The Self-Pub “Shit Volcano” Will End

A lot of words spilled in two posts:

The glut is something I’ve raised in past posts that I am now too damn lazy to look up. But I do want to go on record — again, because I’ve done it before but only on Twitter — about how I see the “shit volcano” ending.

Someone at Amazon, maybe even Bezos, will some day notice the jillions of not-selling Kindle books taking up space on their servers and wonder why.

Why are we keeping these things that don’t sell?

Why are we allowing them to fuck up the ability of people to find the Kindle books that do sell?

Why are we dealing with the administrative costs of these non-selling Kindle books?

Why should we ever have to X-ray these Kindle books that aren’t selling?

And those are the two key words: “Aren’t selling.”

Amazon isn’t a damn charity. They want to make money.

And Amazon, especially, above all other companies, likes to make money efficiently. (If you don’t believe Amazon has an efficiency fetish, go look up the system they have for the shelves in their warehouses.)

Having jillions of non-selling Kindle books clogging up the arteries of Amazon search is inefficient.

So, as I’ve said on Twitter and am now repeating here, Amazon will begin to purge those non-selling Kindle books.

“Dear Author” emails will be sent out to inform all those so-called writers (the ones who are the problem and who actually aren’t writers) that their time is up. They’ve had X years to prove they could make a buck — for themselves, but most of all for Amazon — with their shit and the free ride is over. Amazon wants its server space back and its search capability back.

The way I hope Amazon goes about that is to record the IP addresses of those non-selling “writers” and ban further submissions from them.

Extreme, yes?

But getting hit with a banhammer might be the only way to go.

The people who are the problem are thick. This is why they are the problem.

And if Amazon finds that such an extreme measure isn’t enough to keep out the NaNoWriMo and assorted other never-will-bes, I can foresee — as Wendig does — a listing fee of some sort being applied. That would truly be unfortunate. Because it’d scream Vanity Publishing, a smear many fine future self-publishing writers wouldn’t deserve.

But truthfully, I think the banhammer would work.

It’d be a slap in the face to wake them up, to puncture the bubble of their self-delusion. At the very least it would get them the hell off Amazon. Let them go clog the places that specialize in being the World’s Largest Slush Pile.

Amazon should be reserved for writers who are actually writers and are there to make money — for themselves and for Amazon.

Editor’s Note: A commenter has already provided the perfect refutation of this post. The tl;dr version is that everyone said the same thing about Blogger, Youtube, and other sites with user generated content.

Editor’s Note: I’ve posted a refutation that explains why this line of reasoning is off base:


  1. Nate Hoffelder5 February, 2014

    “Why are we keeping these things that don’t sell?”

    Because if Amazon got rid of the non-selling ebooks they would have fewer titles than the competition. Sure, 70% of the Kindle Store catalog is junk but it’s better to have the junk than to have fewer titles than Kobo.

    1. Bill Smith6 April, 2014

      Because there is effectively zero cost to keeping these books in the system, that’s why.

  2. Alex5 February, 2014

    “Why are we keeping these things that don’t sell?”

    Because these things that don’t sell came from readers, Amazon’s customers, and if they purge then they will go shopping every else, and will be sure to bash Amazon precious name.

    Is a good reason to you?


    1. Mackay Bell5 February, 2014

      Extremely good point.

  3. fjtorres5 February, 2014

    They keep them around because 100,000 ebooks selling 10 copies each make them the same money as one million-seller and are easier to find.
    (And because 50GB of server space costs like $3.)

    They keep them around because Amazon’s job is to help books find their natural market, not decide which books are “worthy”. And the *reason* they dominate the ebook business is because they don’t discriminate against individual books. Much as the publishing establishment wishes Amazon would marginalize indie titles, Amazon isn’t going to ghettoize ebooks just to spare some pundit’s sensibilities.

    My guess is the volcano is not going away so either learn to live under its shadow like most ebook buyers or just leave the neighborhood.

  4. Mackay Bell5 February, 2014

    We heard the exact same arguments about blogging and You Tube. How can Blogger continue to allow anyone to create a site for free? They will have to start charging. Not yet. Same with You Tube. Google can’t possibly continue to allow people to post any video on line, they’ll have to start limiting it. Didn’t happen. (Same arguments about photo sharing sites, as I recall.)

    Welcome to the digital age. It costs almost nothing to allow people to post this stuff, and the benefits to the company’s that allow it are enormous for the small portion of stuff that turns out to be valuable.

