Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Can We Stop Calling Amazon a Bully?

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

Amazon is a company. Granted, a retailer with aggressive tactics meant to support long-term growth. But it is not an oversized kid (or childish adult) with personality problems who deliberately picks on weaker people for sport. And when people call Amazon a bully, they dilute the term's meaning and diminish the experience of human beings who have been personally victimized, bruised, and emotionally scarred by such human behavior.

Amazon functions much like other companies, only more successfully than its competitors. Its tactics, as far as I know, are legal. (The tax issues are still being debated but that's another subject.) Some people would argue that its tactics are not fair, but what does that mean? Does the word fair apply in business? Again, we're not dealing with children. The concept of one for me and one for you is not how capitalism works.

Some businesses are content to coast along, partner with others, and not worry about the future. Other businesses are more ambitious. They have long-term goals, and they work aggressively to meet those goals, even if it means putting competitors out of business. Barnes & Noble was once that kind of business. It bought up competitors, closed many retail outlets, and forced hundreds of indie bookstores to fold. People called it a bully too. But it was just business, capitalism in action.

Now the same people who denounced B&N (small bookstore owners, small publishers, and writers clinging to the old model) are crying foul on Amazon and worrying that B&N, now the underdog, will not survive the competition for customers.

I too worry a little that Amazon will dominate the publishing industry, at least for a while, and that customer choice will begin to be limited. But Amazon won't get to that point by being a bully, just a savvy, fast-growing company with an eye on the long-term future.

And yes, this blog was inspired in response to the struggle between Amazon and Independent Publishers Group, which I blogged about yesterday in more detail. A struggle in which Amazon held firm on its terms and lost the right to publish all of IPG's ebooks. I saw Amazon called a bully over and over yesterday, but I think the word is misused.

I don't mean to imply that the human owners of indie publishers and bookstores aren't feeling emotional about what's happening in the publishing industry as a result of Amazon's success. I'm sure they are and rightfully so. But Amazon's success is not a vendetta, and there's no point in taking it personally. Those emotions will just keep people from making rational business decisions.

What do you think?


  1. A provocative post by the author of provocative novels, LJ! I look forward to reading the comments to this!

  2. Evolution is hard. Change is hard. When we're impacted negatively because of change, we want someone to blame. Amazon is a perfect target, because not only are they reacting to change by finding opportunities, they are facilitating change in many ways.

    Smart businesses (and that includes independently published authors) will acknowledge that the horse is out of the barn and look for ways they can take advantage of what's happening.

    A great post!

  3. I'm a little behind in the IPG discussion but will try to catch up. I think Peg is exactly right. Change happens. Today Amazon is a powerhouse and that's good for authors who can navigate the system and use Amazon's might to their advantage. Five years from now we mey see another powerhouse unseating them. As authors we need to evaluate the best path these types of distributors offer us. Your comment about business being "fair" reminded me of something we used to say in law enforcement. If you find yourself in a fair fight...your tactics suck! Thanks for weighing in on this L.J.

  4. A Bully, clearly not. An extremely competitive business, certainly. Authors friend... definitely not.

    When you eat with the devil...

  5. Sure, they're a business - and one I shopped from often until my books got caught in the IPG vs. Amazon standoff. But my reason for boycotting them (at least temporarily) is also pure business: I don't want to strengthen the company that is harming my business.

  6. This whole business is just Some companies make good decisions, some make decisions we disagree with.

    Although I don't buy e-books from Amazon (because I bought a Nook, not a Kindle), I sell my books there (and everywhere else I can). And if I find a good deal on other merchandise through Amazon, I'll buy it.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  7. People who make comments about Amazon's tactics and call them a bully seem to be under the impression that Amazon owes writers a living. They owe their stockholders their best effort, employees a salary and fair treatment, customers whatever has been paid for for, and they are obligated to keep to whatever contracts they sign.

    I'm doing well with Amazon, but I'm ever mindful that it could come to a sad and abrupt halt at someone else's whim. Would I be upset and disappointed if that happened? Yes, certainly. But could I say it was unfair? No. I'm happy to make a living on my books, but I wouldn't say I'm entitled to it.

