Negative stories about Amazon are pretty popular at the moment. If you believe what they say, you’ll see Amazon as no more than a predatory, destructive monster which kills bookshops with its low prices, impoverishes countries by not paying enough tax, and is destroying authors’ lives. Well, there is another side to this story. A side where Amazon is a force for good, which is where I sit. This is why…
Let’s take readers first. They are, after all, the most important people in the publishing world, for the simple reason that they put all the money into it (they really do – let’s not forget that). Thanks to Amazon, readers can now have any book they want either delivered to their home the next day, or to their Kindle almost immediately at very low prices, after reading the first few pages from the comfort of wherever they choose to be. I love books and I love reading and this is why I think Amazon is great – it provides vast choice, market-leading value and convenience. Successful retail is about giving customers what they want. Amazon does that. It really is that simple: I am a very happy, satisfied Amazon customer. And I am a long, long way from being alone.
Now publishers. Silvertail Books has been around for two years now, and over that time I’ve learned many things, most of which are far too boring to mention here. The most important has been the difference between romance and reality. The idea of dealing only with independent bookshops falls into this category: it is a lovely and romantic notion, but I live in the real world, one where there is a mortgage to pay, food to buy and in which days only have twenty-four hours and weeks only seven days, and so I am irresistibly drawn to anything which helps my books sell, while also saving me time. Such as sending out books in bulk straight to a retailer, for example. A retailer who a) will stock any book you want them to, b) can sell books to anyone, anywhere in the world, c) pays their bill on time every month, d) tells you exactly how many books have been sold clearly and accurately, and e) has lots of happy, satisfied customers. That retailer is Amazon. And then there are ebooks. Silvertail Books, about as small a publisher as exists on the planet, can sell books electronically anywhere in the world with distribution costs of precisely zero, thanks to ebooks. Two of my books, The Church of Fear by John Sweeney, and Bare-Faced Messiah by Russell Miller, have sold a good few thousand copies in the US. Those sales – impossible without Amazon – are vital to the health of my business. For a small company like mine to be able sell that many units in a foreign market at such a low cost is surely something worth celebrating, for me, at least. I have also just published When In Doubt Be Nice, by advertising legend Peter Mead. He is known by advertising people across the world, and thanks to Amazon I can sell books to all of them (I hope very much that I will.) And then there is Elephant Moon, also by John Sweeney. This book has now sold almost 70,000 copies, which astonishes and delights me. The vast majority of those sales are ebooks, sold through Amazon. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that something which should put a smile on the face of anyone who loves books and has even a smidgeon of regard for small businesses trying to make their way? A publisher’s greatest challenge is finding and curating books which sell. It’s also not something Amazon can help you with. But what they can help you with is distribution, to such an extent that I can honestly say without Amazon I wouldn’t have a business. And anything that is good for me as a publisher, is good for my authors. So Amazon helps writers too.
Finally, tax. As a rule, I try to pay as little tax as is legally possible and I am fairly sure just about everyone else in the country is the same. That’s what Amazon does and, as long as it’s legal, I cannot see why they should be criticised for it. I, for one, would be a hypocrite to do so. While we’re on economics, Amazon employs people too. They pay NI, income tax, all those things. Another good thing the company does.
So I don’t think Amazon is something to fear or boycott or even get angry about. We should be celebrating and embracing the opportunities it offers, not condemning it.