Yep, this author really does not like it very much. My problem with conflict is that it gums things up, making it more difficult or impossible to get anything done. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that there is no escaping it, and eventually, if you’re involved in any pursuit where conflict is happening you may actually need to chose a side. I hate that most of all because I usually find myself not agreeing with any particular party. If party A is busy bickering with party B over something that ultimately just creates obstacles for me, why should I line up with either?
The whole Amazon v Hachette cluster event has once again taken center stage. Instead of focusing on some highly anticipated releases, the ring leaders are begging for all the attention. They want to know that we support them in their cause. They’re writing open letters, building grass roots media campaigns, and waving big banners.
Friday evening, what should appear in my inbox, but a letter from The Amazon Books Team with the subject “An Important Kindle request.” Within this multi-page tome (and I possess a big monitor) I’ve been obliged to take Amazon’s side in this contemporary cluster event of monumental proportions. If we just hold hands, sing songs, and spam our adversaries with emails we can eventually go back to pretending to be nice to one another. After reading this letter I felt dirty.
Amazon would love for you to buy into the idea that they’re on the side of readers. Hachette wants you to trust that they’re on the side of creatives. In my opinion, both of these companies couldn’t give less of a damn about readers or writers. Here’s why.
- In Amazon’s letter to Kindle authors they liken the rise of ebooks to the historical shift in publishing between hard bound and paper backed books. Their history is on the fuzzy side, but that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is Amazon’s claim that the ebook can revolutionize book sales the way that paperbacks did somewhere between WW1 and Vietnam.I find it perplexing that as a distributor of books, Amazon fails to realize that words have value. People, good people in fact, spend lots and lots of time and effort collecting those words into big piles. They’re banking on the notion that a lower price point will increase sales volumetrically. Fast and cheap is what they’re going for in their segment of publishing, but this is incredibly shortsighted of the company. As an author who first bleeds on the page and then slaves away at revisions until I’m cross eyed, I don’t want readers stuffing their Kindles with my work. This does me absolutely no good. That kindle stuffed with cheap words will never get read and the return I can expect regardless of how I publish will always be much, much lower. Amazon is pushing writers to produce more if they want any hope of maintaining financial viability. You get to choose two: fast, cheap, or good. By chasing cheap, and pushing fast, they’re losing good.
The whole Readers United bit seems concocted. It’s like eating soylent green snack cakes. Amazon is clearly trying to win my support in their corporate struggle but they are not actually doing anything to gain my support. So like a big, self-interested, for-profit company.
If you’re a reader and you think this is a good thing, think again. Short term, with the ever-decreasing value of the printed word, each time you buy a mobi on your Kindle Paperwhite™ you’re likely wasting your hard earned money. You’ve given me a sale, but I’ve lost a reader because Kindle-stuffers don’t read, they collect. Long term it is actions like this that push down prices on everyone’s works, thereby devaluing the cost of the written word to the point where it becomes a worthless pursuit for creatives. I’m not motivated to write and then jump through hoops to publish something at a net loss.
- Hachette has brought out their honor guard to make the point that Amazon is an evil, multimillion dollar, monopolistic company whose only concern is hurting Hachette’s precious writers. “It’s not our fault that Amazon chooses to behave this way,” they’re saying. “Be on our side because we’re the good guys, ebooks at a slightly higher price point ($14.99 instead of $9.99) just means that much more money will end up in the hands of the people who really deserve it.”I’m not buying this line either. Hachette has its own turf effort underway. A bunch of big name authors have published an open letter in which they “respectfully ask you, our loyal readers, to email Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon and tell him what you think.” Guys, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you lost agency when you sold the rights to your work. Sure, what Amazon is doing is craptastic. Refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette authors’ books and eBooks, refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette authors’ books, slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette authors’ books to Amazon customers, and indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on some titles is the opposite of what any company formed around the idea of efficient, low-cost distribution of goods should be doing. This is how the bully behaves, but Hachette seemingly hasn’t seen fit to make any move to help these authors. Amazon is stoking the fire, Hachette is making certain that the shackles are nice and tight.
The painful part of this effort is that each and every one of the people that signed this open letter seems just fine with the heat. By bandwagoning Hachette’s efforts you’ve effectively let this company off the hook for their part in this kerfuffle.
Neither of these companies is doing anything for the people that they say they care about. Authors don’t make any more if either of them win. Reading doesn’t get any better if either of them win. From the perspective of the people that matter, this is all lose-lose. We lose because attention within a saturated media market is necessarily diverted to business matters pertaining solely to middlemen.
What do I want? Amazon and Hachette to sit down and work things out; both of these companies need to solve this problem sooner than later. They’re hurting everyone who creates or consumes. These business entities are losing business. Do I hate either of these companies? Not so much — they both have a lot to offer. I’m a businessman working at the creative end of this funnel. When things go wrong, when things get stopped up, I notice. But that’s just it, I am interested in selling my stories, not winning some sort of imagined moral battle.
We’re not on the verge of some epic ebook publishing breakthrough, neither are we at the threshold of some amazing renaissance of traditional publishing self distribution. Rather we seem to be hopelessly bogged down in some sort of middleman mire. Amazon, you’ll never get anywhere bullying Hachette authors. If you want to win authors over to your way of thinking, offer them a better deal. Hachette, you’ll never get anywhere pretending you hold some sort of moral high ground. If you want to win readers over to your way of thinking, give readers a better deal.