We Disrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program

One of the things I keep hearing is that Amazon is disrupting the publishing business. That disruption is what allows independent authors like me to make a living in a field where - in the past - only a handful of superstars could quit their day jobs.

I've been looking at this for a couple of years now and I think we're focused on the wrong end of the paradigm.

Disruption is a technical term and happens when an innovation changes the marketplace for a new and under served populations of customers.

Who are the customers in publishing?

Certainly not the authors. Publishing has long see the authors and editors and artists less as customers than as piece work laborers, a necessary overhead cost in producing the books that they sell to the real end customers - readers.

I would argue that the disruption that Amazon has caused is in reading and they did it by changing the distribution model that a few (and shrinking) number of companies have controlled for decades. Ebooks in general and Amazon in particular gave people with limited means and limited mobility access to the community of letters in numbers that were unthinkable before. Those readers, and our ability to reach them, is what makes it possible for me to make a living writing novels.

So when the Wise and Powerful Wizard of 'Zon changes the rules, like trying out new subscription models or altering what authors get paid, remember one critically important distinction.

We're not the customers that their disruption serves. We're only the beneficiaries of that disruption.

Cash the checks and keep writing.

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[This post originally shared with the Writers Discussion Group on Google+ - Aug, 2015. Nothing has changed since then.]

Nathan Lowell

Nathan Lowell has been self-publishing his science fiction and fantasy since he started releasing his books in podcast form in 2007.

He frequently writes about social media, marketing, and the life of a full time self-published author.

3 thoughts on “We Disrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program

  1. You make a really good point. With self-publishing, Amazon needs to always remember who their customers are. If they start treating the writers (instead of the readers) as their customers, they could be starting down a frightening path of selling services to writers instead of selling books to readers, and thus looking more like a vanity press than anything else.

    • Amazon never forgets who their customers are. Authors sometimes forget and think that Amazon owes them something. Amazon is a storefront for us. Nothing more. Nothing less.

      As suppliers, we have limited say in how we’re treated but we always have the option of taking our marbles and going home.

      It would be nice if they’d be a little more diligent in stepping on violations of their TOS and a little more circumspect in how they do it when they finally stomp, but we take the good with the bad. 😀

  2. “I would argue that the disruption that Amazon has caused is in reading….”

    amazon.com has been instrumental in changing the behavior of writers as well as readers. Trade publications have mentioned the problem, and Douglas Preston has written a few articles on the problem.

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