Amazon: Christian Authors Beware

Amazon is a massive giant and growing. Consider the following facts:

  • Half of all U.S. households are subscribed to Amazon Prime.
  • Half of all online shopping searches start directly on Amazon.
  • Amazon captures nearly one in every two dollars that Americans spend online.
  • Amazon sells more books and toys than any retailer online or off.
  • Amazon sells 67% of all ebooks and 64% of online print book sales.

authors-beware

As an author, you cannot ignore Amazon.

Recently, the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) published the results of a study they conducted. The study “Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities” provides in-depth details on how Amazon is monopolizing the economy, undermining job growth, and weakening communities. Consider a few more interesting factoids:

  • Amazon increasingly controls the underlying infrastructure of the economy.
  • Amazon’s Marketplace for third-party sellers has become the dominant platform for digital commerce.
  • Amazon’s Web Services division provides the cloud computing backbone for much of the country, powering everyone from Netflix to the CIA.

ILSR warns that Amazon’s power as a gatekeeper in our economy will increasingly have negative consequences. One example ILSR sites is that “Amazon’s power to manipulate what products we encounter is especially concerning in the book industry, where it now commands more than half of sales, and where it can stifle the exchange of ideas simply by removing a book from its search and recommendation algorithms, as it did two years ago, in its dispute with the publisher Hachette.”

Christian authors, do not take this warning lightly. ISLR is on to something very important here. Amazon is not a Christian company, nor are they friendly to Christian books. Yes, Amazon lists almost every book for sale on its website, but that does not mean that the company is sympathetic toward Christian books. In fact, the opposite is true.

A member of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) recently brought this to my attention. This gentleman had published an ebook on prayer via the Kindle Direct Publishing program. He then signed up to use Amazon’s Marketing Services to run an ad campaign on his book. Amazon denied his ad campaign and cited their “Creative Acceptance Policy”.

I urge you to go to Amazon and read this policy. This policy states the following:

  • Unacceptable Books: Books with content that is threatening, abusive, harassing, or that advocates or discriminates against a protected group, whether based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age or any other category.
  • Restricted Ad Content and Books: There are several customer experience sensitive categories that are not appropriate for a general audience. The following categories may be restricted from the homepage and Kindle E-reader placements: Religious or spiritual content.

In addition, the email that Amazon sent this author stated, “we are unable to approve your ad if it contains overtly religious or spiritual ad copy, images, or symbols (for example, the Star of David, a crucifix, the Star and Crescent).”

I believe that moving forward, Amazon will increasingly restrict religious content on their site through the means mentioned above. Personally, I find it sad that the Christian Retail Industry has not done more to embrace small publishers and independent Christian authors. In not doing so, they have partly been responsible for the rise in Amazon’s power, as these publishers and authors were forced to rely on Amazon for book placement and sales.

Related Posts:
Amazon is Still King
Amazon is Not a Distributor
Amazon’s Price Fixing Attempt

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Do Your Homework!

In the era of self-publishing, publishing services for authors have sprung up everywhere. Amazon, the innovative giant that it is, saw an opportunity in the market for self-published ebooks. To capitalize on this opportunity, Amazon launched Kindle Direct Publishing.

Not to be left behind, Barnes & Noble followed Amazon and launched its own digital self-publishing platform, Nook Press. Then Kobo, desiring to remain competitive put into motion a digital self-publishing platform, Kobo Writing Life.

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Interestingly, a late comer has joined the fray. Books-A-Million has recently launched BAM! Publishing. This DIY platform goes beyond Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo. BAM! Publishing allows authors to create both print and digital books. In addition, they offer a wider sales distribution than just their own marketplace. Authors using the BAM! Publishing service can choose wider distribution to include Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and others through their partnership with Ingram Digital Distribution Network.

You may be wondering if Books-A-Million is investing in printing equipment for this new service. Interestingly, they are not. BAM! Publishing will be offering print book services through Espresso Book Machines (EBM) located in a few of their physical stores. Authors ordering print books can choose to either go to a store with an EBM to pick up their copies or can have them shipped to them.

I find BAM! Publishing an interesting idea for Books-A-Million to capitalize on the Espresso Book Machines they have. However, BAM! Publishing is not inexpensive. After all, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo all allow you to upload a digital book and sell it on their site for free—no upfront cost to you. Not BAM! Publishing. If you would like to make an ebook available online through BAM! Publishing Marketplace and through the Books-A-Million website, the cost is $129. BAM! Publishing then pays a royalty rate of 80% of the Retail Markup amount for each ebook sold. The service is charging an even higher fee for wider ebook distribution (to Amazon, BN, etc.). This fee is $279 to have your ebook available in these channels for three years.

While Books-A-Million is trying to be innovative, I believe they may be pricing themselves out of the market. After all, savvy author and publisher understand that they can use Smashwords for free for a wide distribution of their ebooks, or they can choose to upload their books to the three major ebook sellers listed earlier via each’s self-publishing platform for free.

Additionally, those authors and publishers who have done their homework know that they can get their books listed for printing on any Espresso Book Machine for free via OnDemand Books’ ExpressNet SelfServe for U.S. Publishers. EspressNet SelfServe is the web-based interface that allows publishers to upload their titles directly to EspressNet, the proprietary software that connects the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) to a vast network of content, enabling EBMs to order and print books. Publishers uploading books through EspressNet receive a 25% royalty on the retail price of the book.

Just because a service is being offered does not mean it is competitive or worthwhile. Always do your homework. Book publishing and distribution does not need to be expensive. It can be very affordable if you take the time to learn the avenues available to you. Sadly, too often, authors seeking to see their book in publication jump on what they perceive to be the easiest route. However, often they end up spending more than they ever make back in book sales.

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