Skip to main content

Do You Understand Your Author Relationship With Amazon?

Authors are often misinformed or confused about their relationship with Amazon.

Authors are often misinformed or confused about their relationship with Amazon.

Amazon Authors

Barely a week goes by where I don’t see some “I won’t work with Amazon” outburst from a self-published author on social media. Here's a recent example.

This author was completing an audiobook. He didn’t want to “throw up his hands” like other authors and publishers and “give” his book to Audible. So he was looking for advice on hosting and selling it through his website, even though the audiobook file was hundreds of megabytes and many hours of listening time in an Apple iTunes media format.

In reply to my question about how he came to this decision, he said that he wanted to control his business, pricing, and intellectual property and not turn it over to Amazon and Audible.

But this reasoning is flawed, likely stemming from not understanding the relationship that authors have with Amazon through its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) self-publishing and ACX/Audible audiobook publishing platforms. Let's explore what that relationship is.

Authors Never "Give" Their Books To Amazon

I think self-published authors confuse Amazon's publishing platforms with traditional publishing companies. Traditional publishers usually do buy the copyrights to authors' books. Amazon does not. You are never "giving" your books to Amazon, and you always are in control of your intellectual property!

When you self-publish through Amazon's KDP or ACX platforms, you are only entering into a distribution agreement for your books. They do not purchase or own your books or copyrights!

As well, on KDP, your distribution relationship with them is non-exclusive, meaning that you can sell it elsewhere. However, you can choose to be exclusive to Amazon KDP by enrolling a Kindle eBook title in KDP Select. Note that print books self-published on KDP do not have exclusive arrangements; only digital Kindle eBooks are eligible. So print books are always non-exclusive.

On ACX for Audible, you can choose an exclusive or non-exclusive distribution arrangement.

Choosing an exclusive arrangement with either KDP or ACX offers authors additional royalties and benefits. But you make the choice to be exclusive or non-exclusive for your digital content.

The Tech Headaches That Amazon Handles For You

User-Friendly Content Delivery

In comments, I asked the audiobook author about overcoming the hurdle of customers who may want to listen to audiobooks on dedicated platforms such as Audible, Apple Books, Chirp, etc. That point was not addressed in the author’s replies. But it is a big issue.

Don't think that's a big deal? Here's how that plays out in the real world. I’ve had podcast listeners who told me that because they had difficulty getting some episodes on Apple Podcasts when I had a tech issue, they wouldn’t listen until it was resolved. Their reason was that they didn’t want to have to mess with other apps. My regular podcast is free. Imagine how annoyed readers will get when they have to pay for the audiobook files and can’t conveniently access them.

But these kinds of issues aren’t exclusive to audiobooks. Another author sold her PDF eBooks direct to customers online. While users may be able to add these files to their Kindle devices, PDFs do not flow well on Kindle. Plus, the file was enormous, not only in terms of the file size (hundreds of megabytes!) because it had so many large photos, but it was also in 8-1/2” by 11” page size. Reading it on a mobile device would be next to impossible. It shrinks the pages to an unreadable itty bitty size that has to be stretched, squeezed, and panned to even read. So it could only be properly consumed on a desktop. Another bad user experience.

File Storage and Handling

The author's audiobook was long and a large electronic file in an iTunes-specific format. Looking at tech forums online, it seems that users mainly have to listen to non-Apple Books audiobooks through the Files app. Plus, you have to have an app to read those files for Android devices. Not that it’s impossible to find one. It’s just not convenient for the customer. The author better have crystal clear user instructions for listening.

While the advantage of the author’s audio file format is that it can be stopped and started from where the user left off, it will not be the same user experience as with a dedicated audiobook platform. This is particularly the case if each chapter is a separate audio file.


The other problem is downloading bandwidth. The audiobook author will have to make sure his website hosting can handle the download traffic and confirm what fees may be incurred for going over any limits.

If not being hosted on his website, he may choose a cloud storage service. That could be a monthly cost, regardless of whether he sells any books or not. Since I have no idea what the size of this author’s fan base is, based on self-publishing industry stats I’ve monitored, he won’t be selling a ton of books. There may be months, especially long after the launch, when he’ll sell zero. Yet the monthly cloud storage cost will continue as long as he wants to sell direct to readers via cloud storage. On Audible, it can sit there, for free, for the duration of the author's distribution agreement.

