An essay in praise of Amazon by Kirsty Wright, a Southland erotic romance author who is ‘killing it’ thanks to sales generated by the online empire.
Sarah Forster’s story in The Spinoff, headlined “In Which Amazon Goes to War with NZ Bookstores”, suggested Amazon is the enemy, taking money away from local brick and mortar bookstores by undercutting prices using the Book Depository website.
But what about the authors – the people who create these books? Where do they fit into all this?
As a USA Today best-selling author of erotic romance, I have published 10 books of my own as well as novellas in several multi-author anthologies. I write under a pen name. Most of my books are published by a traditional, reputable royalty-paying publisher in the US. But 95% of the income from my books comes from Amazon.
Gone are the days of struggling to get a publishing deal by a major publisher – once the only option – just to see your precious book languishing on the shelves of bookstores, failing to sell a single copy. Amazon has opened the gateway for thousands of authors to become best-sellers, thanks to the lucrative e-book market.
Nearly all of my books are available in both print and e-book versions at several online retailers including Book Depository and Fishpond. Some of them are exclusive to Amazon (e-book version only) and in the Kindle Unlimited subscription programme, which means readers pay Amazon a fee of about $10 a month and can “borrow” as many books as they like to read for free. Authors are paid about half a cent for each of their books read through the programme.
You won’t find my books on the shelves of your local bookstore in New Zealand. I tried but it was a difficult process. Amazon, on the other hand, happily stock my books, and put them in front of millions of readers worldwide. They provide an attractive, user-friendly storefront where both the e-book version and the paperback version of my books are available. With one click, the e-book is bought and delivered to a reader’s Kindle. Or, still with one click, a reader can buy a paperback copy, Amazon will print it on demand, and then ship it anywhere around the world.
Amazon provides me with an author page where all my books are listed in one place, and I can personalise it by uploading an author bio, photos or logos, link it to my blog, and add in my social media links for connecting with fans.
I asked several author friends, who write in the same genre of erotic romance, about their experiences with selling their books in Kiwi bookstores. Their experiences match up with mine. It’s too hard, too expensive, and e-book sales far outweigh those of print.
Even sadder, two of them mentioned the reality of not being taken seriously as a romance author in the New Zealand market. This is despite the fact that romance and erotica is the biggest selling genre in the world, bringing in over USD$1.44 billion in 2013. The next biggest-selling genre – crime and mystery – didn’t even come close, at USD$728.2 million in sales.
Indie writers, and small press writers, are killing it, consistently topping the international charts. Most of my books have hit the Top 100, Top 50 and Top 10 in their category on Amazon, selling thousands of copies within the first month of release, and garnering hundreds of thousands of page-reads in Kindle Unlimited – and I’m just small-fry.
I was published in an anthology earlier this year which made it to number 40 on the USA Today best-seller list – solely with e-book sales. It sold more than 10,000 copies on Amazon, and another 1300 on other e-book venues such as Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple just in its first week. It’s currently had over 13 million page-reads on Amazon’s subscription service Kindle Unlimited.
These kinds of sales numbers add up to a decent-sized royalty cheque. I make about $2 for each e-book sold, and roughly a cent for every four pages of my books read on Kindle Unlimited.
Amazon is not perfect. Far from it. For example, they randomly pull reviews for no apparent reason – usually the glowing five-star ones, not the nasty one-stars. But the reality is, Amazon is doing what bookstores won’t do: selling thousands upon thousands of copies of my books, and the books of other writers just like me. It’s directly due to the existence of Amazon that genre authors can do what we love, and earn a good income doing it.
Since that Spinoff article was published, a number of people have told me that they’re going to boycott Amazon. They say they’re only going to buy local, at local bookstores. If people are able to get what they want from those bookstores, great. I buy local too, when they’ve got what I want. But the reality is, I can’t get what I want at most book stores. They don’t stock many of the books I want to read. And I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Being an author is my dream. It’s been my dream forever, ever since I could hold a pen. Now, I’m living that dream. And it’s due almost solely to Amazon. To me, Amazon is not the enemy. It’s an opportunity.
The Spinoff Review of Books is brought to you by real-life brick and mortar bookstores Unity Books in Willis St, Wellington, and High St, Auckland.