In praise of Amazon

Book publishers dislike Amazon because of its discount pricing practices. Small bookstores hate the company for the same reason. Most other independent retailers feel the same way. More than four thousand of them across Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Halifax have recently listed their businesses with a Canadian online directory, Not Amazon. The site was created by a Toronto marketing firm social media manager named Ali Haberstroh, 27, who says she did it “so you don’t have to give any money to Amazon this year!”

I can understand the frustration. Amazon thrives while small independents cut inventory, lay off employees and defer rent payments. Why keep the behemoth in champagne when your local shop struggles to put milk in the fridge?

But while I prefer to shop locally and avoid big-box retailers, I must say I’m grateful to Amazon for helping me maintain a living as a writer. Especially during these virus-plagued times when in-person literary events, which afford an opportunity to sell a few books, have been put on indefinite hold.

When a publisher sends me a statement declaring my book out of print, I go to Amazon for relief. I’ve done this six times in the past five years. The publishers removed my books from their catalogues, I took advantage of Amazon’s free publishing tools and resources, and my books went back into circulation as self-published paperbacks and e-books.

Amazon isn’t the only company that helps keep my titles alive. Human Powered Design, an independent Calgary-based company that specializes in turning publishers’ files into e-books, has done the EPUB conversions for four of my out-of-print titles. HPD then sent the titles not just to Amazon but to Kobo, Apple (iBooks) and OverDrive, the company that distributes e-books to libraries and schools in eighty-four countries.

With this kind of world-wide distribution, the likes of which I never enjoyed with a trade publisher, I now receive royalties from countries such as France, where I never thought an English-language book about the Rocky Mountains would gain much traction.

I don’t receive a ton of money from Amazon for distributing and selling my books. But the company’s monthly deposits into my bank account do help pay my telephone bills. The same holds true for the thousands of other authors who use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing arm to keep their books in the public eye. Many earn just pennies in royalties, but every little helps when you’re cobbling together a living as a writer.

If you want to add to your home library the latest release by your favourite author, I recommend you first try your favourite local independent bookseller. If they say you’ll have to wait three weeks for the book to come in, and you’re happy to wait that long, then by all means have your bookseller process your order. But if you’re impatient and give your business to Amazon instead, just remember this. You’re not just lining the pockets of Jeff Bezos. You’re also helping your favourite author pay their utilities bill.