Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

Amazon, Idealism, and Compromise

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In grad school, a professor wrote on one of my papers, “Andi, you can’t really be this much of an idealist, can you?”  I can’t remember what that paper was about – Derrida, gnosticism in Toni Morrison, my loathing for James Joyce? – but I do remember that comment very well for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t realize that being an idealist was a bad thing.
  2. I was (and still am) absolutely an idealist.

So about 18 months ago, when I wrote that I was boycotting Amazon because of their practice of encouraging customers to visit brick-and-mortar stores to scan books so that Amazon could underprice them, I was sincere.  I loathed that practice enough to cut Amazon out of my life.  2279398155

Then, my brother bought me a Kindle Fire for Christmas, just two weeks after that post when live.  Sigh.

And here was my quandary – do I honor this generous gift from my brother? Or do I honor my idealism?

The answer was easy – people first, always.  So I downloaded The Singing by Allison Crogganand escaped into a back-lit land of magic.

I still don’t love Amazon.  They feel monopolistic to me.  And I’m still quite disappointed and angered by that, albeit brief, practice of using brick and mortar bookstores to destroy themselves.  And yet . . .

And yet, I’ve made a very conscious decision over the past few months.  It’s a decision about priorities, and here’s what I’ve come to.

If I want to continue to write for a living – and I do very much want to continue – I have to make some sacrifices.  One of those sacrifices is my idealism about business.  I would LOVE to simply write without thought to markets or pay or labels, but that ideal is simply not the reality of writing today.  Today, writers have to be business people – marketing and capitalizing (ugh, it hurts to even write that word) as best they can on the meager returns on art as commodity.

So, I have signed up for the Amazon Associates program, which is where I link most of the time when I share a book.  I download books to my Kindle regularly. (In fact, I just bought Billy Coffey‘s When Mockingbirds Sing.)  I have ordered a few wedding items from their vast array of stuff. And my book is for sale there.

Because here’s what I’ve decided, sometimes passion has to trump ideals.  My passion is for writing – for my ability to write for a living and for my friend’s ability to make some part of their living (if not all of it) from their work.  My ideal, well, my ideal is that we all be able to sell enough books through independent bookstores that we can survive, but my ideal is not reality (which I’m sure it what my professor was trying to point out to me in grad school.)

Really, it’s about people first (although I’m not sure Amazon shares that philosophy). My friends and I need to have financial support to be able to continue writing books, and so if we can get that support through a rather monopolistic corporation, I need to reconcile myself to that, even as I loath it.  I never want to put my beliefs, my theology, or my idealism ahead of people.  Never.

I still buy as much as I can from Powells, and I make it a point to shop at independent bookstores wherever I find them.  But yeah, on this I’ve compromised.  I don’t sit easy with the compromise, but well, then, sacrifice is never easy is it?

What about you? What are your feelings about Amazon? Book buying? Making money as a writer?

 

*Folks, I’ve started a Pinterest board that features the work of my friends.  I’d love to pin a copy of your book – with the sales’ link of your choice – to that board.  So please, link away in the comments below and I’ll pin you up.  You have always wanted to be a pin-up, haven’t you?

 

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Author: Andi

I am a writer, editor, and writing teacher whose most recent book, The Slaves Have Names, tells the story of the people who were enslaved on the plantation where I was raised. When I'm not working, my husband and I are working to make our small farm - God's Whisper Farm - a retreat here at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  • http://www.ordinaryservant.com Pilar Arsenec

    I can understand and appreciate your struggle. I think I’m a bit of an idealist myself. :)
    Pilar Arsenec recently posted…I Don’t Believe In BikinisMy Profile

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      I never would have guessed, Pilar. ;)

  • http://akintsugilife.com Kenetha

    Thanks for this! I am also an idealist, and I find compromise of those ideals to be such a struggle also. It’s good know that I’m not alone in this issue of how to deal with Amazon as a writer. There are no easy answers.
    Kenetha recently posted…Real successMy Profile

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Nope, nothing easy at all, Kenetha. . . just the best we can do.

