Vive la Indie Revolution


Over the past few years there’s been a revolution in self-published novels, and it’s far from complete, but it’s healthy and vibrant thanks to Amazon.

Like Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft & Apple, Amazon started in a garage before growing into a multi-national corporation with a staggering US$74 billion dollar turnover in 2013.

Like any large corporation, Amazon has had a checkered past, with claims of tax avoidance in the UK and allegations of poor working conditions in its numerous warehouses.

You can’t accuse Amazon of being a wallflower. It’s an organization with clear goals and aggressive drive, learning from its mistakes and pioneering new markets, such as independent publishing.

Call me naive, but I think Amazon is an intelligent, progressive organisation. Ah, I can hear the cynics already crying, “Amazon’s only after one thing, shareholder profit.” Maybe. Maybe not.

In 1970, Milton Friedman popularized the notion that companies exist for the sole reason of making profit. Even on the surface, such a position is clearly flawed as it says the only moral in business is money. Certainly, there have been plenty of examples of this, from the Wolf of Wall Street to the infamous example of GM pennypinching on the safety of the Corvair, but that doesn’t make it a correct assertion. Hollywood popularized this notion with the idea that greed is good, and in recent years we’ve seen the rise of the Occupy movement to try to curb this destructive notion.

Friedman’s comment has been called “The dumbest idea in history.”

In reality, the only reason for a company to exist is to serve the customer. For all the criticisms of Amazon, this is one area in which everyone agrees Amazon excels. Amazon puts the customer first.

And this is where things get interesting…

Amazon started as a company specializing in distributing CDs, books, software, etc, and it never lost sight of its role as a book broker. When Sony produced the first eReader in 2004, Amazon saw an opportunity and came out with the Kindle in 2007.

At the same time, Amazon launched KDP – Kindle Digital Publishing and began a journey of transforming independent publishing from a vanity press to a legitimate platform for all authors worldwide.

Why Kindle Will Change the World

Rick Munarriz – 2007

A decade ago, Amazon was considered little more than a virtual version of Barnes & Noble. Now that it’s arming writers with the tools to put their work on those virtual shelves, it’s about more than just stocking a virtual superstore with best-sellers… Kindle owners aren’t cradling dinosaurs. They’re cradling tigers. 

Beautiful

Kindle (Gen 1)

Amazon launched the Kindle knowing they were launching a revolution in publishing.

Even in its infancy, KDP had a clear vision of liberating writers, and that’s quite profound. The Amazon Kindle was never about replicating the existing book market in an electronic format. From its inception, it was about transforming the literary world by freeing writers from the shackles of a few great publishing houses. Kindle and KDP have always focused on opening the door to new voices.

Publishing houses have traditionally been the gatekeepers of books, but that’s changing. Now the gatekeeper is the reader, and that’s a remarkable transformation.

Amazon’s focus on the customer has taken publishing in an unexpected direction, giving writers their independence.

Critics point out that publishers act as the gatekeeper on quality, but readers can do that better than any publisher. Sure, there are a few bad apples that game the review system on Amazon, but you can download a free sample if you’re suspicious, or you can get a refund within a week. And fake reviews invariably backfire, as real readers will object and ensure their voice is heard.

There is a role for publishers, but it’s not to be the gatekeeper as that invariably leds to a narrow focus on what publishers think is marketable, and it’s not necessarily what writers and readers want to explore.

I’m an example of an author that has thrived as an indie. I’ve got eight books and a bunch of novellas. I’ve sold 40,000 copies, and yet publishers and agents still turn me away. Go figure!

XenophobiaCouldn’t put the book down until my kindle battery discharged

AnomalyOne of the best books I’ve ever read

Little Green MenPeter Cawdron has limitless imagination. When you read this book it transports you to a whole different world

And publishers claim they’re the gatekeepers? Really? These readers, and hundreds more, all disagree.

Without Amazon, I wouldn’t be a published author. Yes, that’s right, I have the audacity to claim equality with any other published author, be that independently published or through a publishing house. There is no difference.

Writers need to be published to grow. Without the feedback mechanism of readers reviewing and critiquing their work, it is impossible to develop as a writer.

Recently, I made the decision to make my top four books exclusive on Amazon at a time when other authors are telling me I should be with Kobo, Google Play, Apple, etc. Why? Because I appreciate what Amazon has done for me personally. Yes, others are coming to the party, but Amazon treats me like Neil Gaiman. Amazon gives me access to the exact same platform as Hugh Howey or Stephen King. Amazon doesn’t care if I sell one book or one million. I still have books with Smashwords, and they too are the author’s friend, but Amazon continues to champion the indie cause.

At some point, I hope to be picked up by a traditional publisher (although I’m probably not helping my cause with this blog post), but I’ll always have a soft spot for Amazon. When others were cheerleaders standing on the sidelines, Amazon was in the game with me, helping me to succeed.

Say what you will about Amazon, but without them, the indie revolution would be dead and my writing would be stuffed away in a desk drawer.

Thanks Jeff & team.

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10 thoughts on “Vive la Indie Revolution

  1. I hate it when Friedman gets pasted like that. His comments about making money ARE TRUE. If you don’t make money, then you will NOT BE A COMPANY…for very long. When he was talking about this subject, he was referring to the brass tacks/bottom line of running a profitable business. Anything else is fairy dust and unicorn poop. Math is math, and A=A and not being profitable = bankrupt.

