Saturday, May 15, 2010

Amazon, Smashwords and Free reads

Amazon has recently announced that they will no longer be listing free Kindle edition books on their Kindle best seller list. The use of separate free and priced bestseller lists will make it clearer which books sell in volume based more on appeal than price point.

The change may reduce the promotional clout of free editions somewhat, but a more serious obstacle would be the Amazon-gatekeeping of free Kindle content. Despite the existence of a distibution agreement, Amazon continues to be spotty in their uptake of ebooks from Smashword-- and the reportedly refuse to list their free content at all.

There are arguments that Amazon should not have to carry free books and so be required to cover their nominal wireless cost for download. However they are hosting free books for large presses, so why is this reasoning applied only to small presses and self-publishers whose works, realistically, probably represent a smaller download burden?


LLBook said...

Once again we're pushed to the back of the bus. I just love literary racism.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Well, Amazon has some specific formatting conventions that they are requiring from their aggregators, hence the Smashwords books not being listed yet. But Smashwords is working with their authors to get into compliance. Smashwords has NOT distributed any books yet to Amazon Kindle. This was the same with Apple. All ebooks had to pass the ebook validator before aggregators could list. It's not content they are gatekeeping but formatting, and I can't say that I blame them. I have seen some really poorly formatted ebooks. I also don't think this diminish the promotional aspect of free books, it's still a way for an author to draw in new readers.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Oh and a retailer doesn't have to carry anything they don't want to.

I heard an advertisement for a new electronics store opening near my home and they specifically stated that the store would be: excluding manufacturers that did not allow discounting by the retailer. Free content may work for the author, but it's not always beneficial to the retailer, and in the free market, the retailer gets to decide how best to run "their" business. Which is how it should work, no matter how unfair the manufacturer thinks it might be.

Emily Veinglory: said...

I said that not allowing free content would make sense. But how does allowing free content from large but not small publishers make sense. Because Amazon specifically will not be accepting free Smashwords books, and the specifically do allow free ebooks from the big five. That is a double standard.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Sure it is, not fair at all, but free stuff from big publishers nets better than free stuff from indies. It's not a double standard because all publishers are not created equal. The standards certainly are different between a big NY house, a Small Press, and a DIY Self-published author.

It's never about sense or what's fair, it's about making money, and the rules don't have to be fair. Since I don't have access to Amazon's market analysis, it really makes the discussion futile, but I am pretty sure that people who download a free ebook from a major publisher net better sales than someone who downloads a free Indie book. Not to mention, the big 5 have the clout to negotiate a better contract, which includes the option to offer free books, buy front table and end-cap space, etc. Indies just don't have that power.

It's not literary racism, it's just common sense practical business acumen. It has nothing to do with the content, it's all about sales.

And anyway, Amazon offers Indies free publishing into their system, Createspace technically only charges for the proof copy and Kindle is totally free. So to say that they are Indie friendly is an understatement; however, they do have a business to run. Friendly doesn't pay the bills. And if their analysis tells them that free Indie books don't net much in the way of sales, well then, why bother.

Shit, Lightening Source charges set up fees and a $12 per year cataloging fee to list, Indie or not. Amazon doesn't charge anything but the proof copy to list with them, and Indie Reader, just another ecommerce site, an ecommerce Indie Advocate site, charges $149.00 per year to list and $25 per book after the first one, and they don't do any distribution at all.

I know, as an Indie, I should be shouting against inequality here, but as a business person, I just can't. I think Amazon has been more than fair to Indies.