For years, I have talked of angels and mysterious coincidences—those shivers of the spine that make you marvel that Something Out There is watching over us, loving, guarding, guiding, warming, healing, helping us—and that the world is essentially good and on our side. The current summer copy of the quarterly, PARABOLA Magazine, is devoted to the theme, Angels and Demons.
I need these anecdotes. Sometimes we’re all overwhelmed by the suffering and pain, the greed and malice around us, and sometimes by horror beyond comprehension (like ISIS and Boka Horan). I need all the reminders I can get that the underlying energy of the Universe is a humming of Love, that God is love, (what exactly don’t the atheists believe in?, that we are surrounded by Love. In my book A BOOK OF ANGELS, I tell story after story—true—of angels intervening in our lives. In my new novel, LOVE, ALBA, it is only the narrator, the little cat, who can see into other dimensions.
But today I feel discouraged and desolate. Writers have always been at the mercy of the take-it-or-leave-it publishers contracts, but I have just learned that Amazon, the monstrous megalith that sells everything from horse blankets to washing machines, has instituted a new policy regarding e/books which once again disfavors the struggling author. There is one thing that You, the Reader can do.
If you believe in books, and writers, if you want someday to write a book yourself, PLEASE, READ ON.
The way it works now, the publisher (or author, if she self-publishes, like me) sets a price for the printed book based on costs + small profit. Say you decide to publish at $15.95 (my book, LOVE, ALBA, for example). Amazon immediately discounts the price to whatever figure they choose. Since the author receives a small percentage on each book sold, he is the loser. To make matters worse, Amazon advertises and sells used copies alongside of the new book. A used copy might cost ten cents (plus shipping = $4.10), but the author, who may have worked for many years researching and writing, receives zero. (No royalty is paid on used or second hand books, but used books used to be sold separately from new books: not on Amazon!)
Now turn to e/Books. Starting July 1, Amazon will pay e/book royalties to its self-published authors and small press, independent publishers based on the number of pages actually read, rather than the number of times the book is downloaded or “borrowed.” (Remember, you don’t own an e/book—you “borrow” it on your kindle, and Amazon can delete it at any tine).
The new policy leaves intact another unfortunate Amazon practice of paying indie authors out of an opaque royalty pool, which pits self-published and indie authors against one another in a zero-sum scramble for readers. I’m not sure how this works, but I understand the company pools all receipts from self-published authors and pays them, not on the number of their books downloaded but on a bell curve against all the other writers. With a finite amount of money to go around each month, one author’s gain is another’s loss.
Amazon’s contracts with its indie authors are non-negotiable and may be changed at any time; changes become binding within 30 days of posting. Even with Amazon’s monthly tinkering with the royalty pool, under its per-borrow scheme authors could at least count on a rate of somewhere between $1.33 and $1.40 per borrow. Writers of children’s books, particularly for young children, will see that rate go down significantly.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
If you read on a KINDLE, make sure that rather than stopping in the middle, you scroll through to the very end before closing the book! I don’t know if skimming counts as “reading” but maybe . . . maybe . . . .
Exactly how this new program will impact books in the long run is hard to know. What happens to long nonfiction that might take years to write and that add to our culture and knowledge but are rarely read in full by the lay reader? Will skimmed pages count? How long does a reader have to spend on a page for it to count as “read”? Will Amazon share any of its reading statistics with writers to help them have more pages read? Will they eventually foist this payment method on major publishers, starting with the smaller ones who have little to no negotiating power?
Announced just weeks before it takes effect, the change is a reminder of Amazon’s power. It’s never been more clear that indie authors who publish with Amazon’s KDP Select are dependent on Amazon’s business decisions, including how much money Amazon chooses to distribute via the monthly royalty pool.
My own book, LOVE, ALBA is published with a California press. But both the paperback and e/book will come out on Amazon with these terms. I’m glad that I’m older. I’m glad that I’m getting out of the writing business, and will write hereafter only for myself. It makes me sympathize with J. D. Salinger, who never wrote another book after CATCHER IN THE RYE but treasured his privacy, his isolation, and his independence from the publishing industry. Today I’m looking for angels. I’m looking for the love in my heart that can counterbalance the discouragement of reading the news, the tears that well up as I hear of the pain that comes with living in a human body. I’m whistling in the dark. I’m looking for angels. Today.