Conspiracies Abound: Is Amazon Really Giving Indies the Boot?

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In recent days, news began to spread of the closing of CreateSpace as the service is being migrated with the current print option through the KDP dashboard. Several months back when they announced CreateSpace was discontinuing its editing and cover creator services it was theorized CS would eventually close its doors. Well, it was theorized by me and other authors insisted I was just being paranoid. Who’s being paranoid now? So – when Amazon finally shuts down indie publishing through their platform, just remember you heard it from me first.

But why would Amazon want to discontinue selling books? They are pretty much the world leader in book sales. In fact, it’s estimated that about 35% of their total annual revenue comes from book sales. It would not make any sense for them to stop selling books.

Well, I didn’t say they were going to stop selling books. They were selling books long before they introduced KDP (the indie publishing platform which allows anyone to create an author account and self-publish an ebook to Amazon’s Kindle) and allowed everyone with internet access to start uploading junk files. It’s safe to say they’ll probably be doing it long after they’ve taken their toys and kicked us all out of their sandbox. What I’m saying is Amazon is eventually going to close down their direct publishing platform, potentially giving indies the boot for good.

The signs have been around us for years, but no one seems to want to pull their heads out of the sand long enough to see what has been staring them in the face for a good five years now.

First, Amazon closed down Kindle Worlds. For those unfamiliar with KW, this was a section of Amazon which allowed authors to write in worlds already  well established by other authors. While I personally had not heard of the majority of them on there (they were mostly composed of worlds created by successful indie authors as opposed to well-known trad published authors), there were a few that I recognized, most specifically the Pretty Little Liars world created by Sarah Shephard.

Most indie authors who wrote in KW were making more money than they were with their own books. But that’s to be expected. Fanfiction is big business (hello EL James & Cassie Clare). You already have a built-in reader base who are just itching to get their hands on some new material. I can see why both the authors who created the worlds, and those who chose to step in to fill the gap with fanfiction, would find it so appealing.

For whatever reason, Amazon chose to close out KW. Maybe the authors who had agreed to share their worlds were having second thoughts, maybe they wanted a larger royalty cut and the Zon didn’t want to part with more money, maybe they just didn’t want to hire the manpower it was taking to ensure the books were up to par. At this point, it’s literally anyone’s guess, but the fact remains they chose to shut down this part of their publishing business, a part that was largely successful by self-publishing standards.

Second, there was the announcement earlier in the year regarding CreateSpace discontinuing their editing and cover design services. Now comes the obvious next move – closing down CS altogether and migrating the Print-on-Demand feature over to the KDP dashboard. Doing this makes no sense from a business perspective. They already had the CS site up and running, and it had been running long enough that most of the website bugs had been worked out. In fact, Amazon wasn’t the original owner of CS, having purchased the POD company from BookSurge back in 2005 when it was still called CustomFlix (the name was changed to CreateSpace  in 2007). It begs the question of why they would want to pull a website their creative audience had been using relatively pain-free for fifteen years.

But the questions do not just stop there. Why would Amazon then hire programmers and coders to reinvent the wheel over on the KDP dashboard? The interfaces are nothing alike, and God only knows how much of a disaster the new “cover creator” is going to be for full wraps on the paperbacks. From a business standpoint, it would have made more sense to have simply created a click-through button on the KDP dashboard to take authors over to the CS dashboard where they could have continued on with business as usual. I’ve paid for my own webhosting. The price is not so astronomical that most authors can’t afford it, much less a multi-billion dollar powerhouse like Amazon. So getting rid of the website that had been around and working fine for nearly two solid decades makes little sense on either side of the fence. But I digress.

Third, there are the continued problems which have plagued the Kindle Unlimited (KU) from its conception. In the beginning, long-form authors (those who wrote full length novels and enrolled them into the KU program) soon learned there were sub-par micro-fiction pamphlets with less than 10 pages being uploaded to the KU program. Since the initial KU program paid per book read, these micro-fiction scammers were able to push out thousands of these 10 page-or-less shorts and upload them to KU, netting them upwards of $2 per borrow, a feat which hardly seemed fair to the long-form authors who were only getting paid the same amount for a 100K word novel. After everyone took to the streets screaming for an improvement, Amazon then rolled out the KU 2.0 program, a system which paid authors per page read rather than a fixed amount per borrow.

