At this point, it's all hypothetical. Amazon has no such plans. At least, no such plans that any of us are aware of.
But should they?
Novelist Rob Guthrie recently posed this very question on his blog RobOnWriting.com. (And took a bit of heat while doing so.)
It's an interesting question.
I have mixed feelings about Amazon charging authors to publish their books. But some sort of weeding-out process wouldn’t hurt. As a serious, professional, lifelong writer who takes my craft very, very seriously and spends A LOT of time making my work as perfect as it can be, it is troubling to see so much hackneyed wannabe unreadable crap glomming up the marketplace, distracting readers from more professional work. Such dreck de-legitimizes indie authors & publishers.
For example, some months ago I purchased an ebook on Amazon. I believe it purported to be a vampire story. In my defense, the cover looked good; it looked like a "real" book penned by a "real writer."
Oh sweet Moses how wrong was I.
Remember that scene in "Stepbrothers" when John C. Reilly and Will Ferell built bunk beds:
To quote John C. Reilly: "It's bad! It's so bad!"
I am of course referring to the aforementioned vampire-esque "novel" which was totally unreadable. It boasted a paucity of readability unlike anything I'd ever encountered. In that, it almost ought to be commended. Almost. It was SO bad.
Ergo, the argument can (and was) made that charging authors to publish on Amazon would, er, discourage the misguided publishing attempts of certain individuals.
Furthermore, it was argued that this would in turn cost Amazon money as fewer writers would then publish with them; these writers would turn instead to publishing venues such as Smashwords (which distributes to other outlets such as iTunes, Kobo.com, BarnesandNoble.com).
Would charging authors to publish cause such an abandoning of the proverbial e-publishing ship? It was suggested that perhaps a one-time fee (perhaps $99) and a per-title publishing fee be charged (perhaps $25).
Would this discourage "wannabe" writers from publishing on Amazon?
Would this discourage "real" writers from publishing on Amazon because they lack either the funds or the willingness to PAY to be published?
I'm fairly certain that this vanity press model has been around for a LONG time and has always been considered crap. After all, one of the cardinal rules for aspiring writers is that one NEVER pays to have one's work read. Ever.
Let us also remember that for years and years Amazon LOST money on every book it sold. Because they were thinking long term. Which is smart. Are they likely to now perform a radical money-making-ectomy on themselves, thereby gutting one of the most successful business models ever devised, the same business model which has to date yielded them the lion's share of the digital publishing marketplace, leaving others playing catch-up?
Rob Guthrie made a great point about the slush pile being (at least partially) transferred into the marketplace, which leaves the reader to sift through it. This is not entirely a bad thing. Consider folks like USA Today bestselling-author Amanda Hocking.
She was a complete unknown. Amazon played a key role in her getting where she is now: onto the bestseller lists and into negotiations for film rights.
Would Amanda be where she is today without Amazon? Perhaps.
We’ll never know. She now enjoys a unique status as a hybrid author. She has her own self-published titles, and she also has her titles being released through a traditional publisher.
May all talented writers be so fortunate.
And let us not forget other successful indie publishers, who are still 100% independent:
Author of three international bestsellers, Melissa Foster
Bestselling science fiction and thriller writer Michael R. Hicks
and thriller master, indie publishing wunderkind, and survivor of the 30-Day Beer Diet, Joe Konrath
(and probably others I'm forgetting!). Would one of these three successful indie writers sign a contract with one of the Big 6? Would they sell the rights to their work, giving up control of everything from the title to the cover art to any and all future monies (save their royalties, of course, which are far lower than those in the still-nebulous yet always exciting realm of self-publishing)?
Would I sign such a contract?
It's a tough call.
Joe Konrath has blogged extensively on the nightmare he endured while traveling the publishing road through New York for over a decade. Amanda Hocking seems to be having a different, more pleasant experience. Mr. Konrath has also stated that for the right amount of money he would delete his entire blog. So it seems everyone has his or her price. And because our goal is to earn a living from our writing, we would be foolish not to accept an appropriate offer. Wouldn't we?
It may help to look at Amazon and indie publishing as a proving ground. I predict that more and more authors will be "discovered." Authors such as Amanda Hocking and of course John Locke, who is a New York Times bestselling author and the first self-published author to sell 1 million eBooks on Amazon Kindle.
Such authors will be "discovered" by the trads/Big6 and will be given sweetheart deals (ie life-changing money). This "discovery," this "overnight success," will of course only occur after the author has spent thousands of hours writing, editing, re-writing, re-editing, mastering the self-publishing process, acquiring a cover, etc etc etc. We all know the process.
Overnight successes usually come after years of determined effort. Like Joe Konrath says: There’s a word for a writer who didn’t quit: PUBLISHED.
Luck, after all, is when preparedness meets opportunity.
Click HERE to read Rob's original post and the voluminous, often heated discussion which followed.