I honestly thought I had said everything I wanted or needed to say about the current face-off between Amazon and Hachette; and when I read John Scalzi’s angle last week, I figured this discussion was done.
Amazing what complete and utter absurdity writers can kick up within 24 hours.
Well, it’s not really a petition as a petition is defined as “a formal written request, typically one signed by many people, appealing to authority with respect to a particular cause.” This it is more of an open letter to Amazon saying “You are a winner, bro! Keep that up!” with an appeal to independent authors everywhere to sign this, acknowledging why Amazon is so star-spangled awesome.
Here’s how the “petition” closes:
“It is fitting that Independence Day is upon us. Amazon has done more to liberate readers and writers than any other entity since Johannes Gutenberg refined the movable type printing press. With the advent of e-books and the ability to ship paper books to your doorstep in record time and at affordable prices, Amazon is growing overall readership while liberating the voices of countless writers, adding to the diversity of literature. A large percentage of the e-books sold on Amazon are from independent authors. You have validated our decision to write and to publish. Don’t let the wealthiest of writers convince you to turn away.
We urge you to support the company that supports readers and authors. Amazon didn’t ask us to write this letter, or sign it. Amazon isn’t aware that we’re doing this. Because in the end, this isn’t about Amazon. It’s about you, the reader, and the changes you’ve helped bring about with your reading decisions. You are changing the world of books, and you are changing our lives as a result.”
I was trying to process exactly why I would want to add my name to this when, later in the same day, I got a note from the Science Fiction Writers of America, announcing their endorsement of an open letter from New York Times Bestselling Author Douglas Preston. Here’s a selection from this letter the SFWA president is signing and the SFWA Board are inviting members to co-sign:
“Many of us supported Amazon from when it was a struggling start-up. Our books started Amazon on the road to selling everything and becoming one of the world’s largest corporations. We have made Amazon many millions of dollars and over the years have contributed so much, free of charge, to the company by way of cooperation, joint promotions, reviews and blogs. This is no way to treat a business partner. Nor is it the right way to treat your friends. Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business. None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage. (We’re not alone in our plea: the opinion pages of both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which rarely agree on anything, have roundly condemned Amazon’s corporate behavior.)”
Seriously. This “Pick A Side” bullshit has got to stop. Now.
First, let’s just state the obvious: New York publishers, the people who make my books, have brought all this on themselves. That’s abundantly clear. You are told how no one is really buying books any more which is why advances are being scaled back, but then you read where New York publishers are pulling in record profits. See, the Big Six have been enjoying the eBook revolution just as much as the indie authors, and Amazon—the biggest distributor of books—noticed this. Now, the publishing empires are dealing with a perfect storm they themselves created. Amazon, after all, wants to do business fairly.
Does this make Amazon my friend? No. Not at all.
Amazon is a business, a business that finds itself in the red. Amazon needs to make money. If they want to make their shareholders happy, Amazon needs to make a lot of money. They are gunning for the New York publishers not to be a champion for published authors, but for money. Simple as that. If Amazon really kept the author’s interest at heart, then what happened when Amazon suddenly changed the rules over at ACX? With a sudden cut in royalty rates from between 50% to 90% to a non-escalating 40%, I’m supposed to believe Amazon looks out for the author?
But hey, don’t ask me. Ask an erotica author how they feel about Amazon’s concern.
Maybe it’s easy to dismiss all erotica as nothing more than digital smut; but for friends of mine who were involved with independently-published erotica, their books paid for mortgages, medical bills, and reliable transportation. Shortly after news stories began to break about some erotica testing Amazon’s terms of service for publishing and authors pulling down impressive incomes on (brace yourself) monster porn, Amazon quietly changed their search algorithms, effectively shutting out these authors from their system. Writers I knew suffered an 80-90% drop in sales.
