• Brooke Warner
  • Is Amazon Good or Bad for Authors? 10 Ratings from the Publisher of She Writes Press
This blog was featured on 08/30/2016
Is Amazon Good or Bad for Authors? 10 Ratings from the Publisher of She Writes Press
Written by
Brooke Warner
September 2013
Written by
Brooke Warner
September 2013

Love it or hate it, publishers and authors can’t live without Amazon—and they know it. Earlier this summer I participated in digi.lit. in San Francisco, LitQuake’s one-day digital conference that highlighted a number of interesting panels. For me the most interesting, perhaps not surprisingly, was the publisher panel (“The Future of Publishing”), featuring Charlie Winton from Counterpoint; Isaac Fitzgerald from McSweeney’s; and Jon Fine from Amazon. (You can read more about it here.)

The room-silencing moment came when Winton accused Amazon of using thug-like tactics in their negotiations with publishers. Winton has been in the industry forever, so he gets to say things like this, even on a panel with the guy whose job it is to make Amazon look good.

Back when I was working for Seal Press, I didn’t give much thought to Amazon. They were one of many accounts for us, and they usually took moderate buys on our books. With the advent of digital books, Amazon started to gain a major edge. We sold a lot of ebooks, and most of them were via Kindle, and by the time I left Seal, profits on ebooks were higher than print books. (Note, this was only for Seal and is not reflected across all publishers.)

Now, as Publisher of She Writes Press, I give a lot of thought to Amazon. I’ve thought about them every day since June 2012 when Kamy and I first launched the press. Here are ten things I’ve discovered, along with a ranking for authors—thumbs up (good for authors), thumbs down (bad for authors), or thumbs sideways (doesn’t make a big difference either way for authors).

1. Because Amazon doesn’t really care about making money off of books, and just wants to own the market, it can afford to price books so low that they take a loss on them. Authors are always freaking out about how low their books are priced on Amazon, but they always take the same percentage—50%-55%—of the retail cost of your print books, and they pay you the same amount no matter how heavily they discount your book.

Rating: Thumb's Up

2. Amazon’s method of price fixing your ebook between $2.99 and $9.99 (by taking 30% of your profits if you land in their sweet spot and 70% if you don’t) means that they are effectively devaluing intellectual property (to borrow a phrase from Winton). The very fact that we think we should pay less than $9.99 for an ebook is Amazon’s influence, and the trickle-down effect for authors is that we keep lowering the cost of our ebooks and decreasing our own profits.

Rating: Thumb's Down

3. If you self-publish, Amazon should be your best friend. In essence, Amazon wants to put publishers out of business. They want to have one-on-one relationships with authors, and they do a pretty good job of catering to individual author’s needs. They have created lots of opportunities for authors to get more visibility through Author Central and other programs, like KDP Select, where they allow for promotions, including listing your book for sale at zero cost. Though it’s arguable that putting your book up for sale at zero contributes to the devaluing of intellectual property, it also gets more eyes on your book. And for first-time and self-published authors, visibility is critical. (It’s important to note here that there are other ways to get your book up on Amazon at zero cost—including pricing it at zero on iTunes, and forcing Amazon to match it.)

Rating: Thumb's Up

4. The amount of money you make off of books sold through Amazon is basically the same as books sold through any other trade outlet. However, programs like Amazon Prime incentivize people to buy through Amazon and drive sales away from bookstores. Yes, Amazon is putting bookstores out of business, AND it’s responsible for a whole new culture around books. The downside of this is that we’re losing bookstores. The upside is that it’s easier to get books that your local bookstore may not carry. For those authors who aren’t the blockbuster sellers, Amazon is getting you attention for your book that you most likely otherwise wouldn’t receive.

Rating: Thumb's Up

(with a caveat that I am not for the ramifications on bookstores)

5. KDP Select (mentioned above) requires you to make your book exclusive to Amazon for 90 days. (Only self-published authors qualify for this.) While there may be many benefits to doing so (disclosure: I’ve done it), it’s also a way that Amazon monopolizes content and effectively controls what people see and buy. Mark Coker of Smashwords has written about why you shouldn’t make your book exclusive to Amazon. I totally agree with him, and yet I couldn't help myself from giving it a go when presented with the opportunity. The result of my three-day giveaway was 2500 free books downloaded. Since then we’ve had SWP authors who’ve had nearly 20,000 downloads. One of the best things I can see that’s come of this is more Amazon reviews, but it mostly hasn’t bumped up sales the way that some people claim it will. (Note: Because of our move to IPS, SWP authors will no longer be eligible to participate in KDP Select.)

