When the fox guards the hen house: what happens when Amazon screws up?







By now many of you, whether you are readers or writers, are probably aware of the rumblings among authors about recent developments at Amazon.

It has something to do with money.

A little background.  Authors who publish through Kindle Direct Publishing  (KDP) have access through a dashboard to daily, real time reports about how many books they have sold.  This is great.  Unless the system stops working.

For the last six weeks or so, tens of thousands of people have reported issues with their sales reports.  It will come as no surprise that authors are complaining because the reports by and large show much lower sales than in prior months.

You can see how this might cause a writer heartburn.  If she depends on book sales for her livelihood, and if she has put all her eggs in the Amazon basket as a result of KDP Select’s exclusive arrangement, and if she sees sales plummet for no apparent reason, then it starts getting personal.

As a person once said about a country evangelist who got to talking about money, “He’s gone from preaching to meddling.”

Some people who have joined the discussion have suggested that we are simply in a fall sales slump.

Writers are like farmers. They’re used to bad news.  If you tell an author, “You’re just having a bad month,” he is prone to believe you.  Bad months are the norm for most authors.  But if a person has a year of sales numbers that form a good data point for expected average sales and then her sales go in the toilet, it looks like there may be a problem on the reporting end.

To make matters worse, the KDP dashboard has also recently experienced another problem:  The sales report button doesn’t work at all.  I know because I just checked it.

I am not a conspiracy guy about this.  I don’t believe Amazon is trying to cheat anybody.  But with rumors flying and authors up in arms, Amazon isn’t making any friends with its writers by keep a lid on the situation.

The really difficult thing for authors in this situation is that they have nowhere to turn.  Amazon, and only Amazon, has the sales information.

We’re from the government and we’re here to help.

Of course, all this raises a fundamental question for readers and writers.  If Amazon’s system is screwed up, where should people go to buy on-line books?

Amazon is the 500 pound gorilla.  It holds the key to the book selling kingdom for thousands of authors, especially Indies who publish through KDP.

I believe issues like the present one provide a needed cautionary correction about online book mega stores. I suspect what we will see is a proliferation of new sites that will provide buying alternatives to readers and selling option for authors.

The digital revolution is still in its infancy.  These are only the beginnings of the growing pains we will see in the coming few years.

The future will belong to those who continue to improvise, who figure ways to keep from putting all their eggs in one basket, who provide interesting alternatives to the etail giants.

It is great moment in publishing.

Meanwhile, I hope Amazon triples my sales number when it fixes the current snafu.  Otherwise, I may turn to cotton farming.

(Stephen Woodfin is an author who used to sell more books on Amazon. Click here to see his Amazon Author Page.)


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