The Oligopolists’ Market: Amazon Hegemony
Amazon is the member of the internet oligopoly comprising Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon — most of the time internet is surfed on smartphones; therefore, Apple is included. Amongst these, Apple, Google and Amazon are also in the e-book publishing business. Microsoft also has a publishing wing, but it’s mainly into technology books. Of course, Amazon is the oldest player and has near monopoly in the business. It enjoys the loin share of the e-book retail business, very much like Google enjoys the loin share of the search engines business. Amazon hegemony in e-book publishing and retailing business is undisputed.
Of course, all monopoly and oligopoly is bad, but I am most concerned about the publishing business because through it the oligopolists can control thoughts. Till now, traditional publishers ruled the roost. In fact, even now they are pretty prominent, and elsewhere I have opined that they shall remain ever important. But, as I see, they mostly cater to celebrities. A Twinkle Khanna may write gibberish but a Penguin will make that gibberish the best seller, which is acknowledged first at Amazon. Amazon may like to claim they only work by rules, and their algorithum decides the shelf space, but everybody knows what happens behind the scenes. Indeed, they promote books published by traditional publishers over those published by Indie Authors. In a way, Amazon is playing fraud with Indie Authors: it claims itself to be the guardian of Indie Authors but is facilitating the traditional publishers to swallow them
Indie authors are at an obvious disadvantage to traditional publishers. They don’t get access to celebrity media reviewers. They don’t get press coverage. They don’t get covered on TV/electronic media. They don’t have deep pockets to sell through advertisement on social media. No wonder traditional publishers are so supercilious. An author’s most important tool is his writing, which gets acknowledged best by its readers. But the readers are so impatient these days that they don’t leave a review or rating even when they like a book. Also, there is a possibility that commercialization of reviews through Influence Marketing has made every ordinary person with any writing skills, whatsoever, a potential influencer and a reluctant reviewer — I think Influence Marketing is the worst manifestation of the rot that business’ takeover of the society has produced.
A reviewer is the second most important tool of an Indie Author. He is the introductor of an author to the world of readers. But most of them charge fees these days, which brings them in immediate conflict with the interest of the readers. Nevertheless, there are some dedicated reviewers too, who write reviews out of their passion for reading and of course sans fees. Most of them can be found on Goodreads. But whether Goodreads per se is a platform worthy enough to enjoy the gathering of such dedicated reviewers is a question of great importance (My personal experience with Goodreads has been extremely bad, and I am adamant to teach them a lesson).
It is not just incidental that Amazon has acquired Goodreads and now it owns it. In fact, Goodreads’ only source of income even earlier was affilate marketing mainly through Amazon. But now when Amazon has acquired it, Goodreads has ceased to be an independent platform for genuine reviewers, fully and finally. As is the usual practice, Goodreads may claim itself to be editorially independent, but the problem remains even if it is assumed to be as such: you can’t sell on Amazon if you have a conflict with Goodreads because you can’t sue Goodreads without making Amazon a party in the suit (and if it’s for defamation, it’s even worse).
Even otherwise, everything that Amazon does is contrary to the reviewing process. The first and foremost necessity of the reviewing process is the possibility of providing free copies of the book to the reviewers, which in case of Indie Authors is mostly fructified through provision of e-books. But Amazon doesn’t allow even an author to download a free copy of his own book, leave aside the reviewers. Furthermore, it doesn’t allow free pricing of the book, which if done could attract reviewers through free give aways for a limited period. Unlike Smashwords, it doesn’t allow discount coupons, which may be distributed amongst reviewers. Its Amazon Exclusive program is a detterent to perfect competition, where only the reviews matter, and is indeed an attempt to monopolize Indie Author publishing, but, of course, nobody cares — I wonder if there is any more “Rule of Law” in the US or the world anymore: these tech entrepreneurs just don’t have any respect for law and rights, but nobody ever takes them to court unless it’s Europe.
