It’s no secret that Amazon, like Google, Apple and FaceBook, is a juggernaut. Amazon has set its site on global booksales domination, and eBook domination (via Kindle). It has taken on Cable TV and Hulu with its Amazon Instant Video program and continues to march towards becoming the next Walmart. That quality in itself tends to breed antipathy.
Add to this list, the continuing decline in the number of real bookstores, Amazon’s agenda of driving down book prices, and its “doesn’t-play-well-with-others” Kindle system, and you have a recipe for outright disgust. In fact, a number of writers that I know and respect have called out Amazon for using its position to put a squeeze on book sale profits.
But, as a small-time writer and big fan of all kinds of books, I have a completely different view. In fact, I am generally pro-Amazon. To begin with, if it weren’t for Amazon, a lot of books (including mine!) would not exist. My publisher (Greyhart Press) and a number of other small publishers (including my own publishing project, Last Light Studio) take advantage of both Amazon’s publish-on-demand technology as well as its democratic marketplace.
Before publish-on-demand, it was difficult and expensive to get a book out to the public. Traditional printing methods required that small presses ordered a minimum number of books (usually in the hundreds, totaling thousands of dollars), dealt with the cost and logistics of storing those books, and covered at least part of the cost of distribution (including- in many cases- the price of returned books)
Even if a small press could handle all that, it was uncertain as to whether their books might ever land on a shelf. Most book chains and even small bookstores work closely with big distributors that already have a clear agenda. To be sure, there has always been a handful of strong independent presses that have been able to find bookshelf space- Graywolf Press (no relation to Greyhart) leaps to mind. Also, bookstores might stock independent books with local flavor (for example, a bookstore on Cape Cod might offer a murder mystery set on the Cape), but by and large, prime bookshelf space has mostly been reserved for the big-time publishers.
But Amazon is different. Amazon hosts two different publish-on-demand systems. One for print (Createspace) and one for eBooks (Kindle). These systems are open to almost everyone, there is almost no minimum print run (meaning small presses can begin operating on a smaller budget) and distribution is handled by Amazon itself, eliminating the complexities of warehousing books and having to ship them.
When it comes to sales and placement, Amazon is virtual and therefore has infinite shelf space. Not only that, but it welcomes all comers, from Random House to the self-published author, and gives them an equal chance (or at least a more fair chance) at reaching a reading audience. That’s a powerful catalyst because it allows for more voices and more creative outlets. It also allows for the existence of more small publishers that can focus on specific genres or ways of storytelling, or even specific audiences, audiences that might not be served by the large print houses.
In short, give Amazon a break. Its publish-on-demand systems are beneficial to writers, small presses, and readers, offering greater opportunities for creative outlets, allowing more voices to be heard, and removing some prohibitive financial and logistic hurdles for small presses.