The Reality of Amazon and the Digital Publishing World

Amazon is being proclaimed the Death Star of publishing by authors (Scott Turow called it the Darth Vader, but let’s go bigger), bookstores, the Big 6, the Little 17, and the Weird 55 and all life as we know in the known, and unknown, universe.  All I’m seeing is people on both sides sharpening their blades and slashing at each other.  From Joe Konrath’s “Amazon is going to destroy you”, to the Author’s Guild post, to the various boycotts.   One would think they’re offering small children up to Satan somewhere in Amazon’s corporate headquarters in Seattle the way some are reacting.  Or at least a virgin or two.  Like they could find one.  Well, I’m sure they’ll be selling them soon enough.

Here’s the deal.  Amazon is a business.  They started out with books.  My take, after sitting in a sales force recruiting breakfast in Seattle last year for military academy graduates, is that books are their badge, but overall retail is their main concern.  The word ‘book’ was never mentioned in that meeting.  China was.  As in distribution warehouses being built there.  Amazon sells motorcycles!  They’ll be selling body parts soon (at least according to some).  They’ll be selling real estate once they figure out how to do it.  And that’s the key:  they’ll figure out how to do it, because Amazon is active rather than reactive.  Amazon was founded in 1994.  Went on-line in 1995.  Only 17 years on-line.  I had to ask myself, how much had I changed my business model in 17 years?  Not much until January 2011.  When I went 100% indie.  Turned 180 degrees as an author, joined forces with Jen Talty and formed Who Dares Wins Publishing.  (isn’t it kind of cool how our new logo, which Jen did, encompasses the world?) We went from selling a few hundred eBooks that month to earning seven-figures.  How have other authors, agents, publishers and bookstores evolved and changed since 1995?

Not a single one of the Big 6 (and why isn’t it the Big 7 and let’s include HQ?) prepared for the digital onslaught of eBooks despite the very obvious and damning evidence piling up.  Can we say destruction of the music industry ten years ago?  Netflix shifting from DVDs to download?  Blockbuster?  Ellora’s Cave?  War Games?  The Terminator?  HG Wells?

Look to the right.  There >>>>>>.  That way.  Do you see six titles for FREE including my first original release Chasing The Ghost, a book about a damaged Special Ops soldier, Horace Chase, caught up in lies and deceptions and whose protagonist is very near and dear to me? Buy them NOW! (That’s called subliminal messaging)  They are in Kindle Select and are free this week.  Authors argue about Select and some damn it because it requires 90 days exclusivity in the program.  That’s called marketing and each author’s choice.  I choose to enroll at least one title a week for FREE this entire year because I can.  (Psst, next week I’ve got a blog post coming where I will, once and for all, give you the single secret handshake for successful digital publishing– if the Illuminati don’t get to me first).

Now look below those six titles to my new release Black Ops: Section 8.  It’s exclusive.  On Nook, aka Barnes & Noble.  For 30 days and is already in the top 25 overall and climbing.  I helped PubIt come up with Nook First last year.  That’s called networking and running a business.  The first book ever in the program before it was even named that, was The Jefferson Allegiance.  Within 48 hours it was the #2 overall book on Nook (couldn’t beat out some pesky title called The Help) because Barnes and Noble said something to me I’d never heard in 20 years of traditional publishing:  “How can we help you sell books?”  I about dropped the phone when the B&N rep said that.  And I’ve had a Kobo Rep say the same thing.  An Amazon rep.  One of the Little 17.  I will have six of my new titles in Nook First this year along with other titles from Who Dares Wins authors such as Colin Falconer.  (Check him out! Big time in Australia but not one of the Big 6 or the Weird 55 would give him a shot in the US, because you know, Aussies aren’t popular in the US– go back home Russel Crowe and Nicole Kidman).

For some strange reason, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Readerie (something we’re going to help launch because it’s an exciting concept to allow lending of books where authors still make money) and other platforms want to do this radical concept in publishing:  sell books from authors to readers.

Not distribute books.

I’m not playing Amazon against B&N against Kobo against Smashwords against the Ewoks or the Little 17 although I am done with the Weird 55.  I’m working with all of them because I run a business.  It’s called being an author.  In order to successfully continue to do that, I must sell books.  To readers.  They want to help me do that.  I want to help them do that.  Let me help you.  Help me.  Help you.  Help me.  Help you.  (Give me a call?  Drop me an email?)

