Monday, October 4, 2010

Strange goings on at Amazon

An interesting thing has happened recently over at Amazon.Com. Used to be, independent Kindle authors could not offer their books for free via Amazon. The cheapest list price we could offer books for was .99 cents.

Of course, there was lots of grumbling about this, why were big publishers allowed to offer the first book in a series for free, for example, but an Indie author with a series was not. But that’s the way things were.

Flash forward to this past summer. Amazon’s royalty went from 35% to 70%, with the caveat that books got that 70% royalty only at prices of $2.99 or more. No surprise this caused many authors (including this one) who had been offering books at .99 cents or $1.99 to up their prices to $2.99, hoping the larger royalty might offset lost sales at the higher price.

Of course, behind the scenes, Smashwords was offering their own publishing platform, hooking up with Barnes and Noble and Sony, allowing authors to offer “coupons” to prospective buyers, allowing immediate changes to sales prices, and generally being a far better experience and interface for the Independent author, except that it doesn’t really sell very many books. But Smashwords DOES allow authors to give books away for free, which Amazon doesn’t.

So apparently, many authors were offering their books for free over at Smashwords, however selling them at the .99 cent minimum list price over at Amazon, a clear violation of Amazon’s terms and conditions. You are not allowed to offer a book for a lower price elsewhere. But I guess struggling authors do what they have to do, right?

Except for this one. I made all my Smashword prices match my Amazon prices, and the free short stories (which I’d LOVE to make available on Amazon) I didn’t upload to Amazon at all, because I’d have to charge a minimum .99 cents for them, violating their publishing agreement if I kept the stories free at Smashwords.

Flash forward to this past weekend. It seems many of those same authors who offered their books for free on Smashwords and .99 cents on Amazon logged in to discover that Amazon.Com had made their books available for free.

Hundreds and thousands of books by these authors were being downloaded, much to most of their delight (remember, they wanted to offer them for free anyway, as a tease to get folks reading their other stuff). They were shooting up the bestseller charts as well.

And just to make things interesting, their Amazon dashboard appears to be giving them the 35% royalty on these “free” books. One author posted a screenshot of their Amazon dashboard showing they made more than a thousand dollars over the past few days.

Part of me wants to be really happy for these folks, getting thousands of new readers and all this exposure. And part of me wonders why Amazon.Com appears to be rewarding those who seem to be in violation of their terms and conditions.

But most of me is just really, really jealous.


Aaron Polson said...

Sweet mother of cash cows, how did I miss this boat? (because I'm sure Amazon will put the clamp down, and fast)

Brendan said...

I'll update when there's more news. Not sure you go to Kindleboards.Com, but if you go to the Writer Cafe childboard of the Book Bazaar you'll see some breathless discussion going on. Literally, 2000 downloads a day for more than a few writers. But I'm . . . very . . . happy . . . for . . . them.