it for barter. I know my rates have been considered VERY good. I know another who will give a discount. Of course, editors need to live, too, and many will charge about the same as the others, but if you LOOK you really CAN find a qualified editor for less. Same with art and cover art. You’d be surprised how many of your friends and family have the ability to create good quality covers – or even yourself. You do not have to pay the same prices for these things as trad pubs, and you also don’t need to pay printing or storage costs, so consider yourselves lucky on that respect.

    I realize there are good arguments on both sides of the situation, but I wanted a chance to voice mine – poor people need books, too!

  21. Hugh Howey says:

    Thought-provoking column. I appreciate the amount of time you put into it (finding pictures, formatting it nicely). You certainly practice what you preach, and I don’t take it for granted.

    I think one of the commenters had a great idea when they suggested a read-through for errors in exchange for the $500. Let’s take it one step further by looking at how Amazon has already altered the market with Kindle Singles.

    Singles are submitted to an editorial board, which approves them just like the gatekeepers in the traditional publishing model. The author, in exchange for producing quality, gets twice the standard royalty rate for a 99c work (70%).

    What if Amazon created a new tier for e-books, one that includes all the e-versions from the traditional houses plus anyone who wants to pay a fixed fee for editorial services. Keep the publish-for-free option in addition, but separate the stores. Just as a reader can sort through Kindle Singles knowing the quality has been approved, they could look through the e+ store (or some other branded name), knowing the typos will be minimal and the prose adequate.

    It won’t mean you’ll like what you find (drek is published every day in hardback form with gorgeous dust jackets and blurbs from famous people who haven’t in fact read the work). But at least you’ll know what you’re looking through.

    The reason I like this is because I think everyone should have the right to publish for free, and readers should have the right to expect more (or at least know what they are shopping for). Which market would I choose, as an author? I would continue putting my stuff out for free, relying on my own editing and beta readers, creating my own crappy covers, and mixing my books in with the rest of the hardworking blue-collar writers of the 99 cent ilk.

    I love it down here. Every sale is appreciated, every fan adored. But I do think Amazon would be smart to create a second tier up above me and make money off an editorial service. And I would wish every author who chose to participate the best of luck!

    Again: great write-up. Thanks for opening this debate up and for your excellent replies to other commenters.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks much, Hugh! A comment like yours is the one amazing shot that brings the golfer back to the course (if you’re not an amateur golfer, I apologize for the analogy—trust me, it’s a compliment)! Seriously, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate true civil discourse! I love all your ideas. Obviously I was only throwing out one simplified example—I love that people have come back with other ideas that benefit the author, provide more bang for the buck, etc. As an Indie myself, i certainly don’t want anything that cripples a good thing. Part of the problem here is that I opened up a couple different cans o” worms. There’s the $0.99 price point, amazon charging for publishing, and quality control in the market. It’s all interrelated, of course, but it’ making for interesting discussion (i.e. all over the board)! The one thing you mentioned that others have said and that I am having a hard time wrapping my head around is this: “I think everyone should have the right to publish for free…” I am someone who benefits from publishing for free yet I don’t understand that being a right. Not to pick on one word (“right”) but I can understand that authors LOVE it when it’s free—I just don’t understand the notion that Amazon (or any other company) owes anyone anything (beyond fair business practices, etc. of course). That said, it’s all good food for thought in my book. I just hope whatever Amazon decides (if anything) that they put as much thought into it as we have. Thanks again for reading and commenting! 🙂

  22. JR Tomlinl says:

    You start off with serious mis-information in order to build a strawman argument.

    Amazon does not have 90% of the eBook market. A couple of years ago its market share was 75% of the US market and that was before B&N and Apple entered the market. It is now estimated at closer to 60%.

    And considering that serious self-publishers already spend considerably more than $500 to bring out a new offering, your assumption that it would shrink the market so everyone could find your wonderful, superior book is pretty mistaken. In the meantime, B&N and Apple (and throw in Kobo since they’ve been bought out and should show massive growth in the non-US markets) would eat them for lunch.

