Which nobody can deny: Amazon birthday #FutureChat recap

Which nobody can deny: Amazon birthday #FutureChat recap

Tinseltown looks good on Amazon

Shortly after we held our #FutureChat on the 20th anniversary of Amazon, a story appeared at The Hollywood Reporter about Amazon Studios and its 11-Emmy-nominated show, Transparent. You have to love journo Natalie Jarvey's lead, featuring the head of Amazon Studios:

"Can I show you my Pinterest board?" offers Roy Price, holding out his iPhone. "This is how we develop shows on Amazon."

This being Hollywood, of course, plenty of gala laughter is on hand. The piece is set around a photoshoot at the Culver Hotel. Transparent's writer-showrunner Jill Soloway is there to announce that Season Two will be "even more exciting and soapy, yet funny, and yet just emotionally real" than Season One was. Actor Jeffrey Tambor looks as if he'd nevertheless like to see a script or two for himself, please.

Join us every Friday for #FutureChat live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

If you've dared to dream of writing something for Amazon Studios, know that a pinned picture may be worth even more than a thousand you-know-whats by the time you get to Wilshire Boulevard. Jarvey describes studio chief Price as dressing "like a Seattle web head":

"I have notions for the show, but I don't write anything down...Writing stuff down is the old way. Get a hundred pictures that really capture it and put them on Pinterest and you don't have to pitch — you can just show people."

While you book that therapy appointment to discuss writing stuff down is the old way, you may be pleased to know that Jarvey also has a separate interview with another Seattle web head, Jeff Bezos, in this THR package. 

Bezos is the one in the photoshoot who looks like he belongs there: relaxed, impeccably turned out, easily the alpha dog on this promo junket — tolerant of the surrounding egos, smiling at all wags, silently counting how many Milkbones may have to be shipped to pay for this. Whenever he's in the frame, your eye goes straight to him. (Don't tell the others.)

Jarvey comes out with an LA-confident Q&A with the man my good colleague Philip Jones has dubbed "the natural heir to people such as Sir Allen Lane and Tim Waterstone." 

A sampling:

Natalie Jarvey: You've said Amazon is the first company to use a Golden Globe to sell toilet paper. What is your ultimate goal for original programming?

Jeff Bezos: It's how our whole model works. When people join Prime, they buy more of everything we sell. They buy more shoes, they buy power tools and so on. How you pay for great content is an important part of making great content available....

Jarvey: What are you looking for in an Amazon show?

Bezos: Is this something we can imagine is someone's favorite show?...If you say, "Let's hire the world's greatest storytellers. Let's encourage them to take risks," then you're going to end up with a remarkable story, and remarkable stories always find an audience....

Jarvey [asks about the reputed hands-off management enjoyed by creative leads in Amazon's projects]:

Bezos: I'll give you the alternate scenario that would be horrific in my mind, which is that I'm sitting there in Seattle and Roy is sending me early drafts of Transparent season-two scripts and I'm giving Jill [Soloway] ideas. How in the world could I possibly help Jill? I can help Jill by leaving her alone. And everyone at Amazon takes that same approach.

And you know how publishing people are always yelling that Amazon won't release sales data? Well, of course you do. I'm the first one to yell it. Bezos has something interesting to say to Jarvey along those lines when she asks about Amazon Studio viewership numbers, which are just as hard to come by. Will Amazon ever share those viewership numbers, Jarvey asks the Bezosian Beelzebub? 

I don't think so. I don't think it's useful. I don't want our team obsessing over ratings. I want them obsessing over quality. If they can pull that off, we will have millions of happy viewers.

When it comes to the film and television operation Bezos is talking about with Jarvey, that's an interesting answer: this is a Hollywood production unit that doesn't know its own viewership numbers.

Some might call that...disruptive.

