Monday, February 23, 2015

Amazon is the Reader's Friend? True or False

A Summary of the debate, Amazon is the Reader's Friend by J.Q. Rose


I spent most of Sunday morning listening to a debate on the PBS program, Intelligence Squared. The topic was "Amazon is the Reader's Friend." I discovered the video of the debate on Joe Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. 

J.A. Konrath is well-known as the self-published author of the Jack Daniels thrillers and lots more stories. Check out Joe's bio here

He submitted his books to traditional publishers for ten years, but never received one acceptance. During the debate on the topic of amazon being a reader's friend, he revealed he turned to self-pubbing and made a million dollars on nine of the books he had submitted for a contract with publishers.

Can you figure out which side he took on the debate? Yes, he and editor at Vox, Matthew Yglesias, tried to convince the New York audience that Amazon is the reader's friend. Their main points--
  • the gatekeepers are not at amazon, so books trad publishers would not allow are published
  • readers have a vast variety of books at reasonable prices
  • textbooks can be rented saving students a lot of money every term
  • readers not living near a bookstore can easily browse books and purchase them
  • amazon offers public domain books free on their site. Not many businesses offer anything free!
  • Kindle Unlimited allows members to read as many books each month as they can for the $10.
Those are a few of the points they tried to make clear, but the other side, IMHO, didn't even argue the point about readers. They were bashing amazon for possibly becoming a monopoly (which Yglesias very well discounted by citing other big companies such as Google and Apple offering e-books, and I could think of several other booksellers too.) Their point was that Amazon has 67% of the eBook market share.

They also believed traditional publishing would be squeezed out of business making authors the promoters and business people left out in the cold to fend for themselves. Hmmmm...even with traditional publishers, we still have to do our own promoting.

I won't continue to try to sum up the 90 minutes plus of debate. You can listen to it yourself. Spoiler--Konrath and Yglesias failed to win the debate from the NYaudience 43% to 50% but Konrath reports the online viewers overwhelmingly voted for his team with the online debate results of 72% to 28%.

They lost to mystery best-selling author Scott Turow and Franklin Foer,  a former director of the New Republic magazine. Not because Turow and Foer made the point amazon was not a friend to readers, but rather because amazon was bad for New York's Big Five publishers (traditional publishers) and for authors. 

Honestly I believe Konrath portraying himself as the reader's "every man" persona made them lose the debate. His team's points were valid and strong, but Konrath came off as a less-educated man--he made the point himself about how he could ever appear together with three men--one being a lawyer (Turow) and all three graduates of prestigious colleges while he made a sofa out of stacking beer cans and getting a 2.2 GPA at a small college. He also made some off-color "jokes" which were not accepted well by the audience. In other words, he made a joke of himself, rather than identifying himself as the brilliant writer and business person he is.

abcNews anchor/reporter John Donvan, hosted the debate and performed an exceptional job keeping order. The debate was always respectful and entertaining. Otherwise I wouldn't have watched the whole program. I was amazed at how quickly the first hour flew by. 

I had not heard of Intelligence Squared debates until watching this one. I look forward to taking in many more on all kinds of subjects.

What are your thoughts on the premise that Amazon is the Reader's Friend? Perhaps they should debate on Amazon is the Author's Friend? 

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Anonymous said...

I just don't know what to think about this. Above all, I'd say that Amazon is AMAZON'S friend. Are they a reader's friend? Are they an author's friend? Personally, I care nothing for Kindle, though the print side of Amazon (CreateSpace) has been virtually painless and easy -- and, frankly, a necessity.

Hm, my bulb ain't burning too bright on this topic!

J.Q. Rose said...

You don't care anything about Kindle? Does that mean you don't like to read eBooks or just don't like ordering through amazon for ebooks? Glad to know CreateSpace is painless and easy. All things you really need, IB.

Anonymous said...

Hi JQ, thanks for summing up this interesting debate. Personally I believe Amazon is the reader's friend to a certain extent. There is certainly a vast range on offer, and I've found their customer service is exemplary. But because of Amazon, my local bookshops are not doing well, and several have closed. I miss browsing in my local shops. It would be a great shame if Amazon were the only option for readers.
Interesting discussion. You summed it up really well.

emaginette said...

I love Amazon as a reader--sure.

But here's the thing, they are putting bookstores out of business. And I don't like it.

They sell books that have never seen an editor which, in my opinion, shame the writing community.

I understand they are only a store. A huge monster of a store, but they should also have standards.

Too much? Sorry. I'm a little passionate about this.

Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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