    I’m glad you at least posted the link to the entire piece he wrote. Those who read it in its entirety may not think he’s quite the dullard more liberal…er…”progressive” folks paint him to be.

    Making money in the long term REQUIRES a company take care of its customers and its vendors. (in this case we writers.) If they didn’t, they would lose us to a company with the vision to do exactly that. Other that little grrr-arrrgh from this, I quite enjoyed this post.

    • Casey, yeah, certainly the concept didn’t originate with Friedman. He popularized it, but I wonder if even he meant it to be taken to the extremes we’ve seen. Yes, companies need to make money, just like I need to eat, sleep, breathe & drink, but making money is not the purpose of a company, just as drinking and eating isn’t the purpose of my life. The problem is when execs take Friedman’s idea to heart, they make atrocious decisions in the name of the bottom line, and they really do miss the point of business, which is to provide a service/product.

      • Having RUN a business, and having been an entrepreneur…um, yeah, I SO disagree with you there. The “product/service” is the WAY to make money, not the inverse. The baker in his shop doesn’t make the bread out of the goodness of his heart with money as a byproduct. He makes it to provide income for himself and those he takes care of using the skillsets and methods he is best at. You ask that baker to “provide” the product regardless of the profit motive, and I will guarantee you he will tell you to go to hell. This applies from the smallest firm to the largest.
        And that is a good thing.

      • I’m not saying a businesses should be run out of “the goodness of the heart” and I’m not saying there shouldn’t be profit. I sell books! But if someone is in business solely to make money they’re in it for the wrong reason. They won’t enjoy their work, they won’t be in business for long, and they won’t deliver anything of value. Yes, I’m well aware of Adam Smith saying, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest,” but keep that in context. Adam Smith also said, “by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain.” There have been far too many corporations that have lost sight of “the greatest value” for their customers and looked only to their “own gain.”

        Why is the baker a baker and not a butcher? If it’s not for the love of what they do and the opportunity to excel in their products and services, they’re not going to succeed. IMHO there has to be a balance. The Greed is Good mantra is extremely short-sighted.

  2. Amazon my not be a bastion of ethical business practices, but they sure are revolutionizing book publishing and how we view authors and publishers. Looking forward to get my first novel out on it and hopefuly get a few people reading and criticizing. Amazon had a big head start at on-line retailing and now it is using this power to pave way for user/consumer independence… on baby steps, though.

    Off topic, after I read this post I found this: http://www.ituc-csi.org/amazon-s-jeff-bezos-wins-ituc-s?lang=en – I remember when Amazon was starting and there were images of Bezos playing around with his employees. Then again, the poll was on-line and likely open to all instead of employees only. Murdoch getting second place? In the stereotype of evil CEO, that guy beat everyone in fiction and real life – he also represents the “quality” picking publishers.

    • I struggled with how I portrayed Amazon, and so tried to balance things out by tabling some of the controversy at the start of the post, but I do wonder how much is competitive FUD, how much is the myth around the man, and how much is for real. It’s hard to separate these. Overall, though, Amazon has been astonishingly supportive of indie writers, right from the birth of the Kindle, and that’s quite an eye opener. KDP – opening up the Kindle for indie writers, wasn’t an afterthought, it was part of their original intention. That’s pretty cool.

  3. Peter, congratulations on selling 40,000 copies of your books! Just wanted to point out, though, that Sony’s wasn’t the first e-reader. There were many other e-readers before the 2004 date you mention, with the very first portable e-readers being the Rocket, Softbook, and EB Dedicated Reader—all of which existed in 1999 when I signed an amended contract with Simon & Schuster allowing them to sell my books in electronic format (the term “ebook” wasn’t widely in use at the time). Guess I’m showing my age, but I’ve since come full circle from starting out as an indie author in the ’90s, getting signed by a traditional publisher, and now back to being indie published. (Here’s a link w/ details if you’re interested: http://nan-mccarthy.com/2014/03/15/timeline-a-publishing-history-of-chat-connect-crash/). Certainly pros and cons to both indie and traditional ways of getting published, but either way, cheers to you. Write on!

    • Hey, thanks for the link. I’ll read that over breakfast this morning.

      As for eReaders, yeah I was aware there were versions stemming back away, and I got to “play” with an iPaq back in the early 2000s with a sample reading program on it. For the purposes of the article, I went with the advent of electronic paper as the point eReaders came into their own (the idea of static LCD screens to lengthen battery life, visible in daylight, etc).

      That’s pretty wild to hear of your career going full circle! As a writer, you’ve lived through change akin to the transition from the horse & cart to the automobile (not that I think you’re old, just that you were in the publishing world well before me and had the chance to see this transformation first hand).

      • Lol. Yes, I got to experience some cool stuff firsthand—I worked in magazine publishing during the height of the “desktop publishing” revolution back in the late ’80s and early ’90s—which allowed me access to the early indie author tools like page layout software and digital prepress techniques. But I ended up taking time off from full-time writing from about 2002-2012, and BOY do I have a lot of catching up to do! Authors like you are light years ahead of me now. I’m happy for my old-school “horse & buggy” experiences 🙂 but I’m even more excited about all the new technologies and platforms available to indie authors today. These are thrilling times! Always a pleasure to chat w/ a fellow author. Best wishes to you Peter.

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