I’m giving you four stars, amazon

amazon ****

I’m giving you four stars, amazon. You lose that elusive fifth one because of your  absolute resistance to removing malicious or inaccurate customer reviews, such as the one that appeared in amazon UK on my bullying book for children which called victims ‘pansies’ and said they should get in with the cool kids by smoking and doing whatever it takes.

Or the one you’re currently refusing to take down on the same book in amazon US, which slanders me as an authority on bullying by stating that I advise bullied children to hit back.

Surely this is slander?
Surely this is slander?

But notwithstanding such a serious shortcoming, here’s why this author still thinks you deserve four stars.

* You make all my books readily available

High Street booksellers are great at selling children’s fiction, but before you arrived, I wrote eight fantastically well-reviewed children’s self-help books which proved impossible for them to sell. If they stocked them, they didn’t know where to display them.

There wasn’t such a thing in the UK as a children’s self-help section, indeed in most shops, there wasn’t much children’s non-fiction at all, except school-type books and a handful of tired-looking hard-backs about animals.

Thanks to you, most of my self-help books are still in print and selling well, and they’re finding their way into the hands of children who need them, which is why I wrote them.

* You keep my out-of-print books available too

This is even more important nowadays because the modern publishing world can be brutal, with books going out of print within a few months if they fail to reach their projected sales.

It’s hard to write a book. Not just in terms of work, but in terms of emotional commitment. So it’s simply heart-breaking if the book you’ve taken years to write and months to sell, and then waited eighteen months to see in print, disappears without trace before it’s even had a proper chance, to make way for ever more celebrity memoirs and novelty books.

* You make it possible for me to write what I want to write

When I was first published, authors were barely aware of ‘the market’ at all. Now the decision to publish is made by marketing people who will not even have read the book, so there’s not much point writing anything that hasn’t got a strong ‘hook’ and pound signs all around it.

But what if you want to write the books you want to write, and would be happy with moderate sales so long as you could pay your bills? My most frequent feedback from publishers recently is that the book is ‘too niche for the market’ or ‘too niche to achieve bulk sales.’

This is especially hard when they’re really positive about the quality of the book, like with my most recent submission, which has so far not secured a contract: ‘this is a very fine novel, so subtle, yet sharply observed’, ‘a sensitive subject, delicately and carefully handled’, ‘compelling’, ‘highly readable’, ‘the writing is very strong.’

I would be in despair at this stage if it wasn’t for your kindle and createspace, amazon, which mean that even the most ‘niche’ book can at least find some readers, rather than ending up a typescript on a shelf.

*  You make it easy for me to find any niche or out-of-print book I want to read for research 

I used to rely on the library service years ago. My little local branch sought out all sorts of obscure books on dreaming and psychology for me, but it took a long time and wasn’t always successful. Now, thanks to you, I can get any book I want, delivered to my house the very next day.

I still love High Street booksellers, of course – all authors do. High Street booksellers love and know about books – they are people like us. Whereas you, amazon, love and know about money. I deplore the fact that you don’t pay your fair share of taxes; I’m dismayed by your recently well-publicised poor working conditions.

I hate your attempts to force publishers to accept deep discounting by removing their books from your catalogue, although I don’t think it’s much different from what all the major retailers do.

But I personally forgive you all this, because in a traditional publishing environment that has become increasingly difficult for a non-fiction, non-bestselling, niche author to survive in, you make a creative career feel possible.

How do you feel about amazon and the huge online booksellers? Love, hate… or a bit of both?




6 thoughts on “I’m giving you four stars, amazon”

  1. What a wonderful post, Jenny, and you absolutely right about the positives and negatives of Amazon. I think, in the end, the positives do outweigh the negatives… that said, I doooo wish they’d remove those reviews from people who clearly set out to be unkind and/or who clearly haven’t even read the books in question. The publishing world is a very different one though now, as you say, and Amazon opens doors that would otherwise be closed, so I think they do deserve a clap on the back (and the occasional elbow in the ribs!)

  2. I have mixed feelings about Amazon. I’ve ordered from them frequently and I established an account with their Create Space affiliate with the hopes of publishing my own books sometime in the future.

    But, I worked briefly last September at one of their giant warehouse facilities they opened just outside Dallas. I had applied for the job early last year, since I needed something to supplement my struggling freelance writing career. However, I suffered a serious injury in June and had surgery on my arm in September, right after I started working for Amazon. I ended up resigning because I had to let my arm recuperate. It was no great loss. Before they can exit the building, employees have to go through an airport-style metal detector to deter stealing. I always ended up having to step aside so a security official could sweep a wand over me. The metal clasps on my work boots always set off the metal detector. The last couple of nights I worked there I had to wait up to 20 minutes since they only had one security officer checking everybody; time for which I was not compensated. They also won’t allow employees to bring in knives to use for their meals; merely to thwart any potential violence. They also don’t pay what I consider a living age.

    I think Amazon is getting too big. Anti-trust laws enacted in the U.S. at the start of the previous century were an effort to prevent a handful of companies from monopolizing a particular industry. The mergers of several large banks and oil corporations, starting in the 1990s, apparently gives the proverbial middle finger to those laws and the concept of fair and free-market competition.

    1. Yes – there’s lots not to like about amazon, I know – and their size is worrying. It doesn’t sound like a company you’d want to work for.

  3. Sometimes, those crazy, rude comments do more for the writer than a hundred positive ones. Just heard some of the nameless comments about the first openly gay football player and his kiss. I am not a football fan, but the fact that the majority of fans are not buying into this bullying/gay bashing makes me feel a bit better about that group.
    As far as Amazon, we have a love/hate relationship. They are very good about refunds, but my biggest problem is that I buy books that I will never read. I hope I get a chance to teach fiction & memoirs one day because I have enough books to lend out to each student! I know, it is my own fault. I am a bookaholic!

    1. That’s an interesting point about mad and malicious reviews having the potential to do something for the writer, but I think amazon’s attitude is irresponsible towards writers in refusing to moderate them. When I was arguing with amazon about a homophobic review I discovered that they have no guidelines on that at all, although they have clear rules about racist comments. And oh yes – bookbuyingaholism! amazon certainly doesn’t help with that, by making the highly addictive substance of books available cheaply, 24.7.

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