Follow that author

Our friend Matthias Matting in Germany (who will join my special First Word programme at the Novelists Inc. conference in early October) has reported on something called "Amazon Follow" in his SelfPublisher Bibel

Readers can use this feature to follow authors' new releases. And once you hit "follow," the machine then offers you "more recommended authors" based on past buys and algorithmic deductions. In essence this is the ability you may have seen in the past at Amazon to opt in to emails on product updates. The Follow button formalises this in social-media terminology and serves up another chance for recommendations to reach the consumer.

In the live chat record, you'll see Amazon Publishing (Lake Union) author Catherine Ryan Hyde note that this is just the type of feature that helps make Amazon a hit with many writers — and readers. In fact, a publisher might be fond of this functionality, too, in that it's a bit of free marketing for his or her authors, just as it is for an independent writer. As soon as James Patterson's third book of this week comes out, all the readers on his follow option get pinged with an email alert from Amazon. What's not to like? 

As for indies in the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners Lending Library schemes under Kindle Direct Publishing Select exclusivity, the company has announced a $300,000 bonus added to the originally announced $11 million for June payouts.

And when I asked our #FutureChat participants what they'd write in a birthday card for Amazon? A lot of them got pretty Hallmark-y about it.

Few 20th-birthday naysayers seemed to want to voice a qualm. The independent author corps, in particular, continues to stand up and be counted when the question is called for Seattle.

Anything-but-united authors

It would have been helpful for balance to hear comments from some of the recently revived authorial resistance to Amazon. As reported by my colleague Benedicte Page at The Bookseller, Authors United, Douglas Preston's outfit, has banded with the Association of Authors' Representatives, the Authors Guild, and the American Booksellers Association to request a US Department of Justice (DOJ) inquiry into Amazon.

Such counter-opinions are welcome in #FutureChat -- we tolerate no hostility in our weekly discussion, and happily encounter very little. What I call "the silence of the trads" does nothing to help explicate and illuminate the industry reaction to Amazon, and I'd be pleased to have input from folks who support the Authors United and allied positions.

#FutureChat has not breen alone, however, in finding itself a largely one-sided conversation about the pride of Puget Sound. The #LitChat led on Wednesday by the author Judah Freed was unsuccessful in attracting the participation of anyone willing to speak to the positions of Amazon's detractors, although the Booksellers Association did tweet that it was monitoring the conversation and that its c.e.o. was in a meeting and unable to attend.

I'll have more on this separately. 

Meanwhile, though, it's not hard to learn what many authors, booksellers, and agents have said to the Justice Department about the 20-year-old Amazon. 

Thanks to DocumentCloud.org and the Times, I can offer you that quartet of writings here: 

From David Streitfeld's 13 July piece in the Times, this one paragraph can at the very least make it clear why, in terms of sheer impact, any position on Amazon, complimentary or condemnatory, can arrive with fervor:

Amazon, based in Seattle, now sells more than a third of new print books [in the States], a level no single bookseller has ever reached before, and it closely controls the dominant ebook platform. It has an estimated two-thirds of ebook sales; some publishers say their level is much higher.

In fact, the American Booksellers Association letter to the Justice Department from Oren Teicher and Betsy Burton cites a May 2014 Codex Group study indicating that "Amazon has a 64-percent market share of ebook sales and a 41-percent share of all new book sales."

For now, here is a selection of comments from an unusually involved #FutureChat.

Note, for example, how support for Amazon falters when pressed with investigatory concerns regarding Most Favoured Nation (MFM) clauses that Amazon is thought by many to have with publishers. On a day-to-day basis, an author's experience of the Amazonian marketplace may be largely positive. At the industry level — even when everyone goes several rounds about "what is a monopoly?" — issues of scale and perceived competitive advantage can slow the conversation and fire those birthday candles with new gusts of complexity.

There is, two decades in, as it turns out, almost no assertion about Amazon which nobody can deny. Except, perhaps, that it's a jolly big fellow.

Our thanks to all who came along. Hope to see you Friday, 24th July, for our next live session. 


Join us every Friday for #FutureChat live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

Bezos images from video at HollywoodReporter.com

Main image - Pixabay: Gil Dekel