Nov 172011
 
Amazon
No-no, Amazon! No-no!

Over the past few days, I’ve come across blog posts regarding the James Crawford incident. Most recently, I hit L.M. Stull and Chazz Writes. I can be rather lengthy in my comments, as was the case when I started writing the one which developed the blog post.

The gist for those who’ve not followed along. James Crawford published a book using Amazon’s KDP system. Originally he priced the book at $4.99. He also published a portion of the book (three chapters I believe) using Smashwords’ system and gave it away for free. Amazon found the free excerpt version and price matched his full version to free. Yikes! It took Amazon a few weeks to fix the problem, and in the mean time, about 6k copies were downloaded at Amazon. OMG!

Crawford made a huge stink over the matter. Basically, he claims Amazon owes him royalties on the 6K copies, which would amount to something like $30k. HOLY COW!!

Okay… here’s my verdict. Just call me Judge Reena today.

The fact it took 20 days to correct the problem is a real issue. Amazon has been known for their prompt service. I can’t say what happened in the case of Crawford, but it’s unfortunate. Not for Crawford, mind you… but for the giant company everyone’s trying to peg as evil. Now we know for sure Amazon is evil.

On the other hand, I don’t think Crawford deserves $30+ in compensation either. I understand what others are trying to say: If a company undercharges and loses money, that’s on them. In fact, Amazon undercharges for losses all the time. That’s their thing–drive the compensation out with unreasonably low prices so the world comes to them for their every purchasing need.

One thing to keep in mind, Amazon didn’t purchase a physical product then sell it at a low price. In essence, they have an agreement to sell a digital product (at a price which may fluctuate) and compensation the owner in royalties after the fact. Though eBooks are as valuable as print books, we’re not talking about a physical copy which costs money to print and ship. As such, Crawford paid nothing to get his books to Amazon. Yes, there are overhead costs involved with creating a book as well as time spent writing, but the actual cost to Crawford to upload is free.

That doesn’t mean Amazon can do whatever the hell the want, of course. Amazon, u dun bad.

If you want Amazon punished, remember Amazon likely did lose a wee bit of money by giving it away for free. Though they offer free shipping on digital orders, it still cost funds to use the Whispernet service. Airwaves aren’t free. Still, they didn’t ask Crawford to reimburse them for the free shipping they provided. For those who use the 70% royalty structure, you know Amazon charges for delivery, unless of course they price match to free.

Moving beyond that, Crawford still insists Amazon has harmed him. In fact, he says Amazon cost him thousands of dollars in sales. The reality is Amazon cost him NOTHING… they only helped him along. Before the blunder, Crawford had sold in the single digits the prior month at $4.99. Even if Amazon gave him their cut, the most in royalties he would have made is $44.91. Only a fluke would have brought his sales in the $1000 range. Lucky for him, a fluke did happen.

After Amazon corrected the problem (or maybe in the process), Crawford raised his price to $5.99. The first day his book went live with the new price, he sold nearly 40 copies. That’s in one day people. No doubt his book shot to the top of the charts. He continued to receive residual sales from the mistake throughout the month.

As far as I’m concerned, Crawford was fairly compensated for the mistakes with the publicity his book received while free. Going from less than $50 in royalties to… well, he’d have to share sales data with us to see the benefits he’s obtained from the blunder. I can tell you one thing, I’d be happy for Amazon to give one of my low paying titles away for free for a few weeks if it’d result in multiplying like Crawford’s did. But hey… that’s just me. I like making more money.

Was Amazon wrong? Yes. I’m not taking their side in this matter. It was just luck for both parties (Amazon AND Crawford), the company happened to screw up on an author whose sales were poor. If it had been someone with great sales (self-published or traditional) those 6k sales might have truly meant the difference of $30k.

What happened to Crawford is a big deal. It’s reasonable to wonder, what if it happens to me? Still, every situation is different.

Despite our emotional involvement, one thing we have to keep in mind is this: Has X done harm to party Y. If yes, then some compensation might be justified. If the answer is no, then what rights does Y have to receive compensation for losses he/she/it didn’t suffer?

Here’s another question: Why did Crawford breach Smashwords’ terms of service by publishing an incomplete work? He isn’t entirely blameless. If he’d followed the rules, Amazon never would have priced match to free in the first place.

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