Amazon’s Latest Mistake – How to Avoid It

AmazonA lot of noise has been made about a recent author/Amazon incident, surrounding Jamie McGuire and her title Beautiful Disaster, including this article in Forbes. If you aren’t familiar with it, the general gist is that Amazon proactively offered refunds on a title purchased six months previously, and also offered an additional sum of money that comprised the difference between the original indie book price and the current big publisher price (the author had been picked up and republished). They then deducted  that amount of money for the refunds from the original indie author account (not the big publisher account). Ouch!

For some reason, Amazon is choosing to remain silent and not come to their own defense. Here’s the thing, I happen to be a big fan of Amazon on both a personal and a professional level (as are the other founders of Booktrope) and I think Amazon’s decisions in business are just that, business – versus some wild conspiracy to take over the book planet as we know it. As a result, we have all been wracking our brains over here, trying to figure out just what exactly could have happened to make this a more or less “innocent mistake”. And I think we have a very reasonable scenario about how this could have happened. Certainly if it didn’t go down like this in this specific case, it could have.

  • An author uses DRM to lock down and protect her book, as many do.
  • In case you aren’t familiar with this term or how if functions, DRM is intended to keep people from giving away an ebook they have purchased. It functionally means that no one “owns” the digital copy of the book that you have sold them, it is more akin to having a “license” to read the book.
  • If a book with DRM is pulled from the system, any person who has purchased the book, but not yet read it, can no longer access the content.
  • Wouldn’t this result in a series of requests from affected customers about not being able to access the content? Wouldn’t you then say that this is legitimately a “content problem”? I think we have all been reading this term in another context, i.e. the content being flawed, versus the content not being accessible.
  • Now, assume that same book is uploaded by someone else, say a publisher, also under DRM and under a new ASIN number.
  • How do you get that new content to the users who have complained? It is no longer the same book, for all intents and purposes.
  • If enough people complain, would you potentially take a proactive (albeit in hindsight, drastically mistaken) step and email ALL of the people who could be affected?
  • Can you see where some of the folks working in customer service at Amazon, arguably not the highest up in the food chain, might not even have taken a moment to think where these refunds would be coming from (simply pushing the transaction through to the “account” in question)?

As I said, I have no idea whether this is how it happened, but it did make me think about the broader concept. I think that the lesson in this story is not to hate Amazon, or shy away from self-publishing and then moving to traditional – the real moral here is to rethink whether DRM is necessary. If you do choose to use DRM, be sure you are careful about how you change gears. If you bought a print book from me and then I took it back without refunding your money, how would you feel? No matter how you are published, alienating readers is no author’s goal.

I have reached out to Amazon to see if I can get confirmation on the above being a possible scenario…should they respond, I will update this article!


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