    The problem is, if Amazon suddenly started charging people a monthly fee or a one time set up charge to put books on Kindle, there would probably be an even larger percentage of shit to gold, because bad writers don’t know they are bad writers and are more likely to pay. A lot of talented starving artists, on the other hand, sometimes can’t spare a dime and might simply keep their wonderful works on their computer or give them for free as PDF’s.

    Moreover, if Amazon stops allowing people to sell books for free, then Apple and Google or a new company will be happy to pick up the slack.

    Apple clearly had plenty of time to consider all the shit on Kindle before they decided to create iBook Author and make it even easier for people to create stuff and publish it for nothing. I would presume they did some math and assume there is a financial benefit.

    1. fjtorres5 February, 2014

      All valid points.
      Minor quibble: Amazon doesn’t allow people to sell books for free; they collect a 30-50% distribution fee on each book sold.

      1. Mackay Bell5 February, 2014

        Can’t you list your book for free?

        Certainly a lot of books are free at some times.

        But mostly what I was saying is it costs noting to put your book up for sale.

        1. Nate Hoffelder5 February, 2014

          You can via Smashwords.

        2. fjtorres6 February, 2014

          As I said, it is a minor quibble, but if the book is for sale it has a price. And if it has a price, Amazon gets a cut.
          It’s a business.

          (No biggie. Just that Amazon gets accused of lots of “unfair” practices they don’t actually practice.)

    2. Nate Hoffelder5 February, 2014


      I think we have a winner.

    3. Nate Hoffelder5 February, 2014

      And you can also add iTunes and Google Play to the list. Those 2 app stores probably have a higher percentage of crap than the Kindle Store, and yet no one really expects either Apple or Google to throw out the duplicate apps, spamware, or the useless apps.

      1. Mackay Bell6 February, 2014

        And iTunes allows tons of crappy Podcasts for free right along with the gems. Doesn’t seem too hard to sort out.

        1. Nate Hoffelder6 February, 2014

          It’s really not a problem, no.

  5. Uneducated Guess5 February, 2014

    So we’re going to clog Amazon with our books? What about this guy?

    “Right now we have about 150,000 SKUs that we offer on Amazon.”

    So said the owner of a jewelry supply company. One little company, 150,000 products for sale.

    Checkout the Nightline video from November 26, 2012. About 3:10 in.

  6. The Rodent6 February, 2014

    record the IP addresses of those non-selling “writers” and ban further submissions…
    You’re kidding right? You know the difference between static and dynamic IP addresses, right? 🙂

    In any case, yeah, eventually someone is probably going to notice that 90% of their server space is taken up by crap that doesn’t sell… Unfortunately there isn’t 100% overlap between “shit” and “books that don’t sell”.

  7. Destination Infinity6 February, 2014

    Probably, this is the silliest post I have read on this site, yet. 1 million non-selling e-books with $1 margin for amazon = 4 – 5 million dollars revenue, even if those books sell only 4-5 copies. And remember, Amazon is retaining the cash until authors hit a minimum sales volume. All that money earns interest in a bank.

    Besides, eBook files are so tiny that the cost of ‘storing’ them or ‘maintaining’ them is next to nothing. When Youtube, with its gazzalion crappy videos, all given for free, is not concerned about ‘maintaining costs’. I wonder why Amazon will be concerned? Besides, Amazon has something called recommendation algorithms and top-selling lists to prevent these non-selling books being shown to the customers.

    1. Nate Hoffelder6 February, 2014

      Agreed. I’m going to be posting a debunking this morning.

      In my defense, Mike Cane usually isn’t this completely wrong.

      1. fjtorres6 February, 2014

        He’s just been hanging with the wrong crowd for too long.
        The litfic gang and the traditionalist mafia both want to marginalize indie titles and the volcano meme is but one of their attempts to scare off readers and would-be writers.
        Doesn’t mean the tsunami of content isn’t real, just that fretting about it is futile and expecting it to go away is delusional.
        The flood of content is the new normal and it is a good thing.
        It’s just going to take some people longer than others to internalize the new reality.
        Some, alas, never will.

  8. Mackay Bell6 February, 2014

    I also expect really bad writers end up buying a lot of copies of their own books to give to suffering friends and family. Bet there is millions in that.

    1. fjtorres6 February, 2014

      Amazon’s profit threshold on ebook distribution is ridiculously low and there are few if any books that literally don’t sell at all over their entire lifetime.
      Even the worst, cheapest of titles sell a few copies. And that’s all it takes for Amazon to make a buck or two.
      One of the key benefits of the Kindle ecosystem is that there are no gatekeepers. The playing field isn’t really really level because of the alsobots and promo deals that help bubble up popular titles but it is as close to a meritocracy as publishing has yet seen.
      Book quality is in the eye of the reader and Amazon lets the reader be the gatekeeper.

