I have to confess to a lot of dissonance with the current conduct of Amazon.com – being that I have a huuuuge number of books up there on Amazon, buy an equally huuge number of books from them, and as an indy author among many, went into enthusiastically providing content for their launch of the Kindle e-reader early on. The Kindle was seen (correctly, in my humble opinion) as a means to economically route around the whole indigestible bolus of providing print copies of books to interested readers through traditional publishing, a means which involved discounts to a distributor, print costs, shipping costs, storage costs, return discounts and return charges … it cut out that whole cycle of shipping and accounting for concrete (in the metaphorical sense, not the literal) copies of printed books, in favor of … wheee! Text files downloaded to a reader device! Instanter! No shipping or warehouse fees, no dependency on the eccentric whims or availability of a local bookstore! No return fees, for possibly and eventually a sullen little trickle of royalties three or four months after the original sale! Freedom! Our books, straight to the reader! I did a talk early on, to a book club in a small town in South Texas, where there was nothing much for 170 miles in any direction for any but perhaps small religious bookstores, now that drug stores and the like no longer even have the wire racks of paperbacks stocked by small distributers the way that they used to do. I think that most of the readers at that event bought the Adelsverein Trilogy on their Kindles – all that they needed to do was order the book, go outside (remember, this is at least a decade ago) and bam! They had their book! Was the 21st century great, or what?!!
So the indy authors in the group that I hung out with, metaphorically speaking, were all about Kindle readers (and those other eReaders which came along later), both as a means of avoiding the gatekeepers of the Mainstream Literary Industrial Complex, and because we could provide readers almost directly with what we wanted to write, and what readers wanted to read. Yes, a lot of the output provided by indies was, as the great Theodore Sturgeon put it, the 90 percent dreck that almost anything popular is … but the remaining 10 per cent was pretty darned good, and there remain a lot of indy writers making nice incomes from their readers and fans who will never, ever feature in the New York Times Best-Sellers lists, not that they mind at all, since those indy writers are chortling all the way to the bank. Some of them have done very well, even well enough to get a belated look-in by the Mainstream Literary Industrial Complex. I’m not one of them, and I’d reject any such offers, being that I prefer being in total control of my work, small as it is in comparison to those who have gotten ahold of the brass ring.
Anyway, as loathsome as Amazon’s business practices have been, early and especially of late – for indy writers, they are the biggest platform available to us. We cannot, at this point, afford to cut off our literary nose to spite our face, although it is agreed among discussions, that we should explore alternatives, and jump to them as soon as a better presents itself. Nothing personal, Amazon – just business. As for Amazon’s other business besides books … well, there you have a comprehensive search engine with regard to consumer products. It has been suggested that consumers should use it to research an item … and then use the information posted thereon to go directly to the provider and order it from them. Seems sensible to me, cutting Amazon out of the economic loop. Buy directly from the small, or big corporation – it can’t possibly cost any more, especially since Prime seems to have gone wonky of late.
Some few years ago, I got to be an Amazon Vine reviewer. I have no notion of how this bit of serendipitous good fortune came to me; posting a huge number of reviews on books and movies which were noted as ‘helpful’ by purchasers over a certain period seems to have had something to do it with it. Swear on a stack-a-Bibles, I have never exploited this good fortune to the extent that I might have done – getting review items for free on expensive items given to me for free (save for the tax value reported to the IRS for which I do have to pay at the end of the fiscal year), pounding out a review and then reselling the goods on the secondary market for a modest profit. Honestly, I was never offered much early on – mostly books, but since late 2018, after an apparent internal and expanded revamp of the Vine program quite a few nice and relatively high-value items were offered to me on my Vine queue: household and gardening items, things like faucets, ceiling fans and light fixtures, tools, a couple of printers, a laptop and a desktop computer, and of late, baby items for the prospective grandson … all for the cost of trying them out and doing an honest review. It’s a fortunate circumstance which has saved a bundle when it came to home and garden improvements. The Daughter Unit and I joke about “The House that Bezos Built”, as there are so many small elements in the home renovation which came our way through the Vine program. I don’t plan to give this up; however, I will continue adhering to my caveat of not asking for high-value items for which I have no use other than to re-sell them at a profit. (I’m quixotic that way.) I will make especial note in the review of where such items were manufactured. If it’s from China, I’ll say so – and if manufactured somewhere else, I will say so, loud and proud.
Additional edit: And speaking of Kindle books – my latest historical novel, My Dear Cousin: A Novel in Letters is now live on Amazon and available.