Amazon is getting considerable grief, as in Richard Russo's op-ed in today's New York Times, for some of its more aggressive commercial tactics. Doubtless its actions require monitoring, but it's hardly worse that the bare-knuckle tactics employed by Microsoft and Apple in their turn. These are new markets and they have some evolving to go through still before becoming more tightly regulated.
For ebooks, and for indie publishers, Amazon is virtually the only game in town. It provides useful tools for authors and it works hard to adopt customer-friendly interface and service. Along with many other indie authors, I've decided to take advantage of further benefits now being offered by Amazon and give them exclusive sales rights for the ebook version of The Grand Mirage.
For one thing, virtually all ebook sales of Mirage so far have been through Amazon. For another thing, the granting of exclusivity is paired with a couple of promotional opportunities, which are experimental and unproven, but worth a try. Both are somewhat counter-intuitive because they involve essentially giving the book away.
The one is to include The Grand Mirage in the new lending library for Prime customers. Amazon obviously is scrambling to find alternatives to free shipping for Prime customers as it sells more ebooks, which of course don't require shipping. So people who can keep to a three-week reading period can loan out the book for free.
What does the author get from this? Amazon is setting up a fund to pay authors a pro rata royalty each time the book is lent. It remains to be seen how much this will actually be, but this is an idea authors have long desired to see implemented in libraries for physical books. Authors also get a crack at that not-so-intangible word of mouth. The more people who read the book, the more they will talk about it to their friends, even give it as a gift.
The other benefit in the Amazon exclusivity program, called KDP Select with KDP standing for Kindle Direct Publishing, is five "promotional" days, during which the book is offered for purchase at no charge. There is presumably, though I haven't studied this in detail, some actual promotion of the book to Prime customers and the benefit to the author, once again, is heightened visibility and word of mouth -- the biggest challenge for an indie author.
Following the lead of my mentor in all things ebook, Jim Bruno, I'm also raising the price of the Kindle edition to 4.99 from 2.99. There has been some evolution of thought in the indie market that the higher price provides a better signal of value to the prospective book purchaser. Again, it may seem counter-intuitive, but many authors have reported an increase in sales when they increase the price.
None of this is irreversible. Enrollment in KDP Select is for an initial period of 90 days, automatically renewable. I can lower the price to 0.99 tomorrow if I choose. None of this may have any impact on sales. We'll see.
I'm willing to do what I can to support my local bookstore, but if Amazon offers me ways to get my book into readers' hands, I'm happy to take them and leave responsibility for preserving the old system to Richard Russo and the other mega-bestselling authors who have profited so well from it.