A debate is ongoing at Techcrunch regarding reviewers on Amazon.com leaving one star reviews for books simply because those books are not yet available on Kindle. Whilst browers have the right to post reviews on Amazon and Amazon have the right to moderate comments as they see fit, three misconceptions keep creeping into the debate which need challenging.
- Authors can choose a different publisher.
- Authors should negotiate Kindle releases in their contracts and should self-publish if they can’t.
- Production costs are minimal.
I’ll deal with each in turn.
Authors can choose a different publisher
- We’ll ignore the role of literary agents for now as the debates have excluded them.
- Publishers are gatekeepers so get to choose the authors (not the other way round).
- If a publisher asks to look at a manuscript they generally expect to have exclusive rights to it, ie authors generally don’t submit a manuscript to more than one publisher at a time therefore authors do not get several simultaneous offers for publication (which would give the author a choice).
- When an author receives an offer of publication on reasonable terms, they have already accepted numerous rejections from other publishers.
- Not surprisingly authors tend to regard offers in terms of “I can accept this or I can remain unpublished.”
- Remaining unpublished is not an option.
Authors should negotiate Kindle releases in their contracts and should self-publish if they can’t
- It’s usually literary agents that negotiate contracts.
- Publishers tend to use terms like “digital rights” which include e-book releases regardless of the format of the e-reader.
- Kindle releases come under the umbrella of “digital rights” and are not negotiated separately.
- Authors can’t dictate to the publisher when books are released and what format that release takes. Publishers decide publishing dates according to existing schedules and market conditions.
- Publishers retain the ability to withdraw the contract.
- Authors do not have the choice of simply going elsewhere (see above).
On the self-publishing point:-
- Self-publishing is not suitable for every author.
- Self-publishing is only an option if the author can afford the costs and give up time to promote, market and distribute the book.
- As this article shows, authors are paid less than the average wage and generally have a supplementary job to enable them to pay bills so finding time for promotion, marketing and distribution is not an option for most authors.
Production costs are minimal
They are if there is a book to reformat for Kindle in the first place. This argument fails to acknowledge that an author has to write a manuscript in order for a book to be available in any format. Therefore, any production costs include the cost of the author writing the book. Unless Kindle users are suggesting that authors shouldn’t get paid…
And that’s the puzzling thing. Authors would be the natural allies of Kindle users, particularly if Kindle users want authors to negotiate contracts that enable Kindle-editions to be available when Kindle users want them. But these “one star as it’s not available for Kindle” reviewers are slamming authors for events beyond their control.
Perhaps it’s just easier to slam authors when Kindle amounts to less than 1% of total sales. No business model would bother catering for that market share at the expense of 99% of customers. The “one star because it’s not available on Kindle” reviewers have yet to put together a convincing business argument for their demands.