Before criticizing the quality of monster erotica, let’s just get this out of the way first: Erotica sells, and won’t be disappearing anytime soon. Am I going to pass judgment on authors writing erotica? No. I’m not. Was it bad publicity for Amazon? Considering some of the titles Amazon were approving, coupled with vague guidelines like “We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts…” and “What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect…”, made the Internet’s largest retailer look like they were still operating out of the basement of mom’s house. It was terrible publicity, so Amazon took action.
At the expense of the author.
And if you are new to my blog, and step up to say, “Well, Tee, you don’t understand independent publishing because you’re blinded by the New York publishing machine!” allow me to educate you, Sparky. I’ve been a published author for over a decade, and I got my start in 2002 with Dragon Moon Press, a small, independent publisher out of Canada. I not only designed elements for my cover layout, I handled interior design. Everything — and I mean everything — in the production of that book ran by me. I took a lot of pride in my titles with Dragon Moon. It was when I would attend science fiction conventions, writing festivals, and book events, where I’d find myself swimming upstream. No, not all authors kept me at arm’s length; but a good amount of New York authors and editors (many of them, members of SFWA) reminded me of publishing’s pecking order. In that time, I learned very quickly of the differences between authors and professionals.
So yeah, I was an indie author before it was trendy to be an indie author. And even with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, I still independently produce fiction in digital, print, and audio formats.
And this notion of “taking a side” in this power struggle is ludicrous.
Those taking up the proverbial sword and shield against Amazon, I’ve noticed, tend not to be that invested in independent publishing. Concerning the Douglas Preston letter, it’s reported being signed by the likes of Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and James Patterson (who was very outspoken against Amazon at Book Expo America). When was the last time any of these writers self-published their works? Anyone remember Stephen King’s brief foray with Amazon into self-publishing back in 2000, and how that ended? Sure, if you want high profile authors taking a stand against Amazon, these authors are as high profile as you can get. Considering their credibility as authors affected by Amazon’s tactics, I find their ire merely an echo chamber for their publishers.
Besides, when was the last time you “struggled” to pre-order or purchase a book from King, Roberts, or Patterson?
The other side, those eager to sign this “You’re Balls Awesome, Amazon!” letter, are either exclusively independent authors, or authors who claim being slighted by the New York publishing machine. Amazon has empowered authors, I would never question that. They even paid a few bills when I was invited to be a part of Kindle Worlds. However, I don’t mistake opportunity for allegiance. Amazon’s first job is to make money. Their second is to maintain a positive public image. Amazon is not the author’s “friend” or “business partner” in this or any other world. Amazon, at any time, can change the rules on us. They’ve done it before.
So, after all this ranting, will I take a side?
I’m taking the side that looks out for my family, my well-being, and my writing career. I’m taking the side that makes a priority the decisions I’m making, the end result of those decisions, and what’s the best path for me to take as a writer.
I’m taking my side.
I am continuing to develop my own properties and titles for publication. Some of these ideas my agent will take to a major publisher. Others, if the passion and time is there, will go on to be self-published. If some of the ideas my agent picked up move forward, we move forward. All this, and I’m keeping a schedule open for audio editing and layout services for authors.
I’m continuing to diversify my career. Fiction. Non-fiction. The Big Six. Imagine That! Studios. I have options, and in this Amazon-Hachette throw-down, it is important authors understand and recognize those options. When the dust settles between New York and Amazon, those taking the hard hits will not be any of the publishers or Amazon. It will be the writers. Not the Pattersons, the Kings, the Rowlings, or the Martins, but the mid-list and new authors feeling the hit of missing pre-orders and ridiculous delivery times. Both sides of this argument appear to be screaming for solidarity, but it’s a conditional solidarity. It’s solidarity for writers, provided you pick a side.
Much like the way the word “petition” was being used earlier in this post, authors should better understand what “solidarity” means. If you want to show solidarity for your authors, talk with them about options.
But if you want to hear a perspective different from an author’s, sit back and have a listen to this podcast. It’s a point of view more people should hear in this matter.