A recent blog post I came across, Ellora’s Cave & E-book Sales: A Cautionary (First Amendment) Tale by Miss Primm, makes the announcement that Ellora’s Cave has found itself one of the latest victims of Amazon’s ever-changing and ever-elusive policies concerning the availability and accessibility of erotica within their illustrious web pages. To the tune of Ellora’s Cave losing upwards of 75 percent of their Amazon sales.
Okay, so maybe people like Ellora’s Cave and Miss Primm haven’t really missed the wake-up call, but reasons, reactions, and solutions being bantered about by most folks indicate that they are still dozing through the snooze button.
The basic premise seems to be fairly understood, according to Miss Primm’s words:
E-publishers like Ellora’a cave have a profoundly unique relationship with e-retailers like Amazon. Suckling at the teat of lower production costs and easy distribution, e-publishers have traded one evil for another. They aren’t dealing with the higher costs of print production, but they are at the mercy (of) the policies of their distributors.
So, at least people seem to be somewhat aware of the devil they’re dealing with, and the possible problems it poses. However, that seems to be where the awareness ends. Reading further, however, one comes to the realization that many are still just talking in their sleep:
Ever since Milton Friedman declared that that the only social responsibility of a business is to increase its profits, corporate types have used this argument to justify all sorts of schemes, most of which works at odds towards individual’s interests. So it is no surprise that Amazon will do whatever is in its power to maximize sales, even if it means hiding authors.
Well, in a big way, Milton is right. And most businesses are pretty much aware that the best way to increase profits is to give its customers what they want and treat people decently while doing it. However, many businesses will forgo the latter if the former can still be achieved. Solutions to this dilemma, however, continue to remain elusive to Miss Primm and the great majority of other erotica writers. In fact, the basic premise they’re working on seems to be majorly flawed:
It would seem that hiding content, and restricting cover art is censorship, something that violates our First Amendment rights to free speech. This battleground, whether a single entity can control the information flow of a publisher has been fought on other ground. The Supreme Court weighed in on whether a city or town has the right to restrict the location of news racks. Cities argued that they have the right to control “visual clutter” of the streets, while newspapers argued that such restrictions violate their First Amendment rights. The ultimate result gave neither side a clear victory. Cities can adopt a uniform code for newspaper distribution as long as it is applied to all forms of newspapers, paid daily and free shoppers alike. They can even issue permits and impose fees on newspapers for the placement of racks on city land. But they cannot pick and choose what news racks can appear on the streets.
First of all, this is NOT a “First Amendment” issue!!! Like it or not, Amazon is a private business, free to conduct its business as it sees fit. They can sell or not sell whatever books they choose, they can make available or hide whatever books they please. The example that was cited had to do with cities and towns, which are government entities, which is what the First Amendment is aimed at. The one basic factor that everyone seems to have forgotten is that the Constitution of the U.S. was basically framed to tell the government what it can and cannot do, not what the people can and cannot do. The Prohibition Amendment basically blew the shit out of that premise, and we all know (or should know) the fate of that particular clause.
Now this might seem as far away from the topic of Amazon controlling the sales of erotica as one might get. But think about how publicly traded companies like Amazon, on one hand, want the access to and the benefits of a free marketplace, and then assert their right to act as their management sees fit whether or not those goals mesh with public policy. This seems to me a bigger issue than a single publisher putting all their eggs in one basket and losing out to a corporation. And this is one fight that no one seems to want to take on. Ultimately though, someone is going to have to, otherwise, like Ellora’s Cave we will lose our rights to distribute our material to the vagaries of corporate profit strategy.
There are two reasons no one seems to want to take this fight on: First of all, it is an un-winnable fight. It has no teeth and really no basis for it to win on. Second of all, it’s the wrong “fight”. What erotica authors seem to want to be doing is to join Amazon and then “form” Amazon into what they want it to be. Sorry, people, it doesn’t work like that.
Bottom line? It IS an issue of a single publisher putting all their eggs into one basket. It really is no bigger than that. This is what most publishers, and what most independent authors do!! The biggest mistake most indie publishers and authors keep doing is they KEEP PROMOTING AMAZON!!!!
There ARE other “baskets” out there. Carnal Pleasures and Excitica are two which come to mind immediately and there are plenty more, most of which do not have NEAR the restrictions that Amazon does. (Does anyone even remember that Barnes & Noble exists?) There is a demand for erotica. What erotica writers and publishers need to start doing is stop associating Amazon with erotica. Lead your audience somewhere else!!
Every time you keep linking your books to Amazon, you just keep feeding the beast. I’m not saying completely eliminate Amazon if they haven’t completely eliminated you yet… But start training your readers to look elsewhere. If enough erotica authors start doing this, Amazon will start to become less and less of an issue.