And that’s my point.  This is a business.  Not a slap on the back, happy go lucky, fellowship of the book.  Because all these middle people screaming about Amazon would shove the door shut in my face in a heart beat if my books didn’t help their P&L statement and many have done so over the last 25 years.

Amazon might well destroy some middle people.  If so, perhaps those people weren’t prepared for the future?  Maybe they aren’t changing their business model fast enough?  My take at Digital Book World last month listening to many “gurus” who are with publishers or advising publishers is that they are a year behind the digital explosion.  Such a lag can be fatal in today’s business world.  I saw presenters stumbling to remember terms and programs that should be second nature to a digital publisher:  Thus Jen Talty and I wrote The ShelfLess Book: The Complete Digital Author with an official pub date of 26 Feb, but it is already available in eBook on the various platforms.

When I received a mission tasking as a Special Forces A-Team Leader after being alerted, the Battalion Commander never came in, gave me the tasking and asked “How do you feel about it?”  He told me to do the mission.  He, higher headquarters, the National Command Authority and the United States of America didn’t give a damn what Captain Mayer felt about the mission.  They expected me to get it done.  We weren’t supposed to be concerned when the intel guy said 50% casualties expected for the first Green Beret teams on the ground, you know, like yours!  My team sat in our secure Isolation facility and came up with the best damn plan we could, briefed it back, got mission approval (or not approved and relieved of command for being an idiot and not planning expertly for the future), got on the plane and jumped, choppered, swam, rode a horse, walked, skipped, wtf, we needed to do to get there.  And then we did it.

Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc. are shortening the distance and time between the author and the reader.  That is the reality.  That is the future.

Now get your parachute on and get on the damn plane.  See you at the IRP (Immediate Rally Point) on the DZ (Drop Zone).


About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on February 21, 2012, in Promotion and the Writer, Write It forward and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 61 Comments.

  1. A changing landscape requires new and flexible perspectives. Great post.

  2. “My take at Digital Book World last month listening to many “gurus” who are with publishers or advising publishers is that they are a year behind the digital explosion. ”

    Could not agree with you more!

  3. Yes! I’m a Web-entrepreneur who now writes books. My first book was “traditionally” published by a big house. I could tell even before my book came out that their business model was wacky. (This was in 2010 right before all this self-pub talk became hot). I came to the conclusion, as a business person, that the “business” of me writing books would be better served if I did it myself.

    I get it, not everyone runs a business, or wants to think that way. They just want to write books and have fun. Fine, but realize that you might not ever sell any books at all with that attitude. Just like building a big new Web application, a book isn’t going to sell just because you wrote it. Content creation in any form is only the first step. Marketing and selling are next and essential.

    Jim Kukral, (free to join)

  4. Jillian Dodd - Glitter, Bliss and Perfect Chaos

    I think that is the biggest challenge for self published authors right now. They think they can upload their books and poof they will start selling. When that doesn’t work, they offer them for free. Not as part of a planned out marketing strategy, but out of desperation for people to see their work. They have to realize not only do they have to write books, they have to be entrepreneurs. I don’t comment much, but I really appreciate your posts and how you share so much of what you do.

    • “Strategy” is the magic word. :) I’ve read enough of Bob’s blogs (and had the good fortune to listen to him speak in person once or twice) to know that it’s not just *what* you do, but *why* you do it, and if it’s not part of a larger plan with a goal in mind, you’re just flailing and may get lucky…but you may not.

      Savvy authors and readers both are turning their attention to discoverability. How to discover new authors up your alley, or how to discover new readers that want what you’re writing.

    • Key points on What and Why. Something we are always discussing, especially as we continue to evaluate our plan and how that fits in the changing landscape.

  5. LOVE this blog posting! And former Captain Mayer, you sounded just like a Gunny there at the end! :-)
    Seriously…..As an author who is emulating your somewhat fluid business model and succeeding beyond my expectations, thank you for taking the point and not sugar-coating the message. Knowledge is power – not an original thought, I know, but so apt.

  6. Go Bob… would like to reply, but there’s nothing more to add, really.
    Get on the damn plane.
    Thanks for that.

  7. I’ve started towards the plane with smashwords. Two picture books last month. Thanks for the post. Bob, you always light a fire to keep me moving forward. Thanks.

  8. Thanks for the great post Bob. I’m tired of the Amazon bashing. If not for Amazon I would never have discovered all the wonderful authors and their books. Been to other sites but Amazon is the best.
    laura thomas

  9. The title of Joe konrath’s post “Amazon is Going to Destroy You” was a dig at folks who are paranoid about Amazon – his point was the same as yours: Amazon is a successful business and got that way by giving consumers and authors what they want.