It didn’t take the micro-fiction scammers long to realize this new program took them to the opposite end of the spectrum. Now if they wanted to make bank, they would have to fill a book with as much recycled garbage as they could to net them as large of a payout as possible. They used all kinds of dirty little tricks to game the system, something which had authors utterly livid for years before they had finally had had enough of getting shafted and once again threw a big enough of a collective fit to get Amazon to take notice and do something about the scammers.

Then there is the simple fact that KU isn’t a very sustainable model, at least not in its current form. It’s estimated there are only approximately 100K KU users. At just $9.99/month for a subscription, that is only netting the Zon approximately $1M a month. Yet, the payout global fund for the KU program for participating authors has routinely been $20M/month for several months. It’s obvious Amazon is funneling money into the program in an attempt to keep authors in the program. But how long can they continue to pour money into a sinking ship? The payout per page is already less than half-a-cent, meaning authors have to have hundreds of thousands of page reads each month to even bring in a living wage. With more and more authors jumping ship to push their books to other platforms, one has to wonder just how long they can keep their own ship afloat.

Fourth, Amazon has absolutely zero quality control over on KDP. Literally anyone who has an internet connection can slap up a file, a cover, and be up and running as a “published author” in under a day. This means there are now literally hundreds of thousands of books hitting the Zon every single month. This translates into hundreds of thousands of new authors using KDP each and every day. But why does that matter?

If you are in the indie world, you have no doubt seen the drama in previous months surrounding #CockyGate, #GetLoud, #BookStuffers, and all the other drama. It basically all boils down to far too many “authors” using the KDP platform to game the system, screw Amazon and readers out of money for shitty product, and push legitimate, quality authors and their books right off the charts. The amount of money and manpower it would take for Amazon to put real people in charge of quality control over this platform far outweighs the amount of revenue it is generating.

Amazon doesn’t have to worry about any of this with trad publishers (well, they mostly don’t have to worry about sub-par books. We’ve all seen the questionable content some of these publishers have produced). They know they are going to get properly formatted books that have at least seen a cursory glance by an editor, something you are less-often to come across from a self-published book. So from a business standpoint, it makes much more sense for them to close down the KDP platform for good than to attempt to overhaul it and bring it up to the same level of quality throughout the platform as you are currently going to get from a trad published book.

And this brings me to my last point – all the bad publicity. With all the drama that has been going on, and with so many of us indies, we have all pretty much had it up to our eyeballs with shitty books hitting the #1 spot on Amazon, we’re sick of the bookstuffing scammers screwing legitimate authors out of a huge chunk of profits, we’re sick of the Zon not treating us as equals in the publishing business, and we’re really tired of being forced to compete with shitty books. Basically, we are all shining a very bad light on how the Zon operates its indie publishing platform. And as I noted above, it would cost way too much money and manpower to get that platform under control and up to trad publishing standards than what they are willing to spend.

I always knew it would eventually get to a tipping point. For many years we were all on a see-saw, teetering back and forth, talking among ourselves. But in the past few years, authors like me who have practically been forced to give up writing because Zon won’t get their shit together have become more and more vocal about just how unsatisfied we are with them, demanding we be treated better, demanding they have better quality control, demanding they actually mind their damn platform. We’ve all felt these complaints had fallen on deaf ears. But I don’t believe they have.

Taking a look at the signs from the past few years, I’d be willing to wager the Zon will eventually get tired of all the bad press we keep giving them and shut out indie publishers for good. They’ve already proven they do not care enough about us to offer up any type of real change. And the changes they have implemented, like closing down KW and CS, and making the KU platform so easily manipulated while making it nearly impossible for the little author to make any money, have not exactly been in indie authors’ best interests. We do not help their bottom line enough to warrant spending any more money on us to create a viable platform which weeds out the scammers and the sub-par books, much less give us an equal footing in the publishing world. We are a thorn in their side, the squeaky wheel which keeps getting louder as more and more of us hit the platform and voice our displeasure at their treatment of us.

So, all you conspiracy theorists out there. When KDP finally does go the way of the dinosaur, just remember you heard it from me first. I’ve already made several predictions which have come to pass, and I figure this one is coming. It’s just a matter of time.