Friday, August 9, 2013

On Toeing the Line

 by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
After my post Wednesday, where I extolled the virtues of the feeling of control that one gets through the self-publishing process, I thought I’d backtrack a bit today and talk about the times I don’t have a feeling of control as a self-publisher.
A large exception is dealing with a certain mammoth retailer.  When Amazon writes me an email, I pay attention and immediately do whatever it is that they want me to do. 
This is the first time I’ve received this particular email from Amazon:
We recently noticed the digital list price for the title(s) listed below is higher than the list price of the same book listed on or another website.
A Body in the Backyard (A Myrtle Clover Mystery) (ID: B009YAVVAU) is listed on at $3.99 and at $2.99 on Sony
According to our pricing policy, your book should be priced no higher than the list price on or any other sales channel for either the physical or digital edition of the book. Please adjust the list price for the above book(s) within the next 5 business days. If the price isn’t updated within 5 business days, we may remove the book(s) from the Kindle Store, at which point you will need to republish the book with an updated price.
For more information on our list price requirements, see section 4 on our Pricing Page below:
Thanks for your understanding.
The Kindle Direct Publishing Team
When I read the email, I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” and quickly hopped over to the Sony page and the Amazon page to see what the heck was going on.  Had I signed something like that?  A “list price requirements” thing? Why didn’t I remember signing something like that?  Note to self—review contracts from time to time! I’m running a business, but clearly—at least sometimes—I’m not completely paying attention.
Honestly, I had never been over to the Sony page for my book.  In fact, I’d never been over to the Sony bookstore, period.  I deal with Smashwords for Sony, Kobo…the odds and ends of my income from non-Amazon sources that aren’t B&N (whom I deal with separately.)
Sure enough, there was the book in question, listed for $2.99.  I do know that Sony can be painfully slow to make changes to pricing. I know this from when I’m done with a free book campaign and I’m trying to end it…and they’re the last holdout. I immediately raised the price on Smashwords to $3.99, and then pulled up the book on Amazon.
I looked at my Amazon page for Body in the Backyard…they’d already lowered the price to $2.99 without waiting for approval.
So, not really wanting to lose 95% of my self-pub income for that title by having Amazon boot the book from its catalog, I quickly lowered the price on the Amazon Bookshelf page (where it was still listed at $3.99, even though the price for readers was a dollar lower.)  Sony might not raise that price in five business days and I wanted to cover my bases.
Not a lot of control here, right?  But then—no one has control over Amazon.  Penguin would agree with me there. How eager was I to correct this matter and put Amazon on better terms with me as a publisher? I can’t overemphasize how eager I was.  I make a good deal of income from them.
Where else do I feel as if I toe the line?  As I’ve mentioned many times before—with my readers.  They have Ideas about Things.  :)  Their ideas encompass everything from chapter length to profanity to storylines to characters they’d like to see more of. 
I’d like to say that I write to please myself, but if that were solely the case, I’d be writing crummy and unpublished poetry. No, I’m a commercial writer and I’m writing for an audience…am I concerned about their opinions?  You bet.  I’m not going to incorporate every single suggestion I get (that would be taking things a bit far), but if I see a trend on a particular idea or complaint—I’m absolutely taking it into account.  It would be silly of me not to, considering my goal is to please my readers and have them keep reading.
Summing up, I’d say that even on the self-publishing side of things, we’re not totally independent.  If we are, then we’re perhaps not working with our retail outlets well or providing our readers what they want.  It’s good to be independent…I enjoy it…but we still have responsibilities, red tape, etc.
If you self-publish, have you come across an email like this one from Amazon? Do you follow reader feedback?  Are there other examples you can give where you’re not really completely an independent contractor/publisher?

Update: I just checked (8:30 a.m. EST 8/9) and Sony has raised the price for the book. Took them about 72 hours.  Going to re-adjust on Amazon now. Whew.