Hmmm...apparently while I was getting lost in the mountains all weekend the battle between Amazon and Hachette Publishing has escalated from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 3. I'm not sure what happens when we reach DEFCON 1. Will Amazon launch drone strikes on NYC publishing houses? Will James McPatterson enlist his crack squad of ghost-writers to pen skeevy biographies about Jeff Bezos? Who knows? But it's sad to see the once beautiful and relatively harmonious publishing industry so divided.
On the one side, you have Authors United, representing 900 best-selling authors (and probably 10x that many who would like to sign but are afraid of reprisals from Amazon). And on the other side you have Readers United, which isn't really readers, but Amazon itself turing George Orwell's words upside down and urging their self-published authors to rattle some cages.
Where do I stand on all of this? Well, I'm on Hachette's side of the argument (for now), but with a fierce independent streak. Think of me as Stephen, The Mad Irishman in Braveheart — "The Almighty tells me he can get me out of this publishing contract, but he's pretty sure you're fucked."
That being coarsely stated, here are some general thoughts:
- I sell books on Amazon. But, I’ve been openly critical of them. I love America, but at times I’m openly critical of the govt. That’s okay. That’s healthy. The attitude of “Love it or leave it!” when applied to ANYTHING is lame.
- Everything Amazon does is for the primary benefit of Amazon (and their shareholders). And they’ve never made a profit, so as Paolo Bacigalupi stated so beautifully, they’re a subsidized underseller. As a business model, that makes me sad because I have an affinity for mom & pop stores on Main Street America and they have a hard time competing with an entity that doesn’t need to make a dime.
- With that in mind, everything Amazon does, PR wise, should be taken with a grain of salt. This is a company famous for hosting press events and showing bar graphs with no numbers (But look at our upward trend!) So when Amazon calls Hachette a $10 billion dollar evil, greedy corporation, they’ve ignoring the $150 billion dollar mote in their own eye. Amazon is in no way the underdog here. This is like a billionaire NBA owner doing battle with a millionaire NBA player.
- That being stated, I didn’t sign the Authors United thing because, well, James McPatterson doesn’t write his own books and I have a hard time siding with someone who is basically the Burger King of literature. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, he doesn’t kick puppies and beat his child, but I’m not that impressed. Also, I like having my own voice and there’s the off chance I could do/say something crazy and then I’d sully Authors United with my big mouth.
- Speaking of big mouths, many of the self-published mega authors who are always championing the little guy (you know, Amazon), they all have special deals and get special treatment like all-expense paid trips for them and their families, free goodies, and worst/best of all, non-exclusivity, so I find it disingenuous (and borderline unethical) when they tout Amazon as the Messiah to other indie authors who won't get the same treatment. It’s like Animal Farm, where all indie authors are equal—just some authors are more equal than others. They are Amazon’s “Golden Children” and Amazon’s de facto PR dept. There’s a saying, “If I tell you I’m the world’s greatest lover, that’s advertising, but if I ask a friend to tell you I’m the world’s greatest lover, that’s PR.” These guys are blog-happy, constantly saying, “Amazon is great in the sack” and for them, Amazon really is.
- But what about the bazillion indie authors signing that petition at Change.org? *facepalm* When I think about Change.org, I think about altruistic things, not a lover-letter to a billion dollar corporation. They also changed the wording of the letter AFTER thousands of people signed it, which tells me that some indie authors could use a good editor.
- There’s a lot of animus toward traditional publishing. No doubt about it. My agent receives 40,000 queries each year, so there are a lot of budding authors out there who’ve been told that their baby is ugly by the traditional publishing world. It’s easy to sell this group on the notion that Hachette is big and evil and Amazon is their new BFF. Hence the Readers United email which didn't go to readers, it went to Amazon's self-published authors.
- But, it’s all about price! No, it isn’t. Seriously. It’s about making eBooks the preferred platform and giving Amazon total dominance of that market. Imagine how much easier it would be for the workers in Amazon warehouses if people stopped ordering physical books and simply ordered off their Kindles. This is about pushing the eBook platform over traditional books. It’s a win, win, WIN for Amazon. Traditional publishers are worried about that agenda, because the lower pricing will hurt their bottom line and give too much control to an entity that already controls 50% of the marketplace. Do you want that? I don’t want that. I like bookstores and I like balance. But I also live in Montana and there are communities that can’t sustain a bookstore, so Amazon and eBooks are great! But real books are more important. I’m doing an event with Bernie’s Book Bank in Chicago this fall. Bernie’s gives new books to poor kids in inner city neighborhoods. These are kids who don’t own a single book—not one! They’re certainly not going to have a Kindle lying around.
- And lastly, it’s worth noting that a year ago I offered a free short story to anyone who pre-ordered SONGS OF WILLOW FROST from a traditional bookstore. Someone at Amazon lost his or her mind over this. They called my publisher and took issue with my tiny gesture of kindness to indie booksellers. And when I refused to include them in my free deal, it was intimated that my book was being considered for Amazon’s September Book of the Month and that status was now in jeopardy. I told them to go perform hideous obscenities upon themselves. I don’t like bullies, even if they do offer free shipping.