    And by the way, you do realize that the $65 (times many thousands) Amazon makes on that novel is free money as far as they’re concerned. They already pay for the bandwidth and servers. But you think they are going to turn it down?

    Not happening, my friend. It has nothing to do with strawman arguments about inalienable rights. Using those kinds of invalid ploys just shows how weak your point is.

  23. Ron Leighton says:

    If nothing else, your food analogy at the end certainly made me hungry. 🙂

  24. I would just like to point out the fact that you recently had a 13-year-old author recently guest post on your blog. How in the world would a 13-year-old be able to pay the 500 dollars to publish his book? You would have never found out about him if he had to pay this fee. While, there are lots of crap books on Amazon, there are lots of diamonds in the rough. Diamonds that if there were a fee, never would have been found.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Not a great idea to point out my 13 year-old guest blogger as an example of someone who could not pay. The picture I ran with the posting shows my talented young friend with his hardcopy book—as of yet I don’t think anyone has found the paper publishing company willing to concede to giving authors free publication. Even POD contracts cost at least $500. BTW, take a walk down the street and do a mental calculation as to the monetary value of all the hardware teens are carrying around with them: iPhones, touch-screen this, portable video console that. A singe iPhone costs as much as self-publication at $300-500. We paid thousands for our son to play Tier I travel hockey—I would have been proud to pay $500 if he wanted to be a published writer.

      I get it that some people don’t want to pay (or would have a hard time paying for) publication. But we could say that about anything. It doesn’t change the fact that free publication is not a right. Whether (and when) Amazon decides to start some kind of charging structure remains to be seen. I am only pointing out some possible benefits from it and the reasons why no one should be surprised if they do.

  25. […] is a response to a blog post I read where author Rob “R.S.” Guthrie makes the case for Amazon charging authors to publish digitally. My initial reactions came in a rush, and I’m not giving them the usual amount of consideration I […]

  26. I would hate to see Amazon start charging for publishing, although I agree it would cull out some of the chaff. However, if they do it, they should give authors a higher percentage of the sales or refund all or a portion of the $500 once book sales hit a certain mark, say 1,000 sold. After selling 1,000 copies, maybe the author could start receiving a refund of $100 for every 1,000 sold or something. That way, the “gatekeepers” would be the readers. If the book is popular, then it would prove itself.
    If they do start charging for publishing, we would have to carefully consider whether to continue with Amazon or focus on sites like Smashwords and Barnes & Noble instead. We’d have to do a study on the finances of it.
    Great article, Rob. Lots of food for thought.

  27. EW Greenlee says:

    In the world of business you can be certain that executives and managers are looking at every option to charge extra. It is common practice to build a large volume of dependent followers, then begin the slow process of implementing new fee structures. Publicly traded companies main purpose is the maximization of shareholder wealth. If I don’t see this happen, I’d be highly surprised.

  28. Hope Welsh says:

    Hmm…here’s my two cents on this article.

    At that $500 or $100—-authors will pay it. A writer, no matter how bad, doesn’t believe they write bad–so they will pay to put their book up. Just look at some of the longer-surviving vanity presses out there. They survive because Joe Writer wants to see his book in print–it’s certainly not because they are anything resembling reasonably priced to publish.

    There are some very good self-published authors. Readers need to download the samples and read the reviews–be their own judge.

    I’ve read books by the NY 6 that weren’t worth the paper they were written on, and I’ve read 99 cent books that have hooked me on an author, such as Amanda Hocking, HP Mallory and Imogen Rose. Those three ladies are self-published (or were) with first books generally 99 cents.

    The 99cent price point has a place–especially for those writing a series. Try it and see for 99 cents–then pay the 2.99, 3.99 or 4.99 they charge for the future books.

    Or in the case of 2 of the 3 authors above: Pay the $8.99 that NY now wants for the books, since they picked up the authors in huge contracts. Hocking made a 7 figure advance.