  9. Suw Charman-Anderson6 February, 2014

    I left a comment on this post on Mike’s own blog, then expanded it into a blog post of its own because it got a bit unwieldy. The blog post is here:

    The original comment was:

    Mike, I think you make some points that the very authors who need to at won’t, because they don’t think they are the problem, and are unlikely to read or comprehend anything that lays out just how they are the problem.

    And I wish you were right about Amazon, but I fear you are not, for several reasons.

    1. Amazon is not a rational actor. At least, not in any way that you or I might consider rational. It’s pretty much the only company I can think of that can consistently not make a profit and not be punished by Wall Street. In the past, we’ve seen that it only takes action when it is cornered, and then it takes the smallest action it can get away with.

    Take the bestiality/rape/incest/pseudoincest furore of last year. Amazon only acted when it felt cornered, and even then it did as little as it could get away with. There’s still plenty of dodgy porn on Amazon and will continue to be, because Amazon has no interest in really properly clearing it up.

    Same with the sockpuppet review affair. And when Amazon did take action, it was to put in place stupid and ill-considered rules about whether Kindle authors could review or not. It has done nothing substantial about improving the quality of reviews, even though that would be something that you’d think would affect their bottom line quite substantially. After all, if you can’t trust the reviews on Amazon, how do you know whether to buy or not?

    So at the moment, there is no force pushing Amazon to act, nothing making it whip out the banhammer. Yes, the shite clogs up Amazon’s arteries, but they have shown no interest in dealing with anything else that does the same in other areas of their business, because clearly having heart disease isn’t producing any painful symptoms for them. Yet.

    2. Storage is cheap and getting cheaper. Amazon has turned cloud storage into a business, and book files are small, so there’s no real reason for them to worry about how much space the long tale of self-published dross is taking up.

    If your average ebook file takes up 500kb, then you can fit 2,147,483 in a single terabyte. Amazon charges $0.010 per GB per month for its “Glacier” storage. So if you’re hiring Amazon’s cloud directly, you can store 2097 averagely-sized files for a month for a cent. You could store 5 million books for just $2384 per month, a figure certainly higher than it actually costs Amazon, because they obviously mark up their commercial cloud storage offerings.

    It is almost certainly cheaper for Amazon to just store all the ebooks uploaded than it is for them to pay someone to figure out how best to get rid of the ones that don’t sell AND are badly written, and then deal with the resultant backlash from offended authors.

    3. That offended backlash. If there’s one thing Amazon isn’t interested in, it’s alienating hundreds of thousands of self-published authors. A few hundred noisy gasbags it can, and does, ignore. But if you consider that most books don’t sell, and there is probably more than half a million self-published ebooks getting uploaded each year and growing, that’s a lot of shit and a lot of angry authors they’d have to deal with.

    Whether there would be enough angry authors to hurt Amazon’s overall sales in any meaningful manner is something I couldn’t say. But it’s certainly enough to hurt Amazon’s brand (even more than they do themselves – they don’t seem to give a crap about brand), and hurt ebook and possibly paper book sales. Not to mention the deluge of angry email that would likely cripple their customer support department.

    So whilst I would love Amazon to take a long, hard look at their self-publishing platform, I have absolutely no confidence that they will, because I cannot see any motivator big enough to push them to action.

    I’d like to add that I don’t think wielding the banhammer is even a vaguely good idea, but I do think we as a community need to talk more about the responsibility to our readers that comes with the ability to publish at will.

    I also don’t think this is about trying to scare off would-be writers or readers, it’s about identifying a problem that negatively impacts both readers and writers, and trying to see if there’s anything that can be done. I’m not sure there is anything to be done right now, but I think it’s still a conversation worth having, and it will resolve eventually, when we have the right tools for the job.

    1. Nate Hoffelder6 February, 2014

      As I explained in my post, I’m not convinced that there is even a problem:

  10. Andrew6 February, 2014

    Storage is cheap, but a clogged website is a huge opportunity cost.

    I bet they go with Plan B at some point: they provide sales functionality (credit card processing etc) and DRM, but the author’s host, market and sell their books on their own website, or at least, someone else’s.

