Digital publishing and ebook retailing are still quite the numbers game, as ongoing reports on book sales can clearly demonstrate. But what is less obvious in this topsy-turvy industry is just how much of the game is being manipulated behind the scenes by artificial factors.
Case in point: earlier this summer, author David Gaughran highlighted an ongoing scam in which unscrupulous content pushers relied on bots and fake accounts to drive a stolen book up the Free charts on Amazon, then reaped the benefits of the KU page reads in the days that followed. That story can be found here.
Now, a report from Publisher’s Weekly shows a different problem, one that points to Amazon showing preferential marketing treatment to books published by its own Amazon Publishing imprints. With Big Five ebooks costing more than lunch for two at most fast food joints and self-published authors hanging back in the 99-cent space, that left a great deal of money to be made in the typical AP price point of $4.99 or so. With some strategized marketing of their own books, Amazon outsold both Big Five and indie authors in this year’s mid-year report.
“Nothing has changed in the way we count sales,” a representative wrote in an email to Publisher’s Weekly. “We haven’t changed how titles are promoted. These titles are priced competitively and participate in new and growing reading programs like Prime Reading and Kindle Unlimited.”
If there’s even a hint of truth to any fingerpointing that Amazon is taking care of its own titles first, it begs the question: why is anyone surprised? More importantly, what would you have Amazon do differently?
This still smacks of the tired old complaints about the “Evil Empire” taking over the online and physical book selling spaces. Is Amazon somehow supposed to act against its own interests because books are art? Or should the company that produces books also be allowed to benefit when it is the very same company that sells the books?
Years ago, branded websites for publishers–from then-Big Six down to the lowest author penning his serialized high fantasy ebooks–to be able to sell their titles without the need for a middle man were all the rage at the big publishing conferences, but the fact of the matter is, they didn’t work. Reading consumers don’t care who the publisher is, and they’re not going to shop for books at ten different websites when there’s one massive site that can sell them all. Authors and publishers can either cut ties with the largest book retailer on earth, or find new ways to reach paying audiences themselves.