“We got to break that Amazonopoly before it kills us all.” My plumber Sam wiped his greasy hands on his coveralls.
“Amazonopoly?” I looked over Sam’s shoulder at the pinhole leak in the valve under my sink that was fizzing a thin spray of water. Sam is a big 300 pound teddy bear of a guy who suddenly became an expert on the publishing industry when he found out I’m a novelist.
“Amazon is gonna crush you if you ain’t careful.” Sam grabbed a pipe wrench, leaned in under the sink, and began banging experimentally on the drywall. “Hmmm, sounds a little thin there.”
“So what exactly has Amazon done to harm me?”
Sam’s voice sounded exasperated and slightly muffled. “Ain’t it obvious? First, they sell everything they got at dirt-cheap prices. Second, they obsessify on giving their customers a great experience. Third, when you go on their site, they know what you like and they offer you more stuff like it.”
“Those are good things. The reason Amazon is doing well is because they treat their customers better than their competitors do.”
“Well it’s monoplification and it’s gonna wreck the whole business.”
“I suppose you’re going to tell me that when Amazon gets a monopoly, they’re going to raise prices,” I said. “There’s just no evidence of that.”
“I ain’t gonna tell you that cuz that’s stupid.” Sam backed out from under the sink and stood up, stretching his massive frame. “When they get their monopoly, they’re gonna just keep treating their customers like gold — spoiling ’em with sensible marketing and great service. It’s disgusting. Plus they’ll keep those prices slashed right to the bone. It’s evil and we got to stand up against it.”
“What’s evil about that? Low prices are good for the customer. And they’re good for authors.”
“Shows what you know,” Sam said. “What kinda royalty rate do you get on them self-published e-books of yours?”
“70%,” I said. “That’s incredible. B&N pays only 65%.”
“Hmmmmph, Amazon gives me only 35% on my e-books. I bet you got yours priced at some sissy price like $9.99.”
“Of course not. $2.99.”
Sam gave me an incredulous stare. “2.99? I got all mine priced at fifty bucks.”
I nearly dropped my flashlight. “You have books published on Amazon?”
“Course I do.”
“Um, what do you write?”
“Fiction novels. Mystery fiction novels. You know, storybooks where somebody gets whacked by a bad guy.”
“You never told me you were writing mysteries.”
“Well, I do and they’re selling like crazy, only not on Amazon. Smashwords gives me 85%, and lucky enough, I’m selling boatloads of copies there.”‘
By now I was dying of curiosity. “Tell me the title of one of your books.”
Sam grinned broadly. “My best selling book is called JOE WHACKS SAM THE PLUMBER. And no, it ain’t autobiological, even if the villain is based on a real feller named Joe. I hate him cause he charges low prices. It ain’t fair to the other plumbers.”
“In a mystery, you usually don’t want to reveal the name of the murderer,” I said. “That’s kind of the point.”
“I do things different. Got a whole series of JoeDunnit books. See, Joe’s real name is Joe Dunn, get it?”
“And people buy these books?”
“Course they do. Fifty bucks a pop. I’m moving thirty, forty copies a week on Smashwords, but not a one on Amazon.”
“A week?” This wasn’t adding up. At all. “So how’s the valve looking?”
Sam dug a thick pinkie into his ear, gouged out a giant glob of … something, rolled it in his fingers, sniffed it, dropped it on the floor, and crushed it under his boot. “Lucky for you I got a valve just this type in my truck. Seeing as how you decided to have yer major emergency on Saturday night when the stores is all closed, it’d be a trick to find this puppy in a store. Just need to turn off the main valve outside, pop in the new little feller, and write ya up a invoice.”
“OK, sounds like you’ve got it under control.” I went into my office, shut the door, and looked up Sam’s book on Smashwords.
Amazingly, he seemed to be telling the truth. He really did have a novel titled JOE WHACKS SAM THE PLUMBER listed on Smashwords. He had a whole series of JoeDunnit books. All listed at $50.
And he had incredibly consistent reviews. Every single review was a scathing one-star.
- “This is the worst book I’ve ever read.”
- “I’d give it 0 stars if I could.”
- “This is a laugh-out-loud horrible excuse for a pathetic imitation of a novel.”
Smashwords doesn’t tell you how many copies a book has sold, but Sam’s book had over a hundred one-star reviews. What the devil was he doing to move so many copies at fifty dollars apiece?
Sam began knocking on my office door, a rapid series of booms.
I leaped to the door and opened it. “All done already?”
Sam gave me an enormous grin. “Working perfect. Easy as cake. You might need to do just a bit of patching on the drywall there under the sink. The wrench kinda slipped. But other than that, peachy keen.”
I took the invoice and looked at it, ready to argue. Sam tends to work in some truly outrageous charges, but since he’s the only plumber I could find to come out late on a Saturday night, I hadn’t had much choice.
“Let’s see, so you’re charging me how much just for coming out?”
“Normally a hunnert, but seeing as how it’s dark, a hunnert fifty. Ask any insurance feller, the mortalification rates go up at night.”
“How much would that valve cost in a store?”
“Maybe twenty, but I ain’t a store. And anyway, I had to make some custom adjustments to make it fit. It wasn’t quite the one I’da bought if there was a store open, but there wasn’t and it works. For now.”
“And a charge for ‘loss of entertainment?’ Want to explain what that’s about?”
“Well, it’s obvious, ain’t it? It being Saturday night, normally I’d be on a date with one of my lady friends.”
I looked at Sam with what I hoped was extreme skepticism. “Can I ask the name of some of your lady friends?”
Sam belched. “Well, there’s Natasha on GorgeousRussianGirls.com. She’s real nice, but the poor thing lives in a one-room apartment in Gdanks with her sixty-four brothers and sisters, and they’re all orphans.”
“Gdansk is in Poland.”
“And then there’s a real sweet gal in China–”
“OK, I get the picture. But this bill is ridiculous and you know it.”
“What, five hunnert? Sure, that Joe the Plumber feller woulda gave you a lowball price, but he ain’t here and I am. Why didn’t ya call him?”
“He wouldn’t come out this late on a Saturday night.”
“Sam, this is outrageous, even by your standards.”
Sam shook his head. “I expect you’re gonna want a discount. Everybody these days is trying to knock off a nickel wherever they can. Lucky fer you, I’m a reasonable feller, so I’m willing to knock the price down to two hunnert, on one condition, take it or leave it.”
“What condition is that?”
Sam just stood there grinning expectantly.
“No,” I said. “You have to be kidding me. There is no way. Absolutely–”
“You got to help a feller author,” Sam said. “A guy just trying to move some copies.”
I stared at him for a long moment.
Sam didn’t blink.
Crap. I sat down at my computer. “I’m buying it on Amazon.”
“Uh-uh.” Sam pushed the invoice in front of my nose. “The discount’s only good when you buy a book on Smashwords.”
“Where you get 85%.”
“Amazon only gives a feller 35% at that price. It’s a outrage.”
I sighed and clicked the Buy button on Smashwords. A minute later, I was the proud owner of JOE WHACKS SAM THE PLUMBER.
Sam pushed the invoice in front of me with a $300 discount that read “Cross-promotion 4 JoeDunnit fiction novil.”
I wrote a check and handed it to Sam, vowing never again to have a plumbing emergency on a Saturday night.
Sam shoved the check into the front pocket of his coveralls and shook my hand with a crushing grip. “See, now yer part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
“What problem is that?”
“Yer helping break that Amazonopoly.”
“It’s the free market at work,” I said with as much sarcasm as I could muster.
Sam grinned happily. “Is this a great country, or what?”