    I laugh when people feel sorry for poor little Barnes and Noble. I'm all for competition and choice for consumers, but as you point out, too many people are casting these companies in a role that just doesn't fit.

  8. Great post LJ.

    I've heard so many people demonize Amazon. These are most often people clinging desperately to the old model and hoping this e-book thing won't catch on.

    Thank God it did.

    I hear the caution in several posts here that Amazon could decide I'm not serving its best interest and we could part ways, but for now I am creating and selling books and I couldn't be happier.

    I can only hope that my work is strong enough that my audience will follow me to wherever my books are available.

  9. I also blogged about this recently, although I think your point that calling Amazon a bully dilutes the word is absolutely true. If Amazon is taking over the world, it's because we let it. Companies are in the business of making money. Don't like that Amazon is controlling the market? Buy from someone else. Get a Nook and buy those e-books. Get off your tush and go down to your local bookseller instead of pressing a button. Business is, at best, amoral. Its job is to make money, not to hold up some high standard of fairness.

    And I would say that in many ways, I'm happier as an Amazon author than a B&N author. At Amazon, I have an author's page, where people can learn about my books. I can join in book discussions. If I'm in a jam about something, I can have a representative call me and work it out.

    If other companies (yes, I'm looking at you, B&N) want to compete with Amazon, look at what they do well and IMPROVE ON IT!

  10. Robin, I'm sorry your books got caught up in it. I hope you're able to withdraw from contracts... if they're no longer working for you.

  11. From this readers POV, amazon is the best resource and not just for books. I get all of my music and movies from them also.

    They have competitive prices and they tell you what condition the items are in. You can get most any merchandise and have it sent anywhere. What's not to like as a consumer?

    Okay that's my two cents worth. I could go on with more but my hands are hurting too much today. Happy Leap Year Year everyone.

  12. PS @ Peg Brantley
    Yes so true we are in a very big evolutionary transition. Everything is affected it's to a point where the actual changes can be seen. Those things being different for anyone standing from their point of view but will eventually affect everyone.

    I remember going to a car show when growing up and marveling at the designs of the future. All have come to pass and have mostly passed. Yep I even remember Ice Boxes that were before refrigorators. :-)

  13. find it difficult to be critical of a company that has:

    1) Taken the power away from an oppressive, antiquated system and put the publishing power where it belongs: in the readers' hands.

    2) Given me the opportunity to see my dream come true when more than a hundred agents told me I couldn't do it.

    3) Has allowed me to make a very profitable living as an author.

    4) Has done more to help independent authors than anyone else I know of.

    5) Has revolutionized the publishing industry, by changing how we read and buy books.

    I could go on and on here, but I think you get the picture.

    The devil? Hardly. It's called survival of the fittest and it's been this way as long as businesses have been around.

    It's so easy to blame the big guy--they're an easy target.

  14. LOL, Sly. I just had another Amazon delivery today, and this one wasn't books!

    We have never had the kind of customer service we've received from Amazon. They do more than make things easy to buy and affordable. They go beyond what any other retailer has done for us regarding service. Except maybe Apple.

  15. LOL, Sly. I just had another Amazon delivery today, and this one wasn't books!

    We have never had the kind of customer service we've received from Amazon. They do more than make things easy to buy and affordable. They go beyond what any other retailer has done for us regarding service. Except maybe Apple.

  16. Aw, thanks. But I can't withdraw from contracts - my first three books are tied up with the publisher who is using IPG. Interestingly, though, I don't think I'd pull them if I could. I think this is a fight worth fighting, and though of course I'm losing some sales to this, I'm okay with my books being part of the leverage in this battle. My publisher backs IPG 100% - and they have 400 pulled titles and far more money riding on this.

  17. Just read this from our library system, and it brought tears to my eyes:

    ". . . there is no censorhip of materials and a person's right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background or point of view."

    Libraries could very well be the most constitutional and civilized bastion left on earth.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.