    • Amazon is going to put some people out of business. Walmart did the same to many small businesses. I understand the concerns of those whose livelihoods are threatened, but tilting at windmills makes no sense. I didn’t like where publishing was going tow years ago. Instead of bitching about it and fighting it, I looked at the future and changed my business model. If I had not done so, I’d be out of business right now and doing something other than writing for a living.
      I get where Joe is coming from. There is a desire sometimes to poke a stick in the eye of those who cannot see. But I also think we can’t predict the future. Publishers will adjust. They’ll get leaner and more efficient. And they have a ton of talent in their ranks that is necessary for great books to come alive.
      A blog post I’m working on is that we each need to consider whether we are the type of person who needs to burn our boats to succeed or we need a catastrophe plan to fee us creatively.

  10. Once upon a time my mother listened to her soaps on radio. Now my daughter sends me free downloads of current movie titles. Better yet, this year one of the leading soaps went on-line :)

  11. Reblogged this on Alchemy of the Word and commented:
    For anyone interested in publishing, you need to understand this.

  12. Big 6, the Little 17, and the Weird 55 Snort! Bob, I love you in a platonic, non-stalkerish way. Great information, once again, on the world of Indie Publishing. Also, thanks for the free eBooks! Although I have hard copies of many of yours, having a copy on my Kindle means I’ll never have to worry about 1) who lent it to and 2) if I’ll ever get it back.

  13. Love it! Your posts just keep getting better and better. You should be a writer or something…..LOL
    Thanks (as always) for the kick in the pants. Looking forward to next post!

  14. My “hybrid” approach to this has been poked at by many an indie author of late.

    Yes, I’m publishing still with the Traditionals, but I’m also contracted for two books with a digital-first imprint that has an author-focused business model I respect (Entangled), AND acquiring/editing other authors to do the same with them. In my mind, that’s sticking with what’s worked for me for 16 best-selling novels, while exploring the change happening around me for new/better opportunities (just like I’ve done from the start). Others disagree. If you’re not “with us,” you’re against us, whether “us” are those who only publish traditionally or writers who’ve moved to an all-indie approach. Just blogged about some of the flashback I’ve received, actually.

    Multiple streams of income work for me, while I continue to write the best stories I can for the readers who are demanding them. My path or Bob’s might not work for you. So, learn what you can from what everyone else is doing, then come up with your own stellar plan. Make your own rules and solve your own business problem, however that looks. Who cares how it looks? That’s the best advice I’ve received lately.

    The modern writer must take responsibility for his/her decisions and stop pointing fingers at the “established” corporations or risk-taking authors who are stealing their publishing opportunities right out from under them.

    As Bob says, adapt. Act. “Lead, follow, or get out of the way…”

  15. I’m working on this. I too am an Amazon fan, wouldn’t have the sales I do without them. My question: How can you help me? I’d love some help. I have the pieces in place, only one that might fit your company. Where do you see that working?

  16. Thanks again, Bob. Terrific post.

  17. Reblogged this on The World of The Tiger Princess and commented:
    Want to know what’s going to happen in the next few years in the publishing world? Well I think this post says it all…

    Let’s be active rather than reactive…

  18. So will the guild of agents/reviewers/publishers/librarians/booksellers that control the public vetting process be assimilated, or overthrown? Genre fiction and niche books seem to have overrun the guild (using web-based “community”), but the less defined mass market, general interest, and non-community books are having a tougher time connecting with readers.
    Success is inevitible, though, as the guild focus tightens. Interesting and revolutionary books will only come from the indy world. Findability is the key.
    All roads, it seems, run through Amazon.

    • Not all roads. I know some very successful indie authors whose Amazon sales don’t compare with their sales in other venues.
      The vetting process is more than just the quality of the book as many would like you to believe. Often, books aren’t acquired because the agent/editor/publisher doesn’t “see” the market for it. They not only have to publish what they believe are good books, more importantly they have to publish what they think can sell. Which makes the complaints about Amazon’s business practices a bit disingenuous when it’s actually more straightforward than what publishing has been doing for decades.
      Thus we see any celebrity can slap together a book and get a deal, regardless of talent or ability because the publisher believes they can sell it. Often wrongly.

      • I was too terse. This blog conversation stuff is tough.

        The vetting process I was talking about is: (Some) Librarians won’t consider a book unless it has been reviewed by certain reviewers who only review trad books. There is no other door, there is no other path. We’ve found about 50% of libraries operate this way.

