What’s Going On With Amazon?

by LeslieKeenan on June 23, 2014

A lot of my clients and friends are wondering what my opinion is, of  Amazon in its “war” with the publisher Hachette. The bare facts are these: We officially know nothing about the negotiations between the two, but most industry insiders are guessing that the issue is over terms for ebooks, and that Amazon wants to keep more of the money than Hachette wants. (For further details, here’s the link to the New York Times piece on it.)

On its face I have no problem with this. Amazon is a seller and it has the right to work out any terms it wants. What I don’t like, and in fact am shocked by, is the way Amazon is bullying Hachette. Of course Hachette is a very large corporation, and I have been no big fan of mainstream publishing for many reasons over the last thirty years, but when Amazon starts taking advance order buttons off the pages of Hachette books, or slowing delivery from 2-3 days to 2-3 weeks, or even recommending buying a different book altogether, it seems like bullying. That is, flexing your power to show your adversary that they’d better give in, quick.

I know many authors and small publishers love Amazon. They point out how much Amazon has done for authors—making it easy for their books to be available and found by readers, providing real sales information, and not incidentally, paying authors and small publishers quickly. A title that is up on Amazon can be seen by any reader, and the searches permit all titles to be treated equally, they all have “shelf space” where they can be found nationally and internationally. These are not small things. They make it possible for some authors and small publishers to have successful careers and thriving businesses. And that’s before we take into account what they have done for ebooks by creating a successful piece of technology for reading books (the Kindle) and an easy way to buy books through the one-click download, which has become an easy impulse-buy for many readers.

Essentially, Amazon has created a huge database and search system that has made it simpler for readers and authors to find each other, and I agree that for this they should be rewarded. (Here’s a link to a blog that calls into question the Big Five publishers.)

However, and this is a big however:  from the beginning, Amazon, while it likes to paint a picture of itself as a benevolent company, a la Google, that is only helping with its innovative technologies, almost immediately began acting like the chain bookstores which in the late 80s and early 90s almost put independent bookstores out of business with the support of the big five publishers who found it easier to make deals with only two companies (at the time, Borders and Barnes and Noble) rather than the four thousand or so independent bookstores that existed then, one at a time. What the five publishers couldn’t see was that by letting either the chains or Amazon (who in effect became a third chain) have the power over the market by not supporting independents, they were allowing Amazon to become the dominant force in publishing today. (The number of independent bookstores has dropped by about half, to 1900 today—although recently, it has been going up again.)

And Amazon has a lot of power. It has cornered 40% of the market for books. 40%! So no small publisher, big publisher, or author, can afford to ignore Amazon and not take a big cut, in terms of finding audience and earning money. The authors who are praising Amazon today might be very surprised to discover, after Amazon has its way with Hachette and the other publishers (which I could see happening), that they next turn on the authors and take a greater share of their profits too. Right now no author has a contract with Amazon that guarantees their payout. Amazon reserves the right to change terms and prices at any time.

For this reason I think everyone who cares about readers and authors (not the publishing industry as it exists today, but the real core of it, which is the marketplace between readers and authors) should be concerned about this. What to do about it is another question. I’m not sure Stephen Colbert’s solution of boycotting Amazon and supporting a large independent bookstore like Powell’s is the right one. But my advice to authors is that your best protection in all the vagaries of publishing today is to know who your reader (or potential reader) is, and find a way to reach them now. And, to keep them. (That means yes have an email list, yes have a Facebook group, yes respond to people online.) Connecting directly with your audience yourself will empower you, and no matter which way things go, you will find a way to keep going forward.

What I really don’t get is why Amazon seems to want to take over the world. Can’t it be happy with a tidy little profit on what it does really well? Deliver “everything,” everywhere, really quickly? Does it have to take over the whole market? This gets into questions about capitalism and being funded by Wall Street and it’s a much larger discussion than I can get into here. But I honestly don’t know that this is good for anyone, including Amazon itself.

In my dream world, the folks at Amazon wake up one day and realize that businesses work better when businesses actually serve their customers, and work in cooperation with vendors to achieve that. A girl can dream.



Ten Ways to Help a Single Mom

by LeslieKeenan on June 22, 2014


  1. Don’t ask if she needs help. She does. Instead, next time you are at the grocery store call her and say, “I’m at the store can I get you some produce – baby wipes – formula – coffee – tea?” Then get what she asks for and drop it at her door.
  2. Some Saturday morning, stop by early and offer to play with the baby/kid(s) or take them to the playground so she can go back to sleep for an hour.
  3. Next time a fun kids’ movie opens at the movie theater, ask her if you can take the kid(s) to it.
  4. Get a few girlfriends together and show up on a Saturday and offer to clean up the kitchen so she can go out to the playground with her baby/kid(s).
  5. Pay for a sitter so you can go to the movies/dinner together.
  6. Tell her the times you could be available in a pinch if her child is sick and she needs to work. Write them down for her and post them on her fridge.
  7. Next time you are visiting, fold some laundry while you talk together.
  8. Join her at the playground with the kids.
  9. Have her and her kids over for early dinner and dvd on the weekend.
  10. Offer to come to her house on the weekend with a DVD, popcorn and dessert for after the kids are asleep.


Failure Mom

June 21, 2014

I know I’m a good mom. Really, I know. I feel it in my bones. I’ve been told it repeatedly from people I respect. And yet, I honestly can say that every day there is something that makes me feel a failure. Today, it was a small one. I couldn’t get Mia to school on […]

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End-of-Year Craziness

June 20, 2014

I experienced it last year at the end of kindergarten. So I thought I could avoid it this year: that end-of-year craziness where you find yourself running from the recital rehearsals and the recital to the school play and the open house and, what? There’s a field day? And an end-of-school party? How does this […]

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End of First Grade

June 19, 2014

When we started first grade I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought it would be like kindergarten where she’d just subtly start changing. I didn’t expect what all the other parents of first graders I know are saying too: I can’t believe how much she’s changed from the start of the year. Not just […]

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Educational Arms Race

April 21, 2014

I went to wake Mia this morning and she started moaning. “My tummy hurts,” she complained. Hmmm, I thought, is this real sickness or is she just trying to get out of going to school? She’d complained of a tummy ache on the weekend but it sure hadn’t slowed her down. And she looked fine […]

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Vision Zero…Championing “Natural Time”

March 24, 2014

I kept hearing about yet another pedestrian death on the streets of SF. There have been 5 so far this year. Last year there were 21 pedestrian deaths. This is people dying because they don’t cross the street fast enough (a 6-year-old and an 86-year-old were among those killed last year), and in our culture […]

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Were You Watching the Oscars Last Night?

March 3, 2014

And did you see this? Notice all the cool old typewriters in the background!      

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How do you know when you are done?

January 13, 2014

After the excitement of finishing your first draft, and the tedium of making all the fixes and changes you knew you had to do, how do you know when you are really done and the manuscript is ready to send out, or that you need to polish it some more? The answer to this is […]

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How to Select a Good Reader for Your Manuscript

December 18, 2013

•Pick someone you trust, but not necessarily someone you know well. Sometimes a comparative stranger can be more helpful than a close friend. •Pick someone who regularly reads the kind of book you’ve written (i.e., memoir, chick lit, mystery, history, etc.) •Pick someone who actively engages their own creativity. It doesn’t have to be a […]

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