    It is fun to go to a bookstore and read the backs of books in a section, and pick out a new book you want to read. This works because the section has hundreds, not hundreds of thousands, of books. Soneone had to narrow down that selection. I bet we will see marquee indie publishers come into their own.

    Joe Rogan has a podcast where he talks with and (weakly) interviews people he finds interesting. People show up marketing everything from combat sports to supplements to (auto)biographies to serious history texts. He has a huge audience because he finds interesting people. I bet independent ebook sellers can do the same – people with the similar interests will find paying an extra dollar for a filter well worth it.

  11. ⋆ The Digital Reader16 December, 2014

    […] it is that anyone can publish a book now. Chuck Wendig, for example, coined the term shit volcano earlier this year to express his opinion of other authors, and his attitude is shared by more than just those in […]

  12. John Van Stry5 February, 2018

    Can I get some cheese with that wine?

    Really, this is the standard battle cry of authors whose books aren’t selling, because the readers are tired of the crap coming out of tradpub. And let’s be totally honest here, most of Tradpub has been a shit volcano for the last twenty years. Maybe longer. Look at the books winning awards! Most of them are crap. And now that there aren’t gate keepers keeping out writers like ME, these crappy authors are finding out that people aren’t willing to accept crap when they can get something better.

    I outsell and out earn most Tradpub authors, yet Tradpub won’t touch me. My books don’t fit into their politically correct categories. You can’t have books written with strong male characters and positive male role models. Nope, they won’t touch me at all.

    But on Amazon, I can put up whatever I want to. And guess what? People discovered my work, they found they liked my work. And now I’m being read by lots of people. I sell a lot of books, and I earn enough that I’m in the top ten percent.

  13. Ryk E. Spoor6 February, 2018

    They keep them because the cost to do so is nigh-zero, and that means that selling ONE copy of said book nets them a profit. Most ebooks sell at least one copy. QED.

    Second, to quote P.E. Arnold Royalton, “Oh, you poor naive young chap.” All the “shit volcano” is… is the frickin’ slush pile. It’s been around since the dawn of publishing. Now it’s made easier by electronic submission (hey, typing up a manuscript, addressing an envelope, and getting it to the post office used to be a SIGNIFICANT BARRIER). If Amazon won’t do it (and they certainly will, but let’s assume not) someone else will. And because there ARE occasional gems erupted out in the fountain of crap, the Someone Else will get a hit once in a while, and people will point and laugh at Amazon, and Amazon will buy Someone Else just to shut them up.

    The trad publishers served the function you want: filter out the crap and only put up what they figured would REALLY sell and make up for the costs of things like editors, proofreaders, cover artists, etc.

    But BECAUSE of those costs, and the logistics surrounding them, that meant that a lot of people whose stuff wasn’t “crap” but wasn’t obviously awesomely marketable didn’t get published. Thus the current situation. People WANT to be published, and they WILL be published. If Amazon doesn’t do it, they’ll go pay a thousand dollars to Predator’s Vanity Press and get a fancy paperback version as well as the ebook. I’d rather Predator’s Vanity Press died of no cash influx because the people just went to Amazon.

  14. Andrew6 February, 2018

    1: I have no idea why people think having a trillion choices is bad, particularly when search on Amazon is effortless and accurate.
    2: Storage is cheap. AWS charges about $0.025 for a GB of storage, half that for infrequent access storage. Ebooks run about 500kb. So they cost about 1/1000th of a cent to store. Google estimates 130 million books, total…all humanity, ever. That’s a total of 65000GB, give or take, so ~$25k a year to store it all. I’d wager they spend more money retrieving and transmitting best sellers than they do storing all other books combined.
    3: That’s not how search works. If it was, Google would take hours to return and cost money to use. Amazon’s set of things is much smaller than Google’s.
    4: The value of an open market that encourages a multitude of creative products is compromised when gatekeeping rules are enforced.
    5: Part of Amazon’s stated mission has been to have all the books. They’ve always been willing to lose money to gain selection.
    6: Amazon is tickled at the chance to cut traditional publishing out of the loop. Part of the entire purpose of their marketplace is to remove the publisher from the business, or reduce them to a branding mechanism.

    I really don’t understand the desire to have other people ban authors you don’t like. I can’t see how it would tangibly make your life better.

  15. John Van Stry7 February, 2018

    I really don’t understand the desire to have other people ban authors you don’t like. I can’t see how it would tangibly make your life better.

    It’s because they can’t compete. They’re not good enough writers to stand on their own two feet. They need publishers to take away all of those rude and uncultured writers with the wrong politics who are selling thousands of books to their one.


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