        Same deal with bookstores, although we gave up on them long ago.

        You’re right about the trad’s wanting to make books that make money, which is fine. But they’re bloated internal processes mean that they only make money on huge books. It’s up to us to create the interesting stuff. I tell people I write Tom Swift meets Henry Huggins. Moms go WOW!, Agents go HUH? But realistically, trad publishers may not be successful selling my books. They abandoned the infrastructure long ago. Boys don’t read because there aren’t new boy’s books because boys don’t read because….

  19. Bob writes, “Not a single one of the Big 6 … prepared for the digital onslaught of eBooks despite the very obvious and damning evidence piling up.”

    What could they do? We’ve reached the denouement for Big Publishing. Digital content distributed over the ‘Net is producing the classic effects of disintermediation and lowered barriers to entry by competitors.

    Readers are going to insist on paying less and less for their reading material in the future, and you can’t sustain a $2B/year company on a $300MM/year — and shrinking — revenue stream. The Big Publishers have been relying on their “star system” of authors and series to keep their e-books selling even at the $14.99 price point, but those authors and series won’t last forever.

    There’s plenty of room for small publishers (smart ones with low overhead or with day-jobs like Amazon) and for self-published authors. But the future has no room for the behemoths.

    A Big Publisher has three choices: 1) pretend nothing’s happening and wait for things to get bad enough that their corporate masters to shut them down, 2) prepare to become a small publisher, or 3) prepare to get out of publishing altogether. Looks like they’re all going with door #1.

    My personal prediction, worth every penny you paid for it: Hachette will be the first to fall. It’ll probably be a few years yet, though.

    • Print is still very lucrative especially when you have a brand name author. But outside of that top tier, it’s a rapidly losing proposition. Again, though, I think there are quite a few smart people working on solutions. I’ll be posting at Digital Book World on their revamped web site next week about some thoughts on where things might be heading.

  20. Great post. I was dropping off some books for consignment at a local Indie bookstore last weekend and I was chatting with the clerk about whether they’d prefer to just order them directly from CreateSpace through expanded distribution. Her reply “We don’t deal with the enemy.”
    The enemy. I suppose she was referring to Amazon. I make more if they deal directly with me so no skin off my nose. But her comment stuck with me. The “enemy.”
    If one gets into “battle” mentality, isn’t one just trying to survive the day? Seems that if they focused on how they could grow their own business – more of a fun game than a war – it would be more profitable thinking.
    I’m getting on the plane.

  21. I enjoyed all of this, comments included:)…I intend to sit down with a very strong cup of “joe” and take a look at this again. I have to admit, sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming. But, it IS necessary if we’re going to catch the wave…or maybe I should say, wax our boards for the tsunami. I’m out there with indie pubs, (short stories and a serial) but in need of “much” help with the marketing…

    Thanks, Bob!


  22. I love these posts. Do you not sit in some of these things, or observe the playing field, and think “WTF, over?” I can’t imagine how you can contain some of the stuff you’re thinking as you’re watching, but bravo to you for maintaining professional decorum and carrying on w/the mission at hand. I’m still struggling with the fact that despite outstanding success, your print publisher isn’t beating down your door and offering you the sun, stars and beachfront on the moon for a piece of the action. It boggles the mind.

    It’s great though, that there’s less middleman. Unless a middle man can bring something of value to the table, he/she is really not necessary or welcome.

  23. I see you’ve appropriated the cap badge and motto of the British Special Air Services regiment for your logo, Bob. Embracing the dark side of the Internet too?

  24. It’s the motto of 17 Special Forces around the world. I didn’t think De Oppresso Liber– to free the oppressed, the motto of US Special Forces had enough punch although it might apply quite well to authors.
    When we revamped the Q Course at Fort Bragg we ‘borrowed’ a lot from the SAS selection and assessment. I have nothing but the greatest respect to the SAS.
    On the flip side, I was in 10th Special Forces Group– experts in winter warfare– and during the Falklands War, remembering we had to give up our Extreme Cold Wet Weather gear that we were test bedding (Goretex before it was popular, polypropelene, and other gear) to some fellows who were unprepared to fight in the extreme environment in which they were. I like to think a fellow performed a bit warmer in combat using my gear.

