End Amazon KDP's "Strike First, Ask Later" Policy
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This is an open letter to Jeff Bezos and the Amazon KDP team.
Dear Mr. Bezos,
The below signed Authors are grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded to them through the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Amazon paved the way for indies, and for that, we are eternally grateful. For many, being an Author is a labor of love. We pay thousands of dollars in cover designs, editing, formatting, and marketing—which, in many cases, is driven exclusively to Amazon.com. In exchange, we are paid a percentage of the sales. In some cases, Amazon keeps as much as 70% of the royalties on our books.
In the early years, Authors really felt appreciated and supported by Amazon's efforts. For many, though, the good old days have passed, and the publishing climate with Amazon is becoming increasingly hostile. Treatment of Authors by Amazon's KDP team is on a decline, with more and more Authors experiencing bizarre, heavy-handed, unfounded actions against their careers.
We want it to be clear that we do appreciate the work Amazon KDP does to weed out scammers and system gamers who seek to take advantage of the program at the detriment of Amazon and genuine Authors alike. However, some of the preventative measures being taken are hurting honest, hard-working Authors instead.
Our proposed change is one where honesty and professionalism are rewarded and where dishonesty and scamming can still be abolished.
We are simply asking that Amazon KDP abolish their "Strike First, Ask Later" Policies.
In recent years, some of the following have repetitively occurred:
- Authors being banned due to having too many pages read. These Authors were told that Amazon had detected system generated accounts. While we understand these may exist, many Authors have later been exonerated when it turned out the system detecting this made a mistake. But instead of Amazon investigating first, they took action first, and even when those accounts were reinstated, those Authors' books had already taken irreparable damage to their ranking and visibility. In some cases, Authors have lost hundreds or thousands of marketing dollars and needed to spend similarly to recover from their accounts having been wrongfully terminated. Fixing the mistake after the fact is not the answer. Amazon needs to investigate properly and communicate with Authors BEFORE taking action against their accounts.
- Authors' preorders have been cancelled for a variety of reasons as well. One such example we have seen is that another Author files a false copyright report against the Author in question and Amazon un-publishes their book, cancelling thousands of preorders that were acquired through hundreds of marketing dollars and long hours. Later, when the claim is proven false, Amazon does nothing to regain those preorders for the Author. They simply allow them to republish and pick up the pieces of their crushed dreams on their own. Another such example would be 3rd party Authors falsely claiming that a wide novel contains content from a book enrolled in KDP. Amazon will then block that book. When that claim is proven false, the book is reinstated, but by then, the damage has already been done. Even pirated copies of books can result in action against an Author's books or account - making it easy for competing Authors to target one another and manipulate Amazon's system as well as the book community as a whole.
- The most recent issue we have seen is Amazon un-publishing and blocking books that have "USA Today Bestselling Author" or "New York Times Bestselling Author" on their book cover. The reason given by Amazon is that this is misleading to customers. IF it's not true. And we do understand how this could be misleading to customers IF the bestselling status was being falsely claimed. However, Amazon has been taking this action against authors who truly do hold a bestselling title. Moreover, this is something Amazon could easily verify BEFORE taking action. If they cannot find the verifying information they need, they could contact the Authors and ask for verifying documents to be supplied. It is apparent this is an action being taken ONLY against indie Authors, as there are thousands of traditionally published Authors who also list their bestselling status on their book covers, and their books are not being unpublished without question. Simply, we do not understand why verification can't be attempted FIRST, BEFORE un-publishing or blocking books or Authors who, in most cases, are not actually doing anything wrong and who are not misleading customers in any way.
If any of these rules were confirmed to have been broken before Amazon took action, Authors would be accepting of these policies. Our issue is not with the policies themselves, but rather with how they are engaged. All we are asking is that Amazon stop un-publishing, banning, and blocking Authors and books without first confirming that rules have actually been broken.
Authors would additionally appreciate the benefit of the doubt in cases where a mistake may be an innocent one incurred due to misunderstanding the (often unclear) Terms of Service. Instead of throwing the gauntlet at these Authors, we suggest a less heavy-handed approach that would involve contacting the Authors to make them aware of the situation and give them an opportunity to resolve the situation.
In 2014, the US ebook market consisted of roughly 514 million ebook units purchased and just under $3 billion in consumer spending. Amazon accounted for nearly 75% of that consumer spending. And nearly half of that money came from Indie Authors, Small/Medium Publishers, and Single-Author Publishers. (Source) Those numbers continue to grow, in no small part due to indie Authors. As we see it, indie Authors contribute enough money (nearly a billion in 2014 alone) to Amazon for Authors to be worth being treated fairly. Authors don't deserve to be punished for rules they did not actually break, and Amazon can afford to Ask First, Strike Later. In fact, this would probably create LESS work for the KDP team (saving Amazon money), as KDP would no longer have to field complaint letters in addition to asking for the qualifying information they need. They could simply cut that process out altogether and go straight to asking the questions and giving Authors the opportunity to answer and/or resolve these situations.
Further, we would like to point out the disadvantage to consumers when Amazon takes a Strike First, Ask Later policy. Books by their favorite authors are disappearing before they have the chance to buy them. Consumers deserve a better browsing experience on Amazon, and to better be able to find the books they are looking for without becoming unknowing victims in Amazon's policies (as they are currently being executed). Truly, these policies hurt more than just Authors.
When action is taken against Authors who have done nothing wrong, the result is a loss in income that hurts FAMILIES. Remember that many Authors spend some of the money they make through publishing on sites such as Amazon as well. In it's own small way (that probably adds up over time), every time Amazon hurts an Author's income, they hurt themselves AND they hurt the economy, on several levels: the money an Author has available to spend and the products available for a consumer to buy. It's simply bad business to wrongfully remove titles from Amazon without first verifying that any rules have actually been broken.
The below signed Authors strongly feel that changing these policies would benefit Consumers, Amazon, and Authors alike. Moreover, it's simply the right thing to do.
Mr. Bezos, please show that you value the Authors that make your company nearly a billion dollars a year or more. Please show us that you value us as consumers who also shop on your site. Please show that you also value the consumers who buy our books. Please show us that you believe in fair treatment of human beings simply trying to support themselves and their families while doing something they love.
Please, Mr. Bezos, revisit your policies and find a way for your team to investigate first before taking damaging actions against Authors who, in many cases, have done nothing wrong.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
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