I have observed that the growth of Amazon has also led to the emergence of businessmen writers like Amish Tripathi, Chetan Bhagat, Robin Sharma, etc, who though disguising themselves as liberals actually write conservative. It is a filthy combination of conservatism and liberantarianism, which does well to further corporate and business interest through promotion of ideas like Nationalism, Religion, Yoga, Hindutva, etc. My perspective is limited to India, but this might be happening similarly elsewhere as well. I have a conspiracy theory that the internet oligopolists are working in tandem to promote the above ideologies. They have delienated their infleunce areas and don’t interefere in each other’s territories, very much like Mafia. This compact has made them even stronger than Nations, and nobody dares to challenge them. Amazon has appropriated the territory of thoughts. The alternative thoughts are gagged immediately through multiple tactics like feigned ignorance, poor reviews, defamatory campaigns, and, most importantly, through denial of justice. The confirming thoughts are promoted through better shelf space, access to campaign reviewers, brand building through social and electronic media, etc. Writing has traditionally been the fiefdom of liberals, but it seems Amazon has orchestrated and executed a successful coup, almost silently.
I wonder what can be a solution to the above problem. Indeed, there are numerous websites, which promote free e-books, but free e-books, irrespective of their quality content, always carry the tag of inferiority. It is very easy to condemn a free e-book as a poorly edited, shabbily written, pulpable text though the reality might be different — who has the time to read a book to qualify its content; people experience things out of the perceptions formed from other people’s user experiences. If the early adapters condemn a book as inferior quality, nobody gives it a second look, and the early adapters can indeed be sold-out negative influencers working at the behest of the oligopolists. So, I don’t think one can become an established author by selling free books. He can at max become a mediocre author with a respectable niche audience. Anything beyond that would be attacked and curbed immediately. So, the solution is not free books.
Some Indie Authors have established themselves as big brands through sustained efforts though I am not sure how many of them are actually good writers — I haven’t read any; the first thing in my to-do list is to read atleast one of them this week; suggestions are welcomed. Furthermore, it doesn’t look like this brand building happens without substantial expenditure. It is all supply side economics, and Economies of Scale do matter. Is it worth the efforts, time and money to compete with traditional publishers’ promoted authors through brand building? Very difficult question to answer! More so because whatever the selection process, the traditional publishers do ensure that the books published by them look professional enough. Indie Authors often compile their books poorly and act lazily with editing. Most of them are indeed unprofessional, which gives futher ammunition to the oligopolists to even condemn a good Indie authorship. Same tactics apply here as in the case of free books.
Is piracy the solution? It may seem paradoxical but piracy does help free writing. It is the best assistant of free books. Pirates hardly have any motivation to transgress the authorship rights. Their main motivation is money — sometimes I beleive they do it for revenge. Whatever, their acts turn out noble for the genuine authors, who won’t mind loss of income for brand building. However, the pirates help extremely creative writers only, who don’t spend anything other than their time and have other sources of income for sustenance. Pirates can be seriously detrimental to non-fiction, esp technical writing. I will have to admit I have read pirated copies of non-fiction writings without any qualms though in every deserving case I have included them in book reviews on my website — I hardly read fiction. So, this doesn’t seem to be the solution either because people like me also, who are concerned about good writing, don’t waste an opportunity to steal books, which makes further writing impossible if the author ends up dying of hunger.
So, indeed there is a problem to which there seems to be no solution. But have I thought out of the box! Ironically, this box carries the mark “Amazon” on it and even then I didn’t think or see out of the box. Rather, I should have jumped out of the box immediately. But this doesn’t seem to be my unique problem. I have never seen anybody jumping out of the box. At the most they think or see out of the box, which doesn’t disturb the legitimacy of the box. Unfortunately, there are no out of the box solutions even to this problem. The only solution is to jump out of the box, and break the box thereafter if necessary. The Amazon hegemony is the biggest threat to Indie Authors, and unless they jump out of the box, they will keep losing breath inside, but the post-mortem report will never read: ASPHYXIATION.