  25. Help me. Help you. Had to laugh over that one. Bob, your sense of humour keeps me reading to the very last line when I super-speed-read everything else I have to do online. This is essential reading and I intend to share on FB immediately!
    Thanks. I’m buckled in and seated on the damn plane.
    Yvette Carol

  26. Awesome post, Bob. Freaking awesome!

  27. Great post. IMHO, Amazon IS trying to “take over the publishing world.” And I say, good for them. That’s the beauty of capitalism. People are paid for their labors and ideas that work. If other companies want to compete,they’re going to have to step up and get creative the way Amazon did. As long as the government doesn’t give any one company an unfair legal advantage, then Amazon isn’t evil. It’s just a very business savvy company that not only knows how to play the game but has every intention of winning. The competition needs to look out or look forward and start playing catch up.

  28. Bob, As a CB, I remember HeWrote SheWrote (saw your comment on Jenny’s post today), and it does my heart good to read your blog and know that you are so excited about writing – and now e-publishing and the future!

    You go, guy. And tell Jen HI from the CBs!

  29. Fabulous post. I love how you deliver the information with a sprinkling of humor and a slice of snark.

  30. Michael Gallagher

    Excellent post and right on the mark – this is a business, not a starched-shirt club in an old dark wood lounge where people smoke cigars and talk about how business should be run. The Big 6 and whoever else you want to put in that corner are missing the mark time and time again – as well as a lot of the authors out there who are still drinking the Kool-Aid.

    What we really have here is a buggy-whip industry that has, for the most part, failed to evolve. The days of over-publishing the number of copies, sticking to your tried and true stable of authors, and, literally, kicking down people who write a pretty good tale but don’t have the brand name are reaching out and biting them in the ass – and I love it. Not because I want to see an industry fall down, but I love seeing how those who innovate, take a risk on an emerging market, and see success with products that help the consumer (in this case, good books for an affordable price and immediate purchasing / gratification).

    It doesn’t hurt to have control as an author or self-publisher and make a buck or two in the process.

    On another, related note – I think I am enjoying your industry insights via your blog more than your novels!

    Michael Gallagher

    • Yeah I agree Michael, the archaic world of publishing as we know it is dying a slow death. And yet at the same time, we need to keep a real good eye on the folks like Amazon who are taking over the brave new world, to make sure they’re not just another master in a different suit. We writer folk these days need to take matters more and more into our own hands and stop relying on everyone else so much.
      Yvette Carol

  31. Yeah, about Ellora’s Cave. Which started in 1998. And was three years behind Hard Shell Word Factory even so. The Big 6 chose to turn up their noses at ebooks when there was already a healthy and growing body of readers who preferred them. Successful ebook publishers were–and are–sneered at and warned against and snubbed for a decade and a half. Does anyone really think reality is going to set in now?

    • I remember Hard Shell. And I was with Richard Curtis’s e-reads back in 2001. Sometimes it sucks as much to be too far ahead of the curve as too far behind.

      It just seems weird that none of the big publishers had anyone sitting around preparing plans for what might happen. That was what made Special Forces– Special. We prepared for all contingencies.

      • Sometimes it smacks a bit of head-in-the-sand behaviour. I’ve gotten the feeling the big 6 and others were waiting, to see if the phenomena was just that, and would all go away. Problem is they’re still waiting….
        Yvette Carol

  32. Another great post with a very valid argument. It’s all a business and it’s survival of the fittest. Nice job with the subliminal messaging haha.

  33. Well said! Those are my thoughts, too, as a soon-to-be-published author.
    The gatekeepers have been the first to cry fowl because someone else made a road around them. They should have figured out how to adapt instead of watching the approaching steamroller and denying that another highway was coming through.

    As a consumer, I am very grateful for Amazon. It means I can afford to support some authors instead of only reading what I could get from the library.

    (now to go download your books as I’m sure my brother would like them)

  34. I’m a newbie. Who exactly are the Weird 55?

  35. I’m published by a traditional publisher. The editors are debating whether or not to go the ebook route, going on for sometime. If they don’t decide soon, I think they’ll regret it. More power to indie publishing. Mary Hagen

  36. FANTASTIC POST. What more can I say? Well said. Thank you! I especially love the bit about shortening the distance between reader and author: yes, yes, yes! Glad to have found your blog, Bob, and am following. X

  37. I’m a Newbie. I recently self-published on Amazon, in Kindle Format, Give Your Child the Gift of Reading!

    Since, I am exploring new territory and, of course, stepping out on faith, not knowing yet how it will turn out; positive comments about the success are reassuring. Thanks so much for sharing good news!

    Oh by the way, what does Indie mean?

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