The rhythm of life, publishing and our champions #SFRQ
There are several books on Jeff Bezos and, if you haunt LinkedIn like I do/did, you’ll see that Bezos is hailed as some kind of marketing genius and super-CEO. I remember when Amazon first started. Hubby and I were working in Silicon Valley and I thought what a strange name it was for (at that time) nothing more than an online bookstore.
Well, the Amazon empire has certainly exploded in size since then, the darling of investors, but I don’t know why. You see, amid all the gushing and adulation, a lot of people are missing one thing: Amazon has never turned a profit. Ever. How many people do you know are lauded as geniuses for running a company at a loss for fifteen years straight? Could you do it? Maybe that is the genius of Bezos. Not that he can run a profitable company. He can’t. But, by gum, he can get people to buy into his “vision” of a company running perpetually at a loss.
Even Scott Galloway, the dynamic founder of L2, a company that he describes as “always on…trainspotters that see patterns” pondered on this at DLD15 (Digital-Life-Design 2015). Here’s the link to his talk (the Amazon bit starts at about 2:00) He cites a 2014 statistic that Amazon brought in US$3.1B in shipping costs that year…but spent US$6.6B. As he puts it, “[Even with their access to cheap capital, the explosion of shipping costs] is not sustainable, even for Amazon.” (If you’re interested in tech, sit through the entire presentation. It’s very entertaining.)
I mention all this because I’m sure what I’ve written so far has hit an emotional nerve with many readers, ready to rush to Amazon’s defence and call me a victim of ADS (Amazon Derangement Syndrome). Galloway’s prediction that Amazon would go bankrupt by the end of the year, for example, turned out not to be true. But that emotional response remains. And it’s not healthy for those of us who are writers. After all, when all’s said and done, Amazon is nothing but a retail channel, one of several.
And that’s how I look at them. There’s no emotion involved in my relationship with Amazon. As a writer and self-publisher, I saw the creation of Kindle Direct Publishing, the flirtation with Epub before they realised that that would break Amazon’s walled ecosystem (watching them backtrack on their promise was both amusing and predictable), the introduction of Kindle Unlimited, the creation of Amazon’s own imprints. Within the span of a few years, I’ve seen Amazon open its hand then, once it had a critical mass of players dancing on its palm, slowly tighten its grip: you have to be in KU to access certain promotion activities; now you have to be in KU to sponsor ads. I’ve read about authors being completely delisted because a scammer has involved them in one of their schemes. I’ve seen the blurring between what were recommendations from other customers and are now nothing more than bidding wars for the placement of targeted ads. I’ve seen the cratering of the Amazon bestseller lists, and the results of changes in the Secret Algorithms that now give precedence to Amazon imprints and KU ebooks. Every week, it seems, Amazon shifts the playing field, to the point that I now think I’m kilometres away from where I started with them.
With all this going on, it’s very easy to slip into an act-first-think-later mentality, so I’m going to say this to all those writers who find the pace too hectic for them: it’s okay to take a time-out. There are other things in life more important than how much you need to spend before Amazon will place your ad in category X. The bloodletting arena will still be there for you after you’ve recharged your batteries, but mental exhaustion is no good for either your own creativity, or for the relationships that matter to you. I’ll be heeding my own advice and taking my foot off the accelerator when it comes to books for the rest of the year.
And speaking of people who matter, you don’t need to be told that SFR is a niche genre, yet it’s one with a burgeoning number of authors. From a hundred or so four years ago, SFR authors now number in the several hundreds! The problem is, as I visit different SFR social media sites, all I see are a lot of drive-by postings. I think the thing that pains me about how our genre is currently shaping up is that we seem to have lost the art of dialogue. Again, it wasn’t that long ago when I could interact with an SFR author, exchange thoughts on what we were each working on, and discuss any underlying concepts or visions to explore. I’m not seeing that anymore. Instead, I’m seeing a lot of Barnum & Bailey: a lot of noise and spectacle with the hearing deliberately switched off.
With that in mind, anyone who stands out in this cacophony, who takes the time to pull authors together, instead of building fences, needs to be lauded. With this issue of SFRQ, we’re inaugurating the “SFR Trailblazer” column and I’m happy to welcome the first inductee…Veronica Scott. Congratulations, Veronica. You deserve all the praise we can heap on you!
We have a good issue for you this time, despite some Life interruptions. Son has completed his IGCSEs and now we wait to see if he’s done well enough to get into a pre-U programme. This is particularly nail-biting as I’ve been homeschooling the kids for the past six years. Has it been good enough? We find out at the end of August.
And so, without further ado, I leave you with Issue 11. Now go read!
FREE SFR! The SFR Brigade is proud to announce the release of PORTALS, four volumes comprising first chapters of Science Fiction Romances from forty different writers. From space marines to cyborgs, alien planets to space stations, and beyond, you’re sure to find your next Gotta-Have-It read. The heat levels range from mild to supernova hot, and everything in between. Go to http://sfrportals.blogspot.com to get the ebook retailer link of your choice to download any or all of the volumes.
In Issue 10 of SFRQ, we featured an interview with editor Athena Andreadis who brought to life TO SHAPE THE DARK, an anthology featuring women scientists as protagonists. You can now learn more about this book at Goodreads.
I am writing a book on options for parents homeschooling outside the United States. If you know anyone who is homeschooling and willing to discuss their situation with me, please drop me a line at KS dot Augustin at Yandex dot com. Thanks!