Customer Service

And what if a customer has a problem with the files? The author now must play customer tech support. Based on my personal aggravations in working with authors and clients over the years, some of whom are not tech savvy for even the simplest of tasks, this spells nightmare.

No thanks. I’ll let Amazon, KDP, ACX, and Audible handle all of this tech nonsense. And I’m willing to split revenues and royalties with them for this service.

Amazon Handles Customer Service For Your Books

What if a customer doesn’t like the book and wants a refund? How will the audiobook author handle that? The customer has the download link and already has the files. Will he have a no-refunds policy? That’s so last century, like mid-last century.

And for customers who want refunds as a ploy to get a freebie, the author is going to take a loss if he accommodates the request because he’s not getting those files back. On Amazon and Audible, those issues are handled by denying access on the Kindle or Audible app when a refund is requested.

Plus, Audible and Amazon/Kindle control how customers interact with and consume content, providing an additional layer of content protection for creators. If authors sell direct, those files could be shared with anyone the customer chooses. They could even share it as an email attachment or in a link on social media, putting the author's sales and revenues in jeopardy.

Amazon—through the Amazon website, KDP, ACX, and Audible—provides authors and content creators with a host of services. For that service, they take a share of the revenues and pay the rest to you as royalty. If you had to invest in services such as e-commerce, file distribution, customer service, shipping, and other logistics, your profits would dwindle. So please quit saying that Amazon takes money away from you!

The David and Goliath Author Fantasy

But there’s an even more troubling meta issue underneath all this.

Authors may envision themselves in the role of a young David in the legend of David and Goliath. They think they’re going to defeat the big and mighty Amazon Goliath with the slingshot pebble of their miniature publishing empires. They see themselves as the righteous underdog little guy.

But that only works if they themselves are giving their fans and customers superior content and service, as defined by the customer. As the earlier discussed examples illustrate, they just don’t seem to care about their customers’ user experiences. All they care about is not working with what they perceive as the Amazon monster.

Will I Ever End My Relationship With Amazon?

As an avowed Amazon/KDP/ACX/Audible fan, I realize my bias. I also realize as the Sears saga shows, that Amazon could implode someday. Should that day come, I will certainly be looking for other partners to serve my fans and customers. But the one thing that I will be looking for in a new distributor for my books will be how it best serves my audience and my business.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 14, 2020:

Aw, thanks, Linda! Glad you found it useful. A lot of authors are so confused by this. I just hope it helps some of them make more informed decisions. Thanks for stopping by and have a beautiful day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 13, 2020:

You always share very useful information, Heidi. This is another important article for authors.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 13, 2020:

Flourish, I love what Amazon does for me, but I know things can change on a dime! Thanks so much for stopping by. Hope you're doing well. Have a wonderful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 13, 2020:

Bill, indeed they do deliver! (No pun or reference to their delivery logistics intended.) In comparison to other platforms, they're the best. Thanks so much and you have a great week, too! (P.S. I've got to catch up in the Mailbag.)

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 13, 2020:

Adrienne, it is reassuring! That's why I stick with them. Thanks so much for reading and your comments! Have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 13, 2020:

Hi Mona! Glad you found it helpful. My podcast is "The Heidi Thorne Show" and you can find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean, and YouTube. Pick your favorite! Thanks for reading and your kind comments!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 13, 2020:

You're welcome, Ivana! Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for reading and your kind comments!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 13, 2020:

Tundetimi, thanks for reading and commenting!

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 12, 2020:

Your case is compelling and in the end you show you have a realistic and an open mind by invoking the Sears example! who could have imagined back in the day that that behemoth would crumble like that?

Adrienne Farricelli on July 11, 2020:

Hi Heidi, it's great to know that authors using Amazon are always in control of their intellectual property. This is very important.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 11, 2020:

I have no problem with their publishing platform. They do what they promise to do; they are easy to work with; it's all good.

I have a problem with the corporation Amazon, but that's a topic for another day.

Happy Weekend my friend! Stay out of trouble and have fun.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on July 10, 2020:

Hi Heidi, this is a very informative article with useful information. Do you have a link to your podcasts? Would love to hear some of them.

Ivana Divac from Serbia on July 10, 2020:

This is really informative and useful, and your style of writing is so good. Thank you for sharing this important article!

Tundetimi from Ondo on July 10, 2020: