Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Don't blink, Amazon

I'm clever, and I'm listening, and don't patronise me, because people have died and I'm Not. Happy.

All right, no one has died, but otherwise I'm feeling a bit Sally Sparrow right now. The Doctor can't explain anything to me because he doesn't have the information himself and he's not really there anyway, and the Weeping Angels are circling, waiting to send me into the past so I can live myself to death and they can eat all those juicy years I would have had left.

Imagine you run a business. You supply goods to a major retailer, and in return they give you a monthly accounting of what's been sold, and pay you. Then you pay the people who've created your goods. There might be a delay while the retailer does their accounting, their pay period and yours might be a bit different, and you've got to process the money, but both you, and your workers, are getting paid regularly.

Now imagine the retailer has suddenly changed their pay period. Instead of totting up sales at the end of the month, they've just informed you they're going to take 90 days to do it. Okay, but you still get paid every month, yes? Of course you do. Only not for the period between now and the end of that first 90 days.

They're not going to pay you for three months.

You're not a big supplier. Your workforce doesn't earn a huge amount. What they earn is generally spent on rent, food, car payments. It might not be the bulk of their income but it's important income. And suddenly, with no notice whatsoever, the main retailer, source of most of your income, tells you you'll have to wait three months for your next payment. They're not saving it up for a lump sum then; you'll just have to find some way of funding yourself while they're not paying you.

You can't afford your own business expenses. You sure as hell can't afford to pay your workforce for the goods they've produced. And you've got to tell them this, that after the next pay cheque there'll be nothing for three months. No notice. Nothing you can do.

All right, maybe you're not the Doctor. Maybe you're a small publisher, and Amazon have just changed, without warning, their pay schedule. You've got to find some way of paying your business expenses for three months while Amazon sit on your money, your authors' money, and get fat and rich off the profits. While your business withers and dies. People don't stop wanting money from you. Least of all your authors, who depend on it for rent, food, car payments.

You can't pay your authors, who are desperate and baying for blood. You can't threaten to withdraw your books from Amazon, because then you'll never see another cent from them. You can't even tell the world what bastards those retailers are, because then they'll probably boycott Amazon in a misguided attempt to hurt them, when all that will happen is that you will lose even more money; and coincidentally that dip in income will probably hit you around Christmas.

You stay quiet, and polite, because there's nothing you can do. And your business haemorrhages money. And Amazon make money hand over fist, and since neither you nor your authors complain, they do it to more publishers. They get away with it.

You're my publisher, and we've both just been screwed six ways to Sunday.

So while I won't name you, because you've been as badly done by this as I have and its not your fault, I'll name Amazon. This is a pretty terrible way to treat your suppliers, whatever business you're in. And just because they've done it before doesn't mean it's right that they can do it again. But they will, just like the Weeping Angels, sending us into the past, into the land of This Is How It's Always Been Done. You, my publisher, The Doctor, can't help me. I've got to help myself, just like Sally Sparrow.

Maybe they'll pay no attention to this. Maybe I'll fail and the Weeping Angels will get me. Maybe Amazon will continue to treat publishers and authors without much clout as badly as they've always done. Maybe my attempts to shame them will fall on deaf ears. But maybe it won't. Maybe I'll make a difference. And if I say nothing, nothing will change. And maybe is better than nothing. J'accuse, Amazon. I'm calling you out.

Don't blink. Blink and you're dead.

Good luck

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