    I have 3 books up under Hope Welsh, and a few erotic up using a pen name I won’t get rich, certainly. But, it gets my books out there. I simply make more by doing it myself than I make with the two titles with publishers. Why should I give them my money?

    Good article, though 🙂

  29. […] author R.S. Guthrie @ Rob on Writing created quite a stir when he suggested that Amazon should start charging people for digital publication. Read the debate it generated here, and Rob’s follow-up responses […]

  30. Ahmad Taylor says:

    Mr. Guthrie;
    While you make some very enlightened points, and while I partially agree with your premise, I agree to disagree about the true benefit to either authors or consumers by charging a fee to self-publish (frankly I don’t care about Amazon’s profit margins, and I doubt any author out there is worried much about what kind of profit they are taking in).

    In regards to the author, breaking into the traditional publishing arena is an extremely difficult, and strenuous process, one which leaves most out in the cold.

    Now while you, and maybe even I in some respects, may feel that the many hoops that an author must jump through just to get a query through to an agent or to one of the few houses that allow for direct author submissions, creates a quality barrier that not any joe schmoe with a laptop can breech, the truth is that there are many decent, and very talented writers out there who will NEVER have the opportunity to have their life’s work read by anyone due to large “slush piles” and other means agents and houses use to whittle down the masses of manuscripts they receive yearly.

    I can say that as a writer and someone who has sought out other authors to gain knowledge from their experiences, the entire process that has existed since the first printing press went live, is very disheartening to many and whether it has been your dream since birth or not, many truly talented writers can and will lose their gumption and constitution after a few hundred “No’s” or more realistically, just the traditional no-answer that they receive.

    The tradition “Big-6” and other houses that have emerged throughout the years to create a stranglehold on the market have had their way for far too long and authors have gotten fed up with trying to play a game they don’t even know the rules to, and frankly one in which the rules often change on a whim. This is why vanity presses came about, to give an author with the desire, and maybe the talent, and some cash an avenue in which to get their voice heard.

    Now in my own attempts to get published I went the traditional course, which was the route of the 150 or so “no-answers”, followed by a handful of “not for us at this time”. Now you can judge me on my conviction or not, but the whole process left me both physically and emotionally fatigued and caused me to put down my manuscript for several months due to sheer frustration.

    Now it was never my intention to quit the process of querying forever, but I did need a month or two to collect my thoughts, pick my ego up from the gutter and get the strength to go through another round of “maybe this time”. Long story short, one month turned into 7-months and were it not for the self-pub “indie” option, I may have still been sitting on my manuscript, trembling from the fear the “6” and others caused me to feel.

    In reality I am not necessarily a fan of vanity presses. I think they prey upon the weak or arrogant or both, but in one regard they do serve a worthwhile purpose. The vanity presses of the world allow the literary market to be controlled by those who should have had the control all along: the consumer. Consumers are the ones who should determine who and what should be published, and what the overall price of something should be.

    In theory, our society is free to dictate what is “worthy” of being published, purchased and read. What Amazon to this point, has done is finally put the decision into the hands of the consumer to judge for themselves what author has talent, what book has “teeth”, and what price a book is truly worth.

    If a truly talented author wants to sell his masterpiece for $.99 on the open-market that is Amazon, and allow any person with an internet connection to read his or her novel, that should be their right, and the only ones who should decide whether that is a fair price are the consumers who decide to purchase that book.

    If the work is crap and the price is too high, sales will show that, and the author will not have many. If the work is literary gold and the price too low, the author will have the option of raising the price while still maintaining good sales numbers.

    As you stated in your article, price does not always determine true value, and if the consumer wants to overpay (your point being that $.99 is too much for many books on the market) for a terrible book, it is and should be their prerogative. I may read my fair share of books that I felt should have been destroyed in the author’s mind before I had to be subjected to it. Some of these books have gone on to find a niche somewhere, in some cult culture or some grouping of fans that I don’t understand, and sold plenty of copies. This is the way the market should be (I’m hearing “Free to Decide” by The Cranberries in my head right now).

