A modest proposal to combat Amazon (oh and piracy)

My last post on Amazon for a little while, I promise. As previously noted Amazon have cornered the digital marketplace for ebooks, which has the potential to mean the end of booksellers and publishers as we know them. Once Amazon have destroyed the industry infrastructure, there is little doubt they will bring down the 70% royalty rate offered to authors at this time.

Nothing is going to stop writers writing and readers reading. But a future where all writers are under the thumb of one giant technology company is one I would rather not see. There is of course an obvious solution – establish an alternative ebook marketplace. But displacing an incumbent business with a $70 billion turnover is no easy task. Here is my modest suggestion for how it might be achieved.

1. Establish an online digital library. This library has two goals i) to provide a universal library – free to access – of all published texts. ii) To support the livelihood of the writers who create those texts.

2. Any writer may place their texts in the digital library. They agree to make the text freely available to all through the library. In return they receive data on all readers of their book. Library loans are limited to around 2-3 at a time.

3. Texts are sold through the library at prices set by their author. The author receives a 90% royalty on all sales. 10% of all sale revenue is used to support the trust managing the library.

And that’s it. A universal library, a stable market for writers, and a self-sustaining way to limit the disruption of technology companies like Amazon on the development of human knowledge and learning. Oh and it would effectively kill ebook piracy as well. Why not?


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

8 thoughts on “A modest proposal to combat Amazon (oh and piracy)

  1. The authors make money because people buy the books. We’re already in this situation, there isn’t a book on Amazon you can’t download free with a few minutes Googling. That’s the reality of digital. Like a library book, you only get to borrow a limited number for a limited time. A purchase means unlimited access.


  2. It’s not all that easy to pirate the books you want, and also it is illegal. Your library would make it easy and legal to do the same thing. For reference books it might work, but for novels there’s no reason to read four at a time. And therefore no reason to buy a novel, unless you are basically making a donation to the author.


  3. The only reason we want to make money out of fiction is because we’ve been trained by the capitalist model to want this. Storytelling is an inner need far older than money. If we can have access — and we _do_ have access — to technology that lets us write and read freely, then why not? When technology improves, then it’s time to go on as a society, and what we call “the market” to change or be totally abolished.

    If you could live freely in a society, without feeling bereft of anything, then wouldn’t you give also freely the fiction you write? I think you would. And I think society today is moving inevitably towards that direction. But there still are older forces that try to prevent this, either because of habit (they don’t know another way to live) or because of profit (the fallacy that someone has always to be “the winner” and, of course, rich).


    1. I dunno, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with wanting a paycheque in exchange for months and months of work that one puts into writing and editing their novel. While some authors are happy to write for writing’s sake, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those who want to be paid for their work are somehow greedy or entirely profit-driven.


  4. Part of the problem I see with this model is that currently, typically libraries will purchase a book they offer for loan (revenue for the author) and also replace said book after a certain number of borrows (additional revenue for the author). This model requires the authors to give access to their books for free, with no purchase unless a reader chooses to purchase the book. And sure, while purchasing the book would give a reader unlimited access to it, what’s to stop them from just re-borrowing a book the next time they want to read it and forego a purchase? People, in general, will take a free thing over a thing they have to pay for, even if it’s slightly more inconvient, which is why virtual piracy is such a big thing.

    If your online library did the same thing that brick-and-mortar libraries do, of purchasing a book and then repurchasing after a certain number of borrows, then the author’s going to get revenue AND you’re giving people an alternative to piracy if they want something for free. The problem with that model is that your library is going to COST money to actually run, which I assume is a deterrant to running it this way. Even if you take a small percentage of any legit purchases through the library, it’s still likely to run at a deficit. But I can’t imagine there are many authors who will just hand their books over for free for unlimited public consumption, even if it does provide them with additional data on readers (such info is likely to be of greater value to a publisher than an author, unless the author is also a self-publisher), with only the small possibility of additional sales in compensation.

    It’s an interesting proposal, and I’m all in favour of libraries, because libraries kept my reading habit afloat when I couldn’t afford to purchase my own books, but I don’t support the idea of taking money from hard-workers. If people want to donate their work to the online library, then that’s fine and dandy. But I can’t see too many people getting behind this that aren’t already essentially doing something similar at Smashwords, for example. There are still a few wrinkles to be ironed out before the idea can fully work.



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