Rating: Thumb's Up

6. CreateSpace (Amazon’s self-publishing platform) lures many self-pubbed authors with a promise that your book will get more attention on Amazon, and that it will be quicker to get to market. However, the quality of these books is far inferior to other POD platforms, like Lightning Source/IngramSpark. I’ve seen poor paper quality, smudging, and bad binding, which is the result of low-cost production. And buyers need to beware.

Rating: Thumb's Down

7. Amazon forces its terms on publishers, which is more problematic for publishers than authors per se. But the cost of good visibility on Amazon is high, making it the case that those publishers who have deep pockets benefit while smaller publishers suffer. This is a counterpoint to #4, where I said at least any book is findable on Amazon. But being findable and being promoted or highlighted are two different things, and the latter comes at too high a cost.

Rating: Thumb's Down

8. Amazon reviews are a platform-builder. Publishers pay attention to Amazon reviews. Authors who have a lot of 4- and 5-Star reviews look good to agents and editors, and if your book is well-reviewed on Amazon, you can use that to your advantage.

Rating: Thumb's Up

9. It’s so easy to publish a Kindle ebook that anyone who hasn’t needs to get on the ball and do it now. Again, it’s another easy platform builder, and it allows you to have an Author Central page and to try to solicit reviews for your book. It gives you a product and, while not as powerful as a print book, it’s a pretty good calling card.

Rating: Thumb's Up

10. Amazon is controlling, because they can be. You do what they say or you pay. They want you to price your book a certain way, you do. They take away a privilege you’ve been putting time and resources to (like the LIKE buttons that disappeared earlier this year) and oh well, too bad. You want to try to publish a book and not have it on Amazon, you don’t even exist. This kind of control in the marketplace, in my opinion, is dangerous. And it can only get worse from here.

Rating: Thumb's Down

So we have 4 thumbs down; 4 thumbs up; and 2 neutral. Amazon’s not going anywhere. I don’t have it out for them either. Their practices, however, are disconcerting, and we as an author community need to keep our eyes open. One of the primary reasons for seeking traditional distribution was to be able to better manage our metadata, and that was absolutely all about Amazon. Because it’s such a powerhouse site, and a go-to shopping mall for books, authors need to take advantage of everything Amazon has to offer.

So get your reviews. Work on your ebook. Take advantage of everything Amazon has to offer, and—of course—give your readers an option to go elsewhere. Treat Amazon like you would a friend who doesn't totally have your back.

What does the community think? Love? Hate? Experiences? Questions? Concerns?

Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    Hi Karen, there are some major issues with the affiliate program and depending on what state you live in, it's been discontinued. It's not available to California residents anymore, for instance. I can't remember all the backstory to this because it's been a while, but it had something to do with tax issues. I just Googled it and it looks like maybe there's some ways around this, but I would recommend not waiting for Amazon and trying to find some discussion groups to get some help on this front. Good luck! Passive income is another Amazon positive. :)

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Awesome, detailed blog post, Brooke! 

    As usual, I have learned much about marketing my gardening book. I am using this time to practice all of my marketing skills so that when my next book is ready for release, I can do all of the right things to give it a better chance. There is much I didn't know when it was published in 2010 that I have learned through SheWrites...and many opportunities to grow as a writer that I have learned about here, too.

    Since I set up my Author's Page on Amazon before setting up my affiliate account for my book, my affiliate's product link for my book does not appear on my page. I asked them for help with that, but to no avail. I think they have a policy that says "oh well," basically. At least I did get them to help me post an RSS feed of my WordPress blog to my Author's page.

    I hope that the next book I publish will be linked to my associate/affiliate account from the beginning. I still believe that buying copies of my gardening book from my publisher at a 55% discount and selling them at a 20% discount allows me to earn more for my writing than on Amazon, but for earning "passive" money, it's better than not earning anything, it just takes much longer to reach the payout threshold.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    Thanks for the comments, @Maria, @Urenna, and @Jennifer!

  • Your article is packed!  Thank you for listing your professional insights.  You helped me with many questions.  Sometimes, we cannot avoid who to work with nor can we disavow their part in publishing our work-what a dilemma or challenge.  I will revisit your article.  Thanks.



  • Urenna Sander

    Brooke, Thank you.

  • Jennifer L Myers

    Great! Very informative Brooke! Thank you. I agree, Amazon isn't going anywhere & I think we should make the most of it.

  • Zetta Brown

    Amazon may be a necessary evil, but Bezos could turn into another Rupert Murdoch--and that ain't good. I don't care how much money you have it doesn't give you the right to buy everything in sight. The only one who benefits from a monopoly is the one who owns it. It just amazes me that some people think they can still own the world and that 1) no one will notice and 2) their life will be trouble free.

    I shop at Amazon frequently, but I would be very angry if all my purchases traced back to them, regardless of what outlet I use.

    Consumer knowledge is important. Generally speaking, 99% of the reading population could care less who/how/what published their book as long as they can get it. The other 1% (those of us in the industry) may see the writing on the wall but find it difficult getting others to read it. ;)

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Cardyn, yes, I have the same concerns. I saw Jeff Bezos on GMA yesterday saying that he believes print media will one day become a luxury item, and I'm sure he's right about that. I think that he's interested in investing in all sorts of random things, because he can. I'm not sure what his interests are in owning the Post, but I kind of got the impression that it was akin to investing in a curiosity. But I don't know. Maybe he has a grand plan!!

  • Cardyn Brooks Promoting

    Very provocative, Brooke.


    What are your thoughts about Amazon's ownership of Library Thing, Goodreads, and Jeff Bezos's personal purchase of The Washington Post? As a writer and a reading addict, Amazon's business model benefits me in terms of profit, access, value and convenience. It's the long-term effects of consolidation under the Amazon/Bezos banner that concerns me because the broader and deeper a successful corporation's reach becomes, the more homogenized its offerings become over time for reasons linked to productivity, efficiency and profit margins.


    For all that Amazon has reconfigured the publishing industry into an e-book focus, it still recognizes the enduring sensory appeal of traditionally printed books. (Ex. Amazon's Montlake Romance imprint and their recent TV commercials for Kindle where all the featured readers are over 30)


    Philosophically, my only beef with Amazon is its unapologetic mission to become a publishing industry monopoly. Monopolies often crush diversity and civilized dissension; they can create tyrants. 




  • Sharon Cathcart

    @Brooke:  Yep.  To date, I've done ten books in the way I described below.  I have been very pleased with my results with Smashwords.  Amazon?  I'm there because I kind of have to be if I want to walk my own talk about discoverability.  There's no denying that it's a behemoth in the bookselling industry -- but my sales there are just not what they are in other outlets.

  • Jim Brown

    I know many others who, like myself, have a love/hate of Amazon, but essentially my view of Amazon is a business-only point of view, and I would encourage everyone to adopt the same view. Whether you are an author self-publishing, or going through an established publisher, writing books should be a business focus for you.

    Amazon are a reseller. Yes they are also a publisher, depending on your relationship with them, but for most purposes they are a reseller. They set terms and if you want to sell through them you have to accept the terms - that's business. It's how business operates. Amazon can change the terms as they see fit, and you can choose to accept the terms or take your business away, as you see fit. Amazon are not daft though. They aren't going to do anything so radical as to drive away the very suppliers they depend on. Individually we may agree or not agree with what they do, but one thing is very, very clear:

    Amazon are the main reason for the ebook growth in publishing

    If it wasn't the amount of money they initially lost in developing and pushing into public view the very first Kindle reader, and thereby virtually dragging everyone else into the ebook domain for fear of being left behind (and trust me they came with reluctance), ebooks might not have been the huge growth success that they currently are.

    Amazon made themselves the market leader and they do what they can to maintain that, and - faults notwithstanding - we reap the benefits of that. Before Amazon, where would any author or publisher have been able to retain 70% of the sales income from a book? That would have been unthinkable, and you would have been laughed at for requesting it. Yes you have to accept certain conditions for that 70% but they are not unfair conditions at all.

    I'm not personally a fan of everything Amazon does, but like I said I take a business viewpoint when looking at Amazon, and as far as book sales are concerned, Amazon is a major, positive, business partner when it comes to having your book on sale.

  • Avalon

    Great post. It gives me a insight into the other side of Amazon I know nothing about. I know Amazon mainly from trying to buy books and giving up on books. Why, because when you aren't an English speaking country, you almost cannot buy there. And if you can buy, they won't ship to you. I am but one reader, but I don't like Amazon. They indeed take over everything. It worries me that you indicate they would close down bookstores. I hope not. I love books in paper form, more then I love E-books. If they take over, then where would I get my English books? It's hard enough already to get them in the Netherlands...
    So please, have your (E-)books somewhere else then just there, indeed. I won't be able to support writers if you don't!

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Christine. Thanks so much. :)

  • Christine Keleny

    Great post, Brooke! (the power of free) I just reblogged it. Great information to share. Thanks

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Rachel. Yes! You're totally right. For anyone interested in a simple write-up of some of what you can do on that front, I wrote this post earlier this year: http://warnercoaching.com/2013/01/10/the-power-of-free. It has some good tips. I think if you have an ebook it can be smart to try to drive traffic to your site or to your social media with some sort of offer page. I didn't know about the borrowing. Good to know!

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Sharon, thanks for this. Have you done more than one book this way? Sounds like it. I think Smashwords is pretty great. It's easy and it's a good company. I heard Mark Coker speak recently about why not to make books exclusive and it was so convincing. It's easy to just go along with Amazon's practices, and it's good to question why we're doing it. When I did KDP Select I really wanted to test-drive it so I could see what it was all about. I have no misgivings about having done it, but I don't think it brought me many leads or new customers. I'm sure this varies too.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Pamela, this is good to know. I think Amazon is responsive to authors, and I think the quality of the books varies. My sense is that glossy covers are better than matte covers. I heard once that when a customer (someone I know) complained, they took their listing down until they rectified the situation. But I think given how huge they are they actually do have authors' interests in mind, which is why it's working so well. Thanks for weighing in.

  • Sharon Cathcart

    Thanks for the analysis.  I use regular KDP and have Smashwords distribution to other outlets.  While everyone's business is different, and I was an early adopter of Smashwords (2009) for my books, I have to say that KDP-S seems more like the proverbial pig-in-a-poke every time I read about it.  My books in ePub format, via Smashwords' extended distribution (the premium catalog) outsell Amazon by a factor of 20:1 (I do my metrics periodically).  It' s not worth it to me to cut off a significant portion of my audience on the off-chance that someone will "borrow" one of my books.  Plus, Smashwords pays better royalties and allows me to do a promo whenever, and for however long, I want.

    I don't mean to sound like a commercial; I don't work for Smashwords, after all.  However, I have learned over time that Mark Coker is right about a good many things -- and one of them is that discoverability is key.  If people who have chosen ePub readers (did you know that Kobo is the most rapidly growing/popular eReader outside of the United States?) cannot discover you, it doesn't matter how aggressively you "market."  You're not going to get those folks in your audience.

    In essence, "exclusivity" is the same as telling a good many of your potential readers "I don't want you in my audience."

    Other people's mileage may vary, but that's how I see it.

  • Rachel Thompson

    Great analysis!

    I have two of my three books on KDP Select and it's been an amazing tool for gaining visibility -- but just going free does little on its own. It requires BUZZ: submitting free days to the various sites (Author Marketing Club has a great tool to connect to many of the free listing sites), blogging and guest posts, an ad or two, and social media presence all contribute to creating that buzz. 

    One other advantage to KDP Select is that prime members can borrow our books and we're still paid on those borrows. That's not a huge amount of money, but this month's payout is $2.26/borrow ... nothing to sneeze at if your book is priced 2.99. If the ebook price is higher (for example, my 3rd book is priced 5.99), it doesn't help me to have it in the program because borrows are half of what sales are! 

    My first print version will be this current release and I signed with Booktrope to create that -- keeping my eBook royalties. The hybrid model is a great in-between option for many. 

  • Kathryn Mann

    Brooke, thank you for your informative analysis.  I am about to publish (soon, please soon) my first novel, and though I had always assumed I would post it to Amazon, I realized I was doing so without really thinking about what that really meant. 


    I had planned to use CreateSpace for my printed copies, and so I appreciate Pamela Olson's comments below.

  • Judy c Kohnen

    This was an informative, balanced look at the pros and cons. It has been difficult to find this kind of synopsis, so thank you!

  • Pamela Olson

    I agree with most of this, but I have to say, regarding CreateSpace:  I was happy with the quality of the books they printed for me.  A couple of times I did get a box of low-quality books (some kind of error in laminating the covers), but they were replaced immediately when I complained.  They are very responsive to customer feedback (or at least were when I was working with them two years ago).  If you are unhappy and don't say anything, then yeah, it sucks.  But every time I was unhappy, I called them up and let them know, and they fixed it promptly.

    Just my two cents.

  • Christine Keleny

    @ Brooke. I didn't know they charge differently for traditional vs self-pub. Not nice.

    The only thing I've heard about Ingramsparks is to read the fine print, make sure you know what you're buying, but that can be said for any of these online folks. Has anyone used Shewrites to publish? Can we be honest about them on this forum? :)

    Personally, I like to do it myself and have them printed at a printing company in Chicago. I have to hire an editor, but everyone has to do that. I am lucky enough to have learned book design and I quite enjoy it.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Marcy. Yes, awesome.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Susan. Some people say that you have an advantage with Amazon if you use CreateSpace. I think the only advantage I've actually witnessed is that it's faster from the point you upload the book with them to the point that it's available on Amazon. So for speed to market. But really all of this should be well-timed and sequenced regardless, so I don't see it as a major benefit. I've also heard that Amazon "favors" CreateSpace books, but I've not seen any evidence of this either. The downside of CreateSpace books, too, is that some bookstores won't carry them. I know it's not the case with all, but our local famous Book Passage refuses because the owner so loathes (publicly too) Amazon's practices. So you'd want to ask your local bookstore about that particularly if you have events you want to do.