  • http://modernpastor.com Christine

    I’m not going to lie, as a consumer I have been with Amazon for years and I LOVE them – especially at Christmas when I can shop for the whole family and never leave my house. The last time I entered Walmart at Christmas was 6 years ago and I almost hyperventilated! So for this alone, I am grateful for Amazon.
    However, I am trying to write for a living and am completely naive to the whole concept. I have seen and taken a few classes promising me I will make at least $1000/month if I follow their steps but I get completely overwhelmed. I am inches away from finishing my manifesto but have no idea what to do after that!
    And is it me or does it seem as soon as someone tells you how to make it as a writer someone else comes along and debunks the whole thing?
    Makes me think, maybe I shouldn’t quit my day job. Believe it or not, pastoring seems easier!
    Just kidding, I know God will help me figure this out if I’m supposed to do it!
    But thanks for letting me rant!
    Love you tons ANDI!
    Christine recently posted…Selfish PrayersMy Profile

  • http://www.lindawis.com Linda C. Wisniewski

    Hi, Andi,
    Thanks for bringing this up. It’s a real dilemma, isn’t it? Convenience and exposure to a huge audience vs. idealism and the personal. I am a compromiser. Love my indie bookstores, (I’m lucky enough to have more than one nearby) but I have my book on Amazon, post on Goodreads (owned by Amazon!) and this morning at breakfast, I downloaded the NY Times to my Kindle Fire. Sigh.
    I think it’s good we are aware of what we are doing, and why, and making informed choices.
    For your Pinterest board, here’s my book link:
    http://www.pearlsong.com/offkilter.htm
    Thanks!
    Linda

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com LarryTheDeuce

    Some of my fondest memories as a kid are walking down to the bookstore when my mom was grocery shopping or at J.C. Penney’s or Belk’s, before it became Modern Southern Style. I groan at there being fewer bookstores and rejoice at being able to buy more at better prices. The paradigm is shifting and those of us who love those things are being shoved aside for the new way, just as those were shoved aside before us. It’s part of life and we have to live with some of it.
    LarryTheDeuce recently posted…Defeating The Dark Night Of The SoulMy Profile

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      I mostly groan, Larry. I do love a great price, of course, but not at the cost of diversity and small business. I just don’t want cost to be the purveyor of anything’s value.

  • http://christinelcody.blogspot.com/ Christine

    I work for a small indie publisher in Boulder, CO. We didn’t want to believe that *our* readers were ‘Amazon people.’ (We published Pema Chodron’s last book, for karma’s sake!) But in 2012 we did almost $2 million in business with Amazon & $200k with indie bookstores.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Whew, that’s a powerful statistics, Christine. And while it makes me a little sad, it does bring me comfort that even independent publishers find revenue through Amazon.

  • Daniel Rothamel

    No one on planet has done more for the independent author than Amazon. No one. Amazon has, for the first time in human history, made it easy for any writer to publish and distribute their work to virtually the entire world. No need for the publisher as middle-man. No need to worry “will this book be marketable?” or “will a publishing house want to take a chance on my work?” Screw the publishing houses. The publishing houses who have, in the past, tried to shut out minority authors, female authors, authors who serve the interests and needs of an audience that the big corporations ignore because it isn’t “profitable enough.” Screw those publishing hoises.

    Write your art, put it on Amazon, and let the reading public decide if it truly is worthy of their money. It is glorious.

    Rest easy. Supporting Amazon may or may not hurt independent book dealers (I don’t think it does in any significant way), but supporting Amazon is critical to the ideal of the independent artist being able to deliver her art to the world and receive just financial compensation in return without undue influence from corporate interests. You’re not compromising, you’re supporting yet another ideal.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      I hear you, Daniel, but it still is a compromise and sacrifice for me. There is no doubt that Amazon hurts independent bookstores, and I don’t love being a part of that. But as you say, they do help writers . . . so it’s a balance. . . always.

  • http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com Edith

    Well, amazon is a part of the real world… and I’m all but happy about the company’s position in the book market. Yet I have to deal with realities. For my blog I joined the amazon partner network, but I myself never ever bought anything there. Instead of scanning books in brick-and-mortar stores and buying them online afterwards I often do it the other way round, ie I scan books on the internet, often on amazon, and then get them in the local brick-and-mortar bookshops (having them ordered by them).

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Good for you, Edith. A little reversal may be just what Amazon needs.

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