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More on the coming death of Amazon (with less profanity)

First, let me say this: Hey, I have books there too. In fact they’ll soon be on sale for $.99 each for a few days [UPDATE: done…there’s a delay in the process]. So I’m not anti-Amazon, exactly…it’s just that the time has come for them to be done by as they’s did. If you follow me. Let’s face it, they’ve done some social good. They’ve been very successful in dealing directly with authors and cutting out the old middleman…aka traditional or “legacy” publishers. But the story doesn’t end there….

Yesterday I ranted about the evils of DRM. Along the way I realized something: Amazon is no longer necessary. In fact none of the current ebook distributors, as currently constituted, can possibly last for much longer.

Here’s the thing: Authorship and readership are well distributed. Suppose you could run an application on your computer that served books/review/data, and you received a cut each time a sale occurred and the book was downloaded from your PC? I see three stakeholder groups in this plan to distribute…well, distribution:

  1. From an author’s perspective, there could be a lot more money available. Some “legacy” distributors (couldn’t resist) would probably price-match, but there’s no reason the author couldn’t receive a much higher %royalty on each sale. Crucially, split royalties can in fact go away entirely in favor of (very low) download fees. I realize people think sites like Amazon are offering a good deal to authors, and compared to traditional publishers it’s even true. But in the internet world, Amazon is making out like a bandit. There’s no immediately obvious reason why royalties should be split with the distributor to begin with–why not a (very small) fee for each download? Hosting is cheap these days. In the long run, this shift is going to happen anyway. There may be a benefit to being the first to move in this direction.
  2. Want to be a distributor? From your server, or even your PC? The pure-hosting side of things (as opposed to creating new works) is likely to appeal to more than enough people. For one thing, authors could host content themselves (possibly encrypted so they can’t actually read it?). In fact, if content creation is rewarded by giving the host a higher percentage of the royalty or fee…can’t be bad.
  3. From the reader’s perspective? Well, I have to admit Amazon does a pretty good job of making books available. However, some people don’t like the company for one reason or another. It’d be interesting to play with various “list” algorithms (bestseller, category, new, etc.) too. Personally I’d want to be transparent about their generation, and see whether that appeals to people…of course that might make the lists vulnerable to gaming. On the other hand, maybe it wouldn’t, or maybe it would and it wouldn’t matter much.

This wouldn’t have to beat existing distributors across the board. I think it’d appeal to a niche of internet-savvy anti-corporate people right off the bat. If it got big enough…well, it could win a price war. The trick there is that authors who engage in lowballing efforts will be penalized by Amazon’s higher royalties & price matching–but I think that would generate considerable ill will towards Amazon. Press/blogger coverage should be pretty easy to obtain.

There are probably lots of other things to do in this space. There are lots of things I don’t know. The whole thing just occurred to me yesterday, sort of by accident.

There’s an obvious potential role for advertisers, too. Who gets that revenue? Is it distributed to the hosting providers? It may be possible to generate a lot of interest by making the hosting provider bits as attractive as possible.

Also, for those who are concerned about “piracy” & such…well, if price and convenience are the best means to combat piracy (if anybody should care to begin with), I’m not aware of another model that can compete on at least the “price” side of it. In fact I suspect that the same mindset that scans a lot of books (and/or removes DRM from ebooks) and then shares them via torrents might have an interest in being a hosting provider instead.

Is there a way to directly incorporate a “Kickstarter”-like funding model? Possibly authors could sell subscriptions? If they’re being charged a per-download fee rather than splitting royalties, it frees them to try various business/pricing models that are hard to implement at the moment.

So…that’s what I have. I really think something like this will happen anyway, sooner or later. Whether the current players in the game like it…or not.

And here’s another question: why would this stop with ebooks? Couldn’t this work for all forms of online content? If you have a following, would you rather publish your video to YouTube…or to a service that allows users to subscribe to your content, for a price you set?

Have fun out there.


Published inTechnobabble


  1. The thing that *is* necessary, if someone wants to sell books, is visibility. And usually that visibility costs some money. Your stuff needs to be touted in some venue that people look at. That’s why writers (musicians, etc) go with publishers and other so-called middlemen. Truly independent authors are just invisible. I ought to know. 😉

    • Yeah, me too. I’m on a five-year plan, though, so I figure there’s time. Also, if I had ten books out instead of one, my family could probably live on the beach for that money…without needing to get lucky/noticed.

      Anyway, this whole concept of mine only works if a lot of authors buy into it, and lots of people notice, and the readers follow. I think it can work. If not this, then something similar will come along. The planet’s full of people who could build a better system than what we have now, and at least a few of them probably will.

      • Yes, the idea is a nice one. One thing that would have to change is the social/cultural mindset surrounding distribution and percentages. Everyone wants a percentage rather than a small flat fee. That’s the barrier, really. Web servers are pretty cheap, and you can get off-the-shelf software to distribute and take credit cards… Getting buy-in and notice is the bigger hurdle.

        • All true. Fortunately I don’t think it’ll be all that difficult. The traditional publishing houses won’t last long, and Amazon has more in common with them than most think. So at some point individual authors will begin signing up to get a better deal, and readers will perforce follow.

          None of that means anything will happen this year. Or next year. But I can’t see anything that would stop it, and it’s better for both authors and readers, so my crystal ball sez: inevitable.

          Of course I could be wrong. But I screwed up a few years ago by assuming I needed to get past gatekeepers to play this writing game. If I’d just stuck with it in spite of logic/odds, I’d be better off now. Now that I think the odds and logic are actually with me? I ain’t goin’ away.

          I’d feel awful dumb later on if I made the same mistake again.

        • Probably the best take-away from all this? Creating content now is, and has been, the best investment thing any of us can make. Even if it seems pointless at times. If it’s good…eventually, it will matter that we have it.

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