    You suggesting that Amazon go the way of the vanity press will cause many talented (but financially debilitated) writers to make tough choices that in the end may cause them not to publish, thus depriving the consumer of some worthy creations.

    While I agree with you that a portion of the “talentless” will sit on the sidelines if a publishing fee is instituted, I think that the risk of losing the good and even great writers far outweighs the risk of letting the bad and terrible compete in an open market as they do now.

  31. This is a very interesting discussion.

    I have mixed feelings about Amazon charging authors to post their books. But some sort of weeding-out process wouldn’t hurt. As a serious, professional, lifelong writer who takes my craft very, very seriously and spends A LOT of time making my work as perfect as it can be, it is troubling to see so much hackneyed wannabe unreadable crap glomming up the marketplace, distracting readers from more professional work. Such dreck de-legitimizes indie publishers.

    Let us also remember that for years and years Amazon lost money on every book it sold. Because they were thinking long term. Which is smart.

    Rob, you made a great point about the slush pile being (at least partially) transferred into the marketplace, which leaves the reader to sift through it. This is not entirely a bad thing. Consider folks like Amanda Hocking. She was a complete unknown. Amazon played a key role in her getting where she is now: onto the bestseller lists and into negotiations for film rights. This is where we ALL want to be.

    Would Amanda be where she is today without Amazon? Perhaps.

    Perhaps not.

    We’ll never know. She now enjoys a unique status as a hybrid author. She has her own self-published titles, and she also has her titles being released through a traditional publisher.

    May we all be so fortunate.

    It may help to look at Amazon and indie publishing as a proving ground. I predict that more and more authors such as Amanda (and of course John Locke) will be ‘discovered’ by trads/Big6 and will be given sweetheart deals. This ‘discovery’ will of course only occur after the author has spent thousands of hours writing, editing, re-writing, re-editing, mastering the self-publishing process, acquiring a cover, etc etc etc. We all know the process.

    Overnight successes usually come after years of determined effort. Like Joe Konrath says: There’s a word for a writer who didn’t quit: PUBLISHED.

    Luck, after all, is when preparedness meets opportunity.

  32. Chuck Rothman says:

    The idea has already been tried. It’s known as a “Vanity Press.” It didn’t help for the authors who used iUniverse or Vantage Press or PublishAmerica and it won’t help here.

  33. […] way of background, this discussion stemmed from author Rob Guthrie’s post, Amazon Charging For Digital Publication? and a follow-up post. And let me be clear on one thing right up front: I mean no disrespect to Rob […]

  34. Stephen Ames Berry says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful and provocative posting, Rob.

    Amazon’s charging big bucks to publish books strikes me as a fine way to stifle creativity and make obscure the writings of the truly talented while promoting the scribblings of the merely rich. It would have the benefit of creating viable competition for Amazon, though, as authors who dine below the salt decamped enmasse to new publishers.

    I’ve also an elitist model to propose, one based on demonstrated talent rather than on bank account balances: As a way toward helping readers separate the wheat from chaff, let there be a Kindle Category “Traditionally Published Indie Authors.” At the moment there’s no way for readers to easily distinguish between those of us who successfully ran the gauntlet and had our works published by the Big 6 from those who haven’t. Readers may not like our books, but typically we write reasonably well–though I do miss the copy editors. *virtual sigh*

    Cheers,

    Steve

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks for the comment, Stephen! My biggest concern in all of this is honest to God decent Indie writers getting a chance to showcase their wares (i.e. rise above the chaff, so to speak). Look at what American Idol did for singing talent out there that had faced so many closed doors. At least AI has a process that attempts to separate the chaff. Who knows? Again, I appreciate your intelligent post! Cheers back atcha. 😀

  35. […] February 17, 2012, in his Friday blog on Rob on Writing, Guthrie said that he would welcome the day when Amazon decided to charge indie authors to put […]

  36. Stephen says:

    Liked your words via Trish Gentry’s website.
    Mostly agree with